3 Recipes For Cooking Up A Scaled-Down, Low-Key Thanksgiving Meal The usual Thanksgiving spreads may be too big for this year's holiday. Instead, Chefs Anita Lo, Aarón Sánchez and Sohla El-Waylly share recipes for a relatively unfussy but still delicious meal.
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3 Recipes For Cooking Up A Scaled-Down, Low-Key Thanksgiving Meal

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

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

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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