Tuesday 10: Paleo Thanksgiving Sides


As I mentioned the other day, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. And although I love the exotic flavors (and taste bud travel) of international cuisine, I like my Thanksgiving dishes to be pretty straight-forward. We enjoy some long-standing traditions in my family (as a Taurus, I am steadfast in my devotion to them), and even though I eat sweet potatoes almost every day now, the flavors of Thanksgiving — cranberries, turkey, sage, green bean casserole, cinnamon — are among my favorites and somehow, still taste special on the fourth Thursday of November every year.

Dave and I are planning a 100% paleo feast for Thanksgiving 2012, so here are my 10 picks for dino-chow replacements instead of ye olde recipes of yore. (NOTE: I think it’s pretty easy to find a paleo recipe for roasted turkey — and I’ll be sharing the Cook’s Illustrated recipe I’m using soon — so this list is focused on the best part: the sides!)

10 Paleo Thanksgiving Sides


Special Breakfast: Thanksgiving Morning Apple Fritters
Courtesy of the fabulous Juli of PaleOMG, these fritters are definitely ‘special occasion’ food, but if Thanksgiving morning isn’t a special occasion, I don’t know what is. A batch of these with some protein on the side can be a leisurely, scrumptious start to Turkey Day.


Whole Nuts Sweet & Salty Spiced Nuts!
It seems like we always had a big bowl of whole nuts and a nutcracker on the side table in our dining room during the holiday season. But I like my nuts a little spicy (ahem). I’ve tried bajillions of spiced nut recipes, but this one remains our favorite.


Mashed Potatoes Mashed Cauliflower
You gotta have respect for a holiday menu that features both white potatoes and sweet potatoes. That is starchy genius! But it’s also the bullet train to CrankyTown, thanks to the direct route they can take over Insulin Spike Peak. Mashed Cauliflower provides all the texture and comfort of mashed spuds, without the trip into dangerous territory.


Green Bean Casserole Coconut-Almond Green Beans
Oh! That casserole with the fried, canned onions on top! In our house, it was called Cheesy Green Beans Deluxe, and it was one of my favorites — especially cold the next day, eaten directly out of the fridge,with a giant spoon. This year, we’re having Coconut-Almond Green Beans instead. All the creaminess and crunch, without the problems of cheese, cream, and whatever the hell those onion things are. For another Thanksgiving-worthy green veg, we’re also making these Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Prosciutto from Nom Nom Paleo.


Candied Sweet Potatoes Velvety Butternut Squash
To be totally honest, I never really liked the whole “sweet potatoes with mini marshmallows” thing that seems to be traditional. My mom used to make pan-sautéed yams that I’m pretty sure were quite tipsy on brandy and butter by the time they arrived on the table. This year, I’m swapping sweet spuds — which I eat almost every morning anyway — for this spicy, creamy, silky butternut squash recipe from Well Fed.


Giblet Gravy Easy Paleo Herb Gravy from Nom Nom Paleo
My mom makes the best gravy in the world. Since she’s not making my gravy on Thanksgiving, I’m using this recipe from Nom Nom Paleo.


Bread Stuffing Paleo Stuffing
I have two recommendations for paleo stuffings from people I know have refined, kickass, everything-they-make-is-yummo taste buds. Here’s one from Charles and Julie of Paleo Comfort Foods and another from PaleOMG. Make one. Make both. Mush ’em together. It’s stuffing; it cannot go wrong.


Cranberry Sauce Whole9-Approved Cranberry Sauce from Whole9
Tart, sweet, crisp, and pretty much the taste of “Fall,” cranberries are the perfect balance to rich gravy. Cranberry sauce adds ping! Ping, people! And this recipe from a Whole9 roundup is a keeper. Because I like nothing more than excess, we’re also having my paleo-ized version of my mom’s Cranberry Waldorf Salad. Some people might think it’s dessert-y, but they’d be wrong. We always, ALWAYS eat this first, like a salad. Life is short, eat dessert salad first.


Pumpkin Cake Roll Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake with Maple-Vanilla Frosting

My family, we are not usually pumpkin pie people. Instead, we made a luscious pumpkin cake roll  filled with cream cheese-walnut frosting. OMG. It got sliced into pinwheels, so it was pretty to eyeball and to eat. This Pumpkin Gingerbread Cake I’m making instead is shockingly moist, and the frosting is just sweet enough, without causing vibrating eyeballs — and there’s no dairy to ruin your day. If you are a pumpkin pie person, maybe you’ll like this primal recipe from Mark Sisson. (The crust alone is GENIUS!)


Champagne Cranberry Fizz

I’ve decided to abstain from alcohol for the foreseeable future — not for any particular reason except that i don’t need it, it doesn’t make me feel good the next day, it provides no nutrition, and I like being clear-headed. This is subject to change whenever I decide to change my mind, but for now: no booze. Instead, we’ll be drinking club soda on the rocks with a splash of cranberry juice and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Turn it up to 11: Turkey Meatballs & Cranberry Mayo
Enjoy  little bites of Thanksgiving anytime! These meatballs from my blond doppleganger Summer Innanen — nutritionist and blogger extraordinaire of Haute Life — roll everything you love about Turkey Day into a power-packed meatball… with bonus cranberry mayo for dipping. I’m thinking a batch of cranberry mayo would be perfect for leftover turkey. Right?!

Paleo or not: what’s your favorite Thanksgiving dish?

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  • Sara Grambusch says:

    I keep telling people as it gets closer to the holidays that paleo is perfect holiday food. I’m pretty sure I could make an entire thanksgiving or christmas spread and no one would notice anything was “missing” if I didn’t mention it. I had someone tell me that all my food tastes like thanksgiving. 🙂 It’s because I cook everything in bone broth..

  • Chef Jessica Griffith says:

    I’m super happy about this post as we have also decided to have a completely 100% Paleo Thanksgiving! Lots of fabulous ideas and recipes, can’t wait to try out a few!

  • Michelle du Plessis says:

    Hey Melissa, Well Fed has become a kind of bible to us and we cook from it very, very often. Your website, and the book, were our first ports-of-call at the start of our Paleo adventure. Thanks for the inspiration and the YUM!

  • Holly says:

    Bless your heart! Making a game plan now!

  • Becky says:

    We LOVE the velvety butternut squash recipe (that and the cauliflower pilaf are my favorite from Well Fed). Looking forward to trying the pumpkin cakes for a fall/Thanksgiving treat. Thanks for the great ideas!

  • I keep trying to talk myself into trying other squash recipes, but whenever I get my hands on squash it gets turned into Velvety Butternut Squash. I tried it with some Delicata–just as yummy as the original.

    I’m on my own for Thanksgiving, but I’m thinking turkey meatballs and cranberry mayo might be a perfect small celebration, with that amazing-looking gingerbread stuff for dessert. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I am in charge of t-gives this year and it will be whole 30 compliant.

    We are doing non-conventional t-gives consisting of salmon, sweet potatoes, kale salad, and fresh cranberries.

  • We talked about having a paleo Thanksgiving at home this year. We were going to use pureed sweet potatoes instead of cauliflower. Thanks for putting this together! It gave me a lot of great ideas 🙂

  • Summer says:

    Wa-hoo!! Thanks for the shout-out Doppleganger!! Your mayo is the key to it’s success:)

  • Becky K says:

    Totally gonna make some (or all) of these! Thanks for the awesome ideas!

  • Clayre says:

    Thank you for this timely post. We decided to host the family feast this year so that we could share another Paleo experience with the family. Last year we only brought the Pumpkin Pie but it was a big hit. I am looking forward to trying some of these family favorites.

  • andrea says:

    thank you for this! Great ideas 🙂 I am the lone paleo girl in the famiy and im going to contribute a few of these ideas so i can enjoy it too.

  • melephant says:

    “This is subject to change whenever I change my mind.”

    Amen, sister.

  • Sue says:

    What a fabulous post. My husband and I have hosted a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for 36 years. We adopted a grain free lifestyle last spring after reading Dr. William Davis’ book “Wheat Belly”. I’ve been wondering what to do about the holiday this year. Now I know! Thank you!

  • Amy H. says:

    Long time lurker here. Love this blog and your cookbook. This list of recipes is fantastic and I will make one or more to share at my family’s table.

    Re: the Cranberry Fizz, it’s my favorite “mocktail” and I drank them regularly during all of my pregnancies and inbetween them. Still do, actually…with one addition. I put a few dashes of Angostura bitters in the mix. It feels like a “real” drink minus the head-spinning effects.

    Oh, and I took your advice from Well Fed and drank it out of a wine glass, like I would at a fancy restaurant. It made a few family members turn their heads when they saw me do it at our annual picnic when I was 8 months along, but it was a good laugh.

  • Jodi Wright says:

    I figure that if the first Thanksgiving were held on the West coast that we’d be eating wild salmon instead of the big bird. The then teens weren’t happy about it at first; now it is a tradition that they clamor for as young adults. We try to think regional for the rest of it. And guess what, it tends to be primal/paleo! Well except for that green been casserole that the daughter’s boy friend brings over, and the cranberry relish. Now I see there will be a nice alternative! We love brussels sprouts with browned butter and walnuts too – easy (and not cheesy)! Don’t know, yet, what to do about the wild rice, wild mushrooms and walnuts though. hmmm. thanks for the wonderful ideas!

  • Mel says:

    I’m so glad y’all are excited about trying Paleo Thanksgiving! It really is the best holiday to adapt — NO ONE will know.

    And for you beautiful people who mentioned Well Fed: THANK YOU! This year, I’m tremendously thankful that our little cookbook has been so well received, and I love so much that a little part of me gets to hang out in the kitchen with all of you.

  • Debbie says:

    Thanks so much for this post! My husband and I went Paleo/Primal about 6 months ago. I just found out from my mom that she is ready to “pass the torch” to me on hosting Thanksgiving this year, so it looks like we’ll be hosting a group of about 10-12. My mother semi-reluctanly asked “Is this going to be a Paleo Thanksgiving?” She’s pretty open to anything I cook, but I told her to not tell anyone else and they likely won’t even notice it’s Paleo! These recipes look amazing! Here’s to hopefully “tricking” my SAD-eating family!

  • Joanne says:

    Just found your blog. I’m havng friends over for Thanksgiving who follow the paleo diet. Our family is currently gluten free and I am interested in the paleo diet/lifestyle. Your recipes/pictures look delightful.

    I clicked over to the “Brussels Sprouts with Crispy Prosciutto” to find it is actually a recipe for Broccoli. Off to check out your cookbook!

  • Lauren says:

    Love Well Fed and your blog!!!! Couldnt get the link to the Sweet and Salty Spiced Nuts to work, would really like to have it for our Thanksgiving (in fact in may be critical to a successful feast)
    Happy Feasting!!

  • Best dish ever on Thanksgiving (other than the turkey of course)… is BUTTERNUT SQUASH, simply roasted, that’s it. Maybe a little cinnamon if you’re feeling CRAZY (lol). Man, I cannot WAIT to feast!

    Oh wait, I LOVE Chestnuts too! I wish the were available year round (although they probably are on line).

  • michelle says:

    If you think about it, Thanksgiving should be Paleo pretty much, except maybe for corn products (which don’t seem to feature too much anyway in most menus) as the indigenous peoples would have had a pretty hunter-gatherer lifestyle so we’re just restoring a more authentic way of eating Thanksgiving anyway! Lots of luck w/your cooking, everyone! I’m looking forward to it.

  • Aprille says:

    So this is completely random but I just realized your from Austin!! Or at least you have some events going on out there! I’m totally stocked now! Sorry..little things in life I know. 😉

  • Donna says:

    Just started eating “Paleo” and made the Mashed Cauliflower, Velvety Butternut Squash, Coconut Almong Greenbeans and the Pumpkin Gingerbread…..absolutley lovely … all of it! Somebody even took a huge spoonful of the Cauliflower and loaded it with gravy and said these are great potatoes…..we thought they were yummy too but don’t really taste like potatoes!!! Thanks for all you do!

    • Mel says:

      I’m really glad the recipes worked out for you… congratulations on making the switch to paleo and tackling a holiday. WHEW!

      Best wishes for many happy meals throughout the holidays!