3 Recipes For Cooking Up A Scaled-Down, Low-Key Thanksgiving Meal

Nov 23, 2020
Originally published on December 7, 2020 4:21 pm

Thanksgiving is going to look different for many Americans this year. As the coronavirus pandemic rages, the Centers for Disease Control is warning against traveling to see friends or family, or even gathering with people who do not live with you.

Thanksgiving is a holiday most people associate with sitting around a table that is groaning under large platters of food — a big turkey, heaping bowls of mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing and pies galore — which is simply too much food and effort for one or two or four people.

But that isn't a reason to forego a delicious, sit-down meal.

With that in mind, three chefs share scaled-down Thanksgiving recipes. These dishes — Anita Lo's turkey roulade, Aarón Sánchez's brussels sprouts with roasted jalapeño vinaigrette and Sohla El-Waylly's apple (hand) pies — are meant to serve up to four people.

Chef Anita Lo's Turkey Roulade

A turkey roulade is the kind of thing that looks and sounds fancy, but isn't much harder than making a stuffing and a roast turkey, says Chef Anita Lo. "You're essentially making some sautéed mushrooms with some [extra things] in it and rolling it up in a breast and cooking it," she says. Fresh herbs like thyme and tarragon add a bit of that traditional Thanksgiving flavor, and the butter and olive oil in the stuffing helps keep the turkey moist and flavorful.


  • 1 skin on, 2.5 lb. boneless turkey breast
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 ounce maitake mushrooms (also called hen of the woods), cleaned and cut into small dice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 4 ounce sunchokes, cleaned and cut into small dice
  • 3 to 4 tbsp fine breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
  • zest of one lemon, grated on a Microplane
  • 1 tsp lemon juice


Preheat an oven to 375° F (190° C)

Heat a large sauté pan on high. When hot, add the olive oil. When just smoking, add the mushrooms in one layer and allow to brown. Stir. Add the shallot, garlic and butter and stir. Cook for another minute, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove to a bowl. You may have to do this a few times depending on the size of your pan. Add the sunchokes, bread crumbs, herbs, lemon and lemon zest. Stir. The mixture should form lumps. Use the last tablespoon of breadcrumbs if it doesn't stick together a bit. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside to cool.

Dry the turkey breast with a clean paper towel, and place on a board skin side down. Butterfly the thick portion of the breast so that you have a mostly even thickness and so you have a rough rectangle of meat that when rolled, will be covered by the skin. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. With the skin side down, spread the mushroom mixture evenly on the meat, leaving a 1-2 inch border at the farthest side where you will end the rolling. Starting from the side closest to you, roll the meat into a cylinder. Tie with a butcher string along the length of the roll to hold it all together. This may be done up to a day before cooking if desired. Just take the roll out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before cooking to come to room temp.

Place the roll, seam side down on a rack elevated over a roasting pan filled with a thin layer of water. Roast until the internal temperature at its thickest point is 150, about 50 minutes to an hour. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

You can make a quick pan gravy with some flour and chicken stock from the drippings if desired.

Chef Aarón Sánchez's Brussels Sprouts With Roasted Jalapeño Vinaigrette

Randy Schmidt

This dish comes from Johnny Sánchez, chef Aarón Sánchez's New Orleans restaurant. It features fried brussels sprouts, sweet butternut squash and tart pomegranate seeds dressed in a bracing roasted jalapeno vinaigrette. Feel free to roast the sprouts instead of frying them. And if all that peeling and dicing and chopping feels overwhelming, Sanchez understands. "I'm all about convenience," he says. "You know the chef's saying: 'work smarter, not harder.' " Buy the vegetables pre-chopped, and you'll save a lot of time.


  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp dried Mexican oregano
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp ground fennel
  • ¼ tsp ground yellow mustard
  • ¼ tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/8 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 8 cups (about 790 g) Brussels sprouts
  • 2 quarts (2 liters) canola or vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup (120 ml) Roasted Jalapeño Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • ½ cup (15 g) cilantro, chopped, plus more for serving
  • 1 serrano pepper, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup (60 g) crumbled cotija cheese
  • ¼ cup (45 g) pomegranate seeds


Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) and line a baking sheet with cooking parchment. Peel and seed the squash, then cut it into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Toss with the olive oil, salt, and all the spices, then spread on the sheet in a single layer. Roast until tender with lightly browned edges, 20 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve the Brussels sprouts and trim their tough outer leaves. (If you prefer to roast the Brussels sprouts instead of deep-frying them, see Note.) Pour the canola oil into a large heavy-bottomed pot and clip a thermometer to the side. Line a plate or wire rack with paper towels.

Bring the canola oil to 375°F (190°C) over medium-high heat and fry the sprouts in batches until golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer them to the lined plate, season with salt, and continue with the rest.

Pour the vinaigrette into a large mixing bowl, then gently fold in the squash, Brussels sprouts, cilantro, and serrano pepper to coat. Scatter the cheese and a handful of pomegranate seeds over the top for serving.

Note: To roast the Brussels sprouts, line another baking sheet with cooking parchment and adjust the oven to 400°F (205°C). Prep the sprouts as described in Step 2, then toss them in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt, and roast until deeply golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Roasted Jalapeño Vinaigrette


  • 1 to 2 jalapeños
  • 2 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 cup (200 ml) grapeseed or vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp agave nectar
  • 1 cup (40 g) fresh cilantro
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat your grill to medium-high or place a metal grate directly atop a gas burner on medium-high heat. Set the jalapeños and green onions over the flame and roast, turning occasionally, until they're soft and charred all over. When they're cool enough to handle, peel any papery char from the jalapeño, then remove its stem, seeds, and membranes.

Confit the garlic by covering the cloves with the oil in a small saucepan or skillet and gently warming over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until it's soft but hasn't built too much color. Remove the garlic when cooked and reserve the oil.

Chop the roasted jalapeños and green onions and puree in a blender with the confit garlic, rice vinegar, orange juice, lime juice, agave nectar and cilantro. With the blender still going, stream in the reserved garlic oil and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Use right away or store in refrigerator up to 1 week.

Makes about 1½ cups (360 ml)

Chef Sohla El-Waylly's Apple (Hand) Pie

Sohla El-Waylly

The beauty of these apple hand pies from recipe developer Sohla El-Waylyy is how easy they are, especially because they call for pre-made pie dough. El-Waylyy says it's best to use Granny Smith apples, which cook down into a thick and jammy compote without the need for too much starch. You'll need to let the filling cool completely or the uncooked crust will melt, so you can make the filling ahead of time before forming your pies.

For the filling:

  • 1 pound Granny Smith apples (about 2 medium)
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 6 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp tapioca starch or cornstarch
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter

For the pies:

  • flour for dusting
  • 1 ready-to-bake pie crust, thawed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon

Make the filling:

Peel apples and cut around the core to remove the flesh in large cheeks. Dice the apple flesh into rough ½-inch pieces and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add apple cider and sugar, and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue simmering the apples, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender and translucent, the liquid has cooked down enough to coat the back of the spoon, and the mixture looks darkened in color, 12 to 14 minutes.

In a small bowl, stir together the starch with a few spoonfuls of the apple mixture to dissolve then stir it back into the pot. While stirring constantly, simmer the mixture for a full minute to cook the starch.

Remove from heat and stir in the cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and butter. Transfer to a bowl to cool completely. (The filling can be made 3 days in advance and kept chilled.)

Make the pies:

Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C).

Lightly dust a clean and dry surface with flour and unroll the prepared pie crust, gently warming it up with your hands if it feels stiff. If needed, use a rolling pin to gently roll it out into an even 11-inch circle. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the crust into quarters.

Divide the chilled apple compote evenly between the four pie crust wedges, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Working with one piece at a time, brush the edges with egg wash and fold the sides over the filling to overlap in the middle and form a cone, taking care to press the tip closed.

Transfer the hand pie to a baking sheet lined with parchment and place seam side down. Use the side of your hand to gently press the wide end of the cone to seal. Fold over the edge and crimp with your fingers or a fork, just like you would for a full pie. Using the tip of a paring knife, cut a couple of slits into the hand pie to release steam as it bakes. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. and freeze for at least 20 minutes before baking. (Alternatively, freeze overnight before individually wrapping and storing for up to 2 months.)

In a small bowl, whisk the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. In another small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon. Brush the hand pies evenly with egg wash and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before eating.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


This Thanksgiving, there's only one hard and fast rule; don't travel for a large family gathering, according to the CDC. And sure, that can be a disappointment, but maybe it can also be an opportunity. No big feast means no expectations. Maybe this can be the year you don't make that traditional family recipe you never really liked that much anyway. And if there are only a couple people at your table, maybe you don't have to roast an enormous turkey.


SHAPIRO: We asked three chefs to help us reimagine the Thanksgiving feast for a smaller group. Our first guest has written an entire cookbook about wonderful food you can cook just for yourself. Chef Anita Lo suggests that you stick with the turkey; just reinvent it as a turkey roulade.

ANITA LO: It's like a flattened turkey breast that you roll up and roast.

SHAPIRO: Kind of like a jelly roll but instead of cake, it's turkey. And instead of jam, it's whatever you decide to roll it up with.

LO: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: So what are you going to roll it up with?

LO: Well, I thought we would do some ingredients that are good this time of year. So that's - I was taking some maitake mushrooms, also known as hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, along with some sunchokes, which are also known as Jerusalem artichokes.

SHAPIRO: It sounds extremely fancy, and I think of fancy as being difficult. Is this a tough dish to make?

LO: Not at all; I mean, you're basically making sort of some sauteed mushrooms with some things in it and then rolling it up in a breast and cooking it. I mean, it's no - it's not that much harder than making, you know, a stuffing and a turkey.

SHAPIRO: Your second cookbook was focused on meals for one. It was called "Solo: Easy, Sophisticated Recipes For A Party Of One." For people who might be inclined to go a little bit more basic when they're not cooking for a crowd - like, if you don't have anyone else to impress, what's the argument for actually making the effort?

LO: Well, there's a couple of reasons. I mean, you know, you count, too. And at the end of the day, you are what you eat. I mean, I cannot be a bowl of popcorn standing over a kitchen sink. That's just not who I am.


SHAPIRO: For people who traditionally go to a relative's house for Thanksgiving, this may also be the first time you've tried cooking some of the classic dishes on your own. And if that's you, Anita Lo says, don't be intimidated. Approach the challenge this way.

LO: Focus on the ingredient. A lot of Thanksgiving dishes are really, really simple, just sort of roasted. So don't go crazy. Maybe just buy good ingredients. And treat them simply, and don't overcook them. And we're good (laughter).

SHAPIRO: By the way, you can find all the recipes we're talking about today at NPR.org.


SHAPIRO: Now, for me, Thanksgiving is all about the side dishes. But with a smaller crowd this year, maybe you don't have to do green beans and sweet potatoes and five other things. So chef Aaron Sanchez has a suggestion that pulls together a few delicious elements of the Thanksgiving table. He has restaurants in Kansas and New Orleans and is perhaps best known as a judge on Food Network's "Chopped."

AARON SANCHEZ: We have a signature dish at our restaurant here in New Orleans, which is some crispy Brussels sprouts that have some butternut squash, pomegranate and a very bracing roasted jalapeno vinaigrette.

SHAPIRO: I love that because it's acidic enough to work with, like, heavy mashed potatoes and stuffing and things like that. And it also sounds substantial enough that it could work as a main dish if you want to go that route.

SANCHEZ: Absolutely, yeah. If you have somebody that's a vegetarian coming over to your Thanksgiving feast, this is something I would definitely throw at them. And actually, you can make it vegan if you wanted, too, with just omitting the cotija cheese.

SHAPIRO: Or I suppose you could throw some chorizo on top and make it not vegetarian at all.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. You could put some crispy chorizo and really call it a day.

SHAPIRO: I also feel like this jalapeno vinaigrette could go on all kinds of things besides just this Brussels-sprout-squash-pomegranate dish.

SANCHEZ: Oh, my God. You are absolutely right. It has, like, the roasted jalapeno, which kind of subdues the heat a little bit. Then you're adding the lime juice and the cilantro and then kind of emulsifying that with really good olive oil. It just - you can't really beat it. I tell people all the time, like, that vinaigrette - if you just want to simply roast, like, a whole cabbage, you want to roast some squash and just drizzle it on top by itself. It's really versatile.

SHAPIRO: And if you're overwhelmed by the idea of all that peeling and slicing, chef Sanchez says, give yourself a break.

SANCHEZ: Look. Here's the deal. I'm all about convenience. It's - you know, the chef saying is work smarter not harder. You know, you can go to, you know, big stores, and they sell butternut squash already diced. You know, and they have the pomegranates already picked for you. They have cut Brussels sprouts for you, so go that route if you're worried about the time it's going to take.


SHAPIRO: All right. Time for dessert with Sohla El-Waylly. She writes a column for Food52 and is currently filming a Web series called "Stump Sohla," where she's asked to create crazy food challenges. So we gave her one of our own - Thanksgiving dessert for two. And yes, one correct answer is eat an entire pie. We won't judge you. But Sohla El-Waylly came up with something that might be even better - individual apple hand pies.


SOHLA EL-WAYLLY: I don't have a problem eating a whole pie over a few days, but the great thing about these is that you can make them and have them in your freezer and then have, like, hot, fresh apple pie whenever you want.

SHAPIRO: That sounds so good. To make a hand pie, can you downscale a regular pie recipe? Or does your recipe call for something different? Do you have to do something special to make a hand pie work?

EL-WAYLLY: Well, because it's smaller, it's going to bake a lot faster, so we're going to use a precooked filling. And also, we need that filling to set up a little bit thicker than you would find in an apple pie. Otherwise, it all just kind of bursts right out of there. So I've found that Granny Smiths work the best. They have a higher amount of pectin than, like, a Fuji apple or a honeycrisp. So it sets into a nice, thick gel without having to use a ton of starch, which can get kind of gloopy.

SHAPIRO: She cooks the peeled chopped apples with apple cider, brown sugar, spices and corn starch until it gets nice and thick. And once that cools down, she spoons it into triangles of store-bought pie crust.

EL-WAYLLY: The great thing with the store-bought crusts is that they're already circles. So I thought it'd be really cute to cut the circle into quarters and then fold up the pie dough around the filling. So it's like a little wedge. So it feels like you're having a slice of pie.

SHAPIRO: I love the idea of having a freezer full of hand pies. Can you just pop them in the oven straight out of the freezer?

EL-WAYLLY: Just straight out of the freezer - you can also do it in a toaster oven if you don't want to heat up a full oven. And it's great because you can eat your Thanksgiving meal and then throw your pie in after you're done eating so you can have it, like, nice and warm and piping hot.


SHAPIRO: Now listen. All three of these recipes nod to the traditional Thanksgiving feast. But Sohla El-Waylly says this year of all years, you should feel empowered to abandon the turkey, the squash, the pie. She told me her meal on Thursday night will be whatever she feels like eating that day, and it will still be special.

EL-WAYLLY: I think you should eat whatever you want to eat, but just, like, eat it with some intention. Set the table, say what you're thankful for, and it'll feel like a holiday.


SHAPIRO: You can find the full recipes for Anita Lo's turkey roulade, Aaron Sanchez's Brussels sprouts salad and Sohla El-Waylly's apple hand pies at NPR.org.

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