The big day is coming faster than you can say 4:30 pm sundown, and while you probably have your major Thanksgiving recipes sorted, there’s still time for 11th hour inspiration. After all, traditional Thanksgiving dishes—your turkey and stuffing and mac and cheese—are glorious, but also a parade of beige. A dash of sumac or sprinkle of cobanero chili has a way of making even tired foods taste brand new.
That’s why we’ve put together a handy cheat sheet for sprucing up your tried-and-true dishes that may need a little color. Versatility is the order of the day here—ingredients that go with recipes you already have so you don’t need to reinvent your menu. Holidays are stressful enough. Let these gems help your favorite dishes shine so you can focus on the important things: getting a prime post-meal seat on the sofa for football.
A global Thanksgiving in four easy steps
Up your hors d’ouvres
Hungry houseguests milling around could always use something to nibble on while you’re at work in the kitchen.
Keep them sated—and out of your hair—with a few strategic snack reserves. Start with a nice wedge of cheese and bowl of Spanish olives. Then dress up your cheese plate with a prepared dip like ajvar, a Balkan spread of roasted tomatoes, red peppers, and eggplant that goes well with all kinds of cheese, crackers, and toast points, and won’t fill you up for the main meal.
If you really want to wow your crew, also lay out some Tennessee truffle honeycomb, which is crazy good with sharp cheddar and pungent goat cheeses. It doubles as the best host gift ever. Shop all snacks and hors d’ouvres fodder.
Trick Out Your Turkey
I’ve never understood the annual pre-Thanksgiving show of how much we all hate turkey. If you don’t like turkey, don’t roast one. The pilgrims didn’t eat it at their first Thanksgiving and you don’t need to eat it now. Serve a ham. Roast some mushrooms. Celebrate your freedom, America.
But also: stop picking on turkey. Turkey is great, assuming it’s not cooked to cardboard, and if it is, gravy solves most problems. Again: America.
Where was I? Right—make your turkey, or not. Rub some butter under the skin for good measure. And this year, give it character with a spice rub that turns the dial up to 11. Za’atar, a blend of Mediterranean herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac, adds an enticing Middle Eastern touch and pairs well with sage stuffing. Ras el hanout brings the sultry warmth of a Moroccan spice shop with coriander, allspice, and cumin. And tsire, a West African peanut-and-spice mix typically used for kebabs, delivers heat and roasted nut flavors perfect for fall. Shop all spice blends.
Dream of greater desserts
Did you know that brown sugar is really just refined white sugar with some molasses mixed in? Muscavado, on the other hand, is a less processed raw sugar with a natural caramel flavor that’s great with apples. Kurozo, a raw sugar from Okinawa, adds smoky, malty notes to punches and desserts—ideal for pumpkin.
And treat yourself to a digestif
Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and plan for some digestion time. My secret weapon is Underberg, a tiny, single-serving bittersweet German liqueur you down in one shot. The secret alpine herbal formula is designed to settle your stomach, freshen your breath, and refresh your spirits. Or, take a page out of some Indian households and set out a bowl of sugar-coated fennel seeds. Fennel seeds have a wealth of benefits, including soothing digestion. Which is handy if you need to recharge before your second helping. Or third.