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Inexpensive Thanksgiving Meals from Julian Brunt

Thanksgiving is about families gathered around a table loaded with huge a turkey, pounds of dressing, buckets of gravy, and all the side dishes. At least that is Thanksgiving in the traditional view. It is a wonderful holiday and what is on that table is central to the event.

But what if you are single, have a small family, or just don’t have the coins in your purse to produce the cornucopia most expect and look forward to? Some people just skip the holiday altogether rather than not being able to put a big turkey on the table but don’t give up this beautiful holiday because of monetary circumstances

There are good alternatives, and they may not produce a table bulging with food, but you and the people that are important to you can sit down and have a special meal that is delicious and just as festive.

Let’s start with the turkey. If you go with a free-range all natural bird, you will be spending well over $100. No way, you say! There are several options that can reduce that price drastically. If part of your problem is that you just don’t have a big oven or your cooking skills are minimal, many grocery stores will sell turkey quarters, leg and thigh, during the holidays that are already roasted. The dark meat on a turkey is the most flavorful and I have no idea why people think the dry, over lean breast is so good.

Grocery stores also sell turkey quarters, and separate legs, wings, and thighs raw at the meat counter. Roasting these small parts is a snap, requiring nothing more than seasoning with salt and pepper, then roasting at 325 Fahrenheit until the meat is tender and the skin is crisp.

You can also buy some pretty good side dishes in the local deli that will go nicely with your roasted turkey thighs, like mac and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, or even mashed potatoes and gravy. If you buy from the deli you can get only the quantity you want, so you can count out the exact number of coins you want to spend.

Remember to serve multiple small courses as well. Start with a loaf of good crusty French bread (no more than $1.50 at most bakeries), and a stick of butter that has been mixed with any fresh herb you can get your hands on, like dill, rosemary, or basil. Serve a small pasta dish, as the Italians do before the entrée. A box of pasta, a little olive oil, and garlic can make a delicious second course. The entrée is next, the main event, and follow it up with some fresh fruit, like apples and perhaps a few slices of good cheddar cheese. That’s all there is to it.

If sitting down to a table of mostly store-bought food just doesn’t get it, and you are willing to try something a little different, try one of these one-pot recipes that keep turkey as the central theme, but is both homemade and inexpensive.

Turkey Curry

  • 2-3 cups de-boned turkey meat
  • 1-2 cans coconut cream or milk
  • 1-2 teaspoons red or green curry paste
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1-2 cups rice
  • Chicken stock 2 times the amount of rice

Add rice and stock to a saucepan, bring to a low simmer, lid on. Steam for 20 minutes. Place the coconut cream or milk in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Cook until the milk separates (you will see it when it happens). Add the onion and curry paste and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the turkey and mix well. Remember to taste and re-season as necessary. Server with steamed rice. Other vegetables like carrot or bell pepper will go nicely with this dish as well.

Turkey Jambalaya

  • 1 cup rice (try Arborio rice or sushi rice for a creamier result)
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 2-3 cups de-boned turkey
  • 1 cup chopped smoked sausage or ham (optional)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped bell pepper
  • 2/3 cup chopped celery
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper

Sauté the sausage, if you are using it, until well browned, then set aside. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery to the same pan, you may need to add a bit more oil, and sauté for 10 minutes. Add the rice and mix well so that each grain is coated with oil, add 2 cups of chicken stock, put the lid on, and steam for 20 minutes. Remove the lid, add the sausage and turkey, add as much more stock as necessary (you do not want it too dry), mix well, and cook over a low flame for a few minutes, just to incorporate the flavors. Remember to season as you go, now taste and re-season as necessary.


Written by Julian Brunt

Julian Brunt is a food and travel writer that has been writing about the food culture of the Deep South for over a decade. He is the eleventh generation of his family to live in the South, grew up in Europe, traveled extensively for the first fifteen years after graduating from the University of Maryland, University College, Heidelberg, Germany. Today, he's a contributor for multiple publications, including Our Mississippi Home. He's also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's television show, "To Hell and Back in 24 Hours."


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