It’s two days away from Thanksgiving here in the United States, and that means a significant portion of my readership is scrambling to put together a Primal menu. Things are easier now with the rise of the ancestral health community and the growing preponderance of related recipe blogs, but a lot of you are still wasting precious time combing through their volumes or converting standard Thanksgiving recipes into Primal-friendly recipes. You have better things to do. You have family and friends to visit, footballs to toss (or kick, as the case may be), piles of polychromatic leaves to roll around in, and thanks to give. Even if you’re an international reader, don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or know quite what it’s all about, you still like to eat great food.
That’s why we’ve done the work for you. My team and I have put together a comprehensive recipe list of Thanksgiving meat dishes, sides, stuffing, gravy, desserts, and appetizers so that you assemble your ingredients today and get all the preparation out of the way. Nobody likes being that last guy in the grocery store on Thanksgiving Eve picking through spindly pathetic 9-pound or ridiculous 30-pound turkeys because he didn’t plan ahead. Use this list to avoid that situation.
Be sure to stay tuned for a contest at the end of the post!
Most meat dishes are pretty easy to Primalize. Buy a pastured or grass-fed animal, sub in a healthy fat for whatever seed oil they call for, and you’re good to go. If there’s a crust on it, make sure you’re using something like coconut flour instead of white flour. Otherwise? Very straightforward. Still, the Primal/paleo community has a unique acumen when it comes to animal flesh. We know what’s good and how to cook it, so it’s a good idea to look to them for meat recipes.
Heritage Turkey and Mashed Parsnips – Heritage turkeys are best, having more dark meat (so dark in fact that it looks a bit like red meat), fat, and flavor than the broad-breasted white-meated mutant birds we’ve grown accustomed to, but this recipe will work with any turkey variety. Pro tip: In recent years I’ve been doing a dry salt brine, where you salt the turkey two or three days before cooking it, inside and out. Use about a tablespoon of kosher salt for every 5 pounds of turkey, and really rub it in. This locks in moisture and results in a flavorful, not salty, bird. Just make sure to omit the salt from any recipe you use if you do a salt brine. The drippings will also be rather salty, so keep that in mind when making gravy.
Succulent Roast Goose – You’ve spent your entire life being ridiculed by the geese down at the local pond. The loaves of white bread you tear into little pieces and toss to their gaping beaks are never enough. They’re your best friend when you’re rolling in baked dough and spurn you when you’re not. You even got Udi’s one time for that grey gander with celiac, only to have him poop on your shoe. Such ungrateful jerks, those geese. This recipe is your chance to even the score. Plus, it’s delicious and produces about a quart of high quality goose fat, perfect for roasting sweet potatoes.
Foolproof Prime Rib – Prime rib isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving meat dish, true. Poultry is the preferred genre, yeah. Who cares? Shake things up with J. Stanton’s simple recipe! Plop a six pound piece of beef on the table. Eyebrows and hackles may raise up a bit, but you’re used to that by now. Plus, once those meat juices are running down their chins, they’re locked in. No going back. Get fancy and go with a bison roast, if you’ve got one handy.
Baked Fresh Ham – Cured hams are tricky. To cure your own is a huge undertaking (plus, it’s too late to get started) and most commercial hams are full of sugar. Luckily, you can bake a fresh ham roast, control what goes into it, and end up with a great piece of holiday meat.
Holiday Spice Rubs – Pick one of these spice blends and rub it into/onto the slab of animal of your choice. It’s bound to taste great, impart seasonality, and reduce the formation of carcinogens and oxidation products.
Stuffing poses an obvious problem that’s difficult to circumvent: it’s made of bread. Never fear, for the Primal community has made quick work of the roadblock.
Breadless Primal Stuffing – Many of us still have fond memories of stovetop stuffing. Here’s a way to replicate it using Primal ingredients. You will have to make some grain-free biscuits ahead of time, but I think it’s worth it.
A thick meat-and-fat-and-bone-broth-based sauce? What could be more Primal? Well, traditionally, gravy is thickened with a white-flour roux that makes it inappropriate for the 30% or so of people that may be gluten-sensitive. Let’s look at a few Primal-friendly gravies, because you simply can’t go without gravy on Thanksgiving.
Umami Gravy – Even if this gravy from Nom Nom Paleo weren’t thick and viscous, its overwhelming unctuousness would coat your throat, mouth, and the interior of any other orifice with which it comes into contact. A little bit goes a long way (but you’ll still want to pour it over everything you eat and drink the rest out of a mug).
Herb Gravy – A classic Thanksgiving gravy recipe, albeit without the flour.
My Basic Reduction – If you don’t want to use a flour or starch to thicken, you can rely on time and patience. Mince some garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs. Add to a heated, buttered sauce pan and cook until fragrant. Deglaze with some white wine. Reduce the white wine by more than half, right about when it starts getting a little syrupy. Add a generous amount of the super gelatinous bone broth you’ve already made; pan drippings also work here. Reduce the heck out of it. Once it’s starting to coat the spoon, turn off the heat, toss in a few tablespoons of cold butter, raw egg yolks, and maybe some cream. Stir, stir, stir and season to taste. No, it’s not traditional Thanksgiving gravy and it takes longer to make, but it’s darn good. Check out Richard Nikoley’s take on a reduction gravy; he uses giblets.
Sides are the true stars of the Thanksgiving show. Turkey? Yeah, it looks good on the table and everything, but people don’t go back for extra breast. They’re having seconds of mashed sweet potatoes, of green beans, of Brussels sprouts, of butternut squash.
Veggie dishes offer a welcome respite from the meat and gravy and mashed starches.
Vegan Green Bean Casserole – Hey, we don’t hate the vegans. We can get along. This dish is the perfect way to make your vegan friend or family member feel at home as they eat it tucked away in the basement at the personal dinner table you’ve set up just for them. How nice! But seriously, it’s a legit green bean dish.
Harvest Blend – I don’t have a link for you. It’s just a dish that I usually throw together for the holidays. Gather a few strips of bacon, some coconut oil, cinnamon, sea salt, purple sweet potatoes, white sweet potatoes, a sweet apple (like a fuji), and a tart apple (like a goldrush or a granny smith). Chop up the bacon and roast it in a pan at 350 ºF until it gets soft and slightly (about halfway) cooked. Add the cubed sweet potatoes and coconut oil. Cook until nearly done, then add the diced apples (skin and all) and toss with salt and cinnamon. When the apples are caramelized, it’s done.
Mashes: they soak up gravy and fill your belly. They’re the backbone of the Thanksgiving plate. Many foods can be mashed, not just potatoes. Let’s take a look at a few of the best.
Roasted Butternut Squash Purée – Basic steamed butternut purée with butter is nice, but this recipe switches things up by roasting the squash, using coconut oil and sage, and mixing in macadamia nut meal. Really interesting, really tasty.
Mashed Cauliflower – Steamed or boiled cauliflower, grass-fed butter, a blender or food processor, some salt and pepper are all you need to create a low-carb version of mashed potatoes. You could also make a more elaborate version.
Mashed Parsnips – Parsnips get no love. They deserve lots. Love them and show them you love them by eating them; they’ll understand.
Paleo Cran-Cherry Sauce – Cranberries, cherries, ginger: it’s a delicious confluence of powerful antioxidants that happens to go well with roasted turkey.
Cranberry Brown Butter Sauce – Butter really does make everything better. Heck, it’s practically right there in the word “butter” if you take out a “u” and add another “e.” In this sauce, butter mellows out the tartness of the cranberries.
Thanksgiving dinner demands hearty appetites. Thanksgiving appetizers, then, should whet, not blunt, the appetite.
I want your favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Your go-to dishes that you go back to time and time again. The ones you’ve perfected. The tried and the true. Or even just ones that you tried once and loved. Leave a recipe, or a link to a recipe, in the comment section below – they don’t have to be yours, but they do have to be a recipe you’ve actually tried. Obviously, this is an unenforceable rule. Honor system will have to do.
One entry per reader. Winner will be selected by random drawing. Contest ends at 11:59 pm PST tomorrow night, Wednesday, Nov. 27.
Thanks for reading, folks, and have a great Thanksgiving!
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.