Fresh Flavors for Fall Feasting

Sharing new foods is a Thanksgiving tradition

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Bringing together diverse groups to share new foods is Thanksgiving’s origin story.

Centuries later, hosts can embrace that holiday spirit by welcoming vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free diners and others following special diets to the table. The spirit shouldn’t be one of compromise but rather enhancing the celebratory meal with hearty vegetables, legumes and whole grains, seasoned with immigrant influences and presented with some autumn pageantry.

Here are my picks for wholesome recipes using the cornucopia of fall produce to compose a complete meal for everyone, regardless of dietary requirements or preferences. These recipes also could be swapped for some of Thanksgiving’s traditional side dishes to improve the meal’s overall nutritional profile, not to mention heightening its visual appeal with vibrant colors.

I tested these recipes in my own kitchen, where Thanksgiving doesn’t have a set-in-stone menu and there is always room for improvement, including making small, sometimes imperceptible, substitutions to accommodate everyone. Find these in the archives of my blog, The Whole Dish,

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Among the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s best recipes, this Southern spin on French country cooking is one of my family favorites. If you’ve never had collard greens, they’re similar to kale or chard, just sweeter and more velvety.

The original peasant dish was devised centuries ago to stretch a bit of meat with lots of beans. For plant-based eaters, it’s easy to eliminate this recipe’s ham, bacon or sausage, even the cheese if you need to make it vegan or dairy-free. Stirring in up to 1/4 cup miso paste would replace some of the meat’s savor. You could consider choosing a gluten-free bread for the crumb topping or substitute some slivered almonds to finish the casserole with a bit of crunch.


1 pound collard greens, stems and tough ribs removed

Salt, as needed

5 garlic cloves, 1 peeled and crushed and 4 peeled and chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 small red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

3 cups cooked white beans; 1/2 cup cooking liquid reserved

1/2 cup (plus more, if desired) diced or chopped cooked ham hock, sausage, chorizo or bacon

1/3 cup (plus more, if desired) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped

Pepper, to taste

1/2 cup (plus more, as needed) medium-coarse fresh breadcrumbs (see tip)


In a large pot, cover the collards with salted water and boil over medium heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well and chop into small pieces. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 475 F. Vigorously rub inside of a 10- or 12-inch gratin dish with the crushed garlic clove. Discard crushed garlic and set dish aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender, for about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add collard greens, stir to coat and cook for 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.

Stir in the beans, meat, roughly half the Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1 tablespoon of the oil and the rosemary. Season with salt and pepper. If mixture seems too dry, add enough reserved bean cooking liquid to moisten. (If you don’t have liquid, use water.) Spread mixture in prepared dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano. Drizzle with remaining olive oil.

Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake in preheated oven until hot and bubbly, for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top of gratin is golden and crusty, for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Servings: 4-6


Save the heels of store-bought sliced bread in a resealable plastic bag in the freezer until you have enough to grind in a food processor for breadcrumbs.



Silky, smooth squash soups have received a warm reception in recent years. Adding a little curry powder not only enhances the vibrant color but adds a slightly spicy, earthy note that tempers the squash’s natural sweetness. It’s easy to make this recipe entirely plant-based by substituting oil for butter, vegetable stock for chicken stock and a dairy substitute such as unsweetened soy, nut, oat or coconut milk. Serving this soup in hollowed-out sugar or pie pumpkins makes an already delicious dish extra special.


2 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 large onion, peeled and chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and shredded

2 cups low-sodium chicken stock

2 cups half-and-half

1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin puree (see tip)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

1/4 cup sour cream, for serving

Toasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, for garnish


In a heavy soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the curry powder, onion and carrot. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft, for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until smooth.

Return mixture to soup pot and stir in the pumpkin, half-and-half, salt and white pepper. Heat over medium heat to a serving temperature. Scoop into soup bowls or pumpkin shells. Top with the sour cream and sunflower seeds.

Servings: 6


Cooked and mashed winter squash of many varieties, including butternut, can be used in place of the pumpkin puree. But many chefs swear by canned pumpkin puree (not pie filling) as a consistent, high-quality product in recipes like this one.

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Forget “vegducken,” the zucchini-and-eggplant-stuffed butternut squash that has been heralded as the plant-based answer to the typical holiday centerpiece. No one needs a contrived attempt at sating vegetarians with butternut squash when it’s easily married with quinoa, lentils, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers and corn. Citrus juice and balsamic vinegar brighten the earthy flavors while alliums and herbs add freshness. Cutting everything into a uniform dice, about 1/4 inch, makes for the most pleasing texture and presentation. Serving it warm or at room temperature elevates this dish beyond salad status.


1 1/2 cups quinoa

1 1/2 cups lentils

1/2 cup cooked butternut squash, peeled and diced

1/2 cup diced sweet potatoes

1/2 cup mixed, sliced orange and white carrots

1/2 cup fresh corn off cob (see tip)

6 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced scallions

2 tablespoons diced red onion

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste


Rinse the quinoa several times and drain well. Rinse the lentils and pick them over for small stones.

Using 2 separate pots, bring 2 1/2 cups water to boil in each. Add quinoa to 1 pot and cook for 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes, fluff with a fork and let cool. Add lentils to other pot and cook until al dente, drain and cool.

In a large pot, quick-steam the squash and, if desired, the sweet potatoes, carrots and corn until just crisp-tender. Remove from pot and cool. In a small bowl combine the orange juice, lime juice and balsamic vinegar.

Just before serving, place cooled quinoa and lentils in a serving dish. Add juice mixture and toss to coat; fold in vegetables, the bell pepper, scallions, onion, garlic and mint. Season salad to taste with the salt and pepper just before serving.

Servings: 12


Frozen corn kernels may be a better bet than fresh corn on the cob, which usually is past its season in the Northern Hemisphere by Thanksgiving. Defrost the kernels before using.



When multicourse meals call for prepping some dishes in advance, standard salad greens can fade before it’s time to join the party. Heartier pieces of produce not only hold up well for hours before the feast, but they make more of an impact alongside other bold, rich flavors. Fennel is a cold-season specialty that pairs beautifully with sweet citrus, accented with brine-cured olives and salty cheese. While marinating the feta is a nice touch, the cheese could just be crumbled on top. If you need to make this dish dairy-free, toasted pine nuts in place of the cheese would lend richness.


2 cups sliced fennel (halved lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced lengthwise with a sharp knife; see tip)

3/4 cup chopped feathery fennel fronds

1 3/4 cups pitted whole Italian oiled-cured black olives (substitute Kalamata if desired)

8 navel oranges, divided

6 blood oranges or ruby red grapefruit

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


In a large mixing bowl, place the sliced fennel, chopped fronds and olives.

Place 1 of the navel oranges on a cutting board; slice off both ends, then using a sharp knife, remove peel from flesh of fruit following contours, removing pith or white part with skin. Using a paring knife, segment orange by removing flesh from membrane. Place in mixing bowl; repeat process with 6 more navels and all the blood oranges or grapefruit.

Juice 1 navel orange. In a small bowl, whisk orange juice with the olive oil, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Drizzle dressing over salad, tossing gently to combine. Salad can be made in advance and tossed before serving. Serve at room temperature or chilled with marinated feta alongside.

Servings: 8 to 12

MARINATED FETA: Cube 1 pound of feta cheese into 1/2-inch squares; place in a mixing bowl. Pour 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil over feta. Add 1/4 cup roughly chopped or torn, fresh basil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon black pepper; gently toss and set aside.


Using a French mandoline makes easy work of slicing the fennel bulbs thinly and uniformly.



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