You don’t have to plan and cook for days to have a memorable Thanksgiving meal. These simple recipes call for just five ingredients or fewer (not including salt and pepper), so you can get dinner on the table and get to the best part: eating.
A scattering of pomegranate seeds makes this brussels sprouts dish from Colu Henry look fancy. But it’s really just a matter of roasting the sprouts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, then tossing with chopped walnuts and the ruby seeds.
The key to Mark Bittman’s potatoes au gratin is to season as you go so that each slice of potato has flavor. (Potatoes suck up a lot of salt.) If you’re looking to up your game, add fresh thyme or chopped rosemary to the half-and-half before pouring it over the potatoes.
Recipe: Potatoes au Gratin
Instead of taking up valuable stovetop real estate, let your slow cooker do the work. This complex cranberry sauce from Sarah DiGregorio uses a combination of cooked cranberries and crisp, fresh cranberries. Leave out the port if it’s not your thing, and don’t worry if you don’t have a slow cooker; there’s a stovetop method, too.
This glossy four-ingredient dish, which Melissa Clark adapted from “The Harvey House Cookbook,” calls for just sweet potatoes, butter, confectioners’ sugar and salt. It’s best served warm, not blazing hot, so it’s ideal for Thanksgiving, when sides have to wait around patiently for the turkey to finish.
Recipe: Candied Sweet Potatoes
OK, so it’s not traditional pumpkin pie, but this cold and tangy dessert by Joyce LaFray Young will cheer up your taste buds after all of that rich Thanksgiving fare.
Recipe: Key Lime Pie
Save yourself the stress of making gravy under the watchful eyes of hungry diners by making it in advance. Mark Bittman’s version is one of our most popular Thanksgiving recipes because you can make it up to five days early. When you’re ready to eat, reheat and stir in some turkey drippings.
Recipe: Make-Ahead Gravy
This sunshine-y side from Amanda Hesser can be made with fresh or frozen corn. If using frozen, add a little water when cooking before you add the milk. If you want it creamier, whiz some of the cooked corn in a blender and stir it back into the pot.
Recipe: Creamed Corn
End the meal with something special and luxurious like this crème brûlée from Mark Bittman. You don’t need a blowtorch; your oven’s broiler will do. One important note: Chill the custard for several hours before browning the top, otherwise you’ll end up with custard soup.
Recipe: Vanilla Crème Brûlée
Don’t bother peeling the butternut squash. Ali Slagle cuts it in half-inch slices before roasting, then finishes it with a tangy, spicy brown-butter vinaigrette and fresh mint.
Here’s a fun magic trick of a dessert that Melissa Clark adapted from the molecular gastronomist Hervé This: Melt good bittersweet chocolate, place it in an ice bath, then whip it by hand for 3 to 5 minutes (you’ll want help) until thick and fluffy. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
Some items on the Thanksgiving shopping list are obvious, but there are several other ingredients that will prove invaluable to have on hand. See our full guide on How To Cook and Plan Thanksgiving and our list of staples below.
- Butter, lots of it. Choose European-style high-fat butter for pie crusts, and regular unsalted butter for everything else.
- Stock. If you haven’t made your own, look for homemade stock at the same butcher shop where you buy your turkey, or in the freezer section of your supermarket. The canned and boxed stuff should be a last resort.
- Fresh herbs. Not only do they add freshness and flavor across your Thanksgiving table, but they’re also pretty, lending a touch of green to a meal heavy on earth tones.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, fresh ginger, shallots. An assortment of aromatics keeps your cooking lively and interesting. You’ll need them for the stuffing, for stock and gravy, and for many side dishes.
- Fresh citrus. Lemon, lime and orange juice and zest contribute brightness to countless Thanksgiving dishes, from the turkey to the gravy to the cranberry sauce to the whipped cream for pie.
- Nuts. These go a long way to give crunch to otherwise texturally boring dishes. (Ahem, sweet potato casserole.)
- White wine/vermouth/beer. Even if you’re not drinking any of these spirits before or during the meal, they can be splashed into gravy or vegetable dishes, or used to deglaze the turkey roasting pan. (Bourbon and brandy work well as deglazers, too.)
- Fresh spices. If you can’t remember when you bought your spices, now is a good time to replace them.
- Light brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup. These sweeteners are more profoundly flavored than white sugar, and they have an autumnal richness.
- Heavy cream, sour cream, crème fraîche, ice cream. You’ll need these for topping pies and cakes.
- Please, wear a mask. It protects both yourself and others from coronavirus, and aim to maintain several feet of distance from other shoppers in stores whenever possible. If you opt for grocery delivery, tip as generously as you can.
- See all of our Thanksgiving recipes.
Martha Rose Shulman’s crisp cranberry relish, which is made by whizzing fresh cranberries, a whole orange, pecans and honey in a food processor, is a refreshing break from mushy, brown Thanksgiving foods. Save leftovers to top leftover turkey sandwiches or swirl into plain yogurt.
Recipe: Cranberry-Orange Relish
It’s not often that carrots get a starring role on the dinner table, but when they’re roasted with olive oil, thyme and oregano like Martha Rose Shulman does it, they’ll steal the spotlight. Use rainbow carrots if you can find them.
Recipe: Roasted Carrots
After making these easy, buttery and flaky drop biscuits from Samantha Seneviratne, you’ll never go back to the roll-and-cut version. Try stirring in some cracked black pepper, Parmesan or finely chopped tender herbs.
Recipe: Drop Biscuits
This classic from Pierre Franey calls for a full two and a half pounds of fresh spinach, and it has 835 five-star ratings. You can’t go wrong.
Recipe: Creamed Spinach
These make-ahead butterscotch puddings from Melissa Clark are a creamy, less-fuss alternative to pie. Top them with fresh berries, if you can find them, or for a more traditional Thanksgiving take, a spoonful of apple pie filling. Add a dollop of whipped cream, of course.
Recipe: No-Bake Butterscotch Custards
An Instant Pot will make quick work of mashed potatoes. (We’re talking 10 minutes from start to finish.) In this recipe, Melissa Clark adds fresh chives and Parmesan. For a stovetop version, go with Julia Moskin’s mashed potato recipe. It’s always perfect.