Born and raised in Europe, I didn’t know about Thanksgiving until I married an American. Since we lived in Europe for much of our 23-year marriage we never celebrated the full-blown turkey-fest.
Nonetheless, each year I’d try to mark this day with something at least slightly “Thanksgivey,” like turkey burgers with cranberry-salsa in homemade pumpkin buns, turkey-herder’s pie (like shepherd’s pie, but replacing lamb with turkey, adding cranberries and topping the lot with mashed sweet potatoes).
Of all my Thanksgivin-ish recipes, this is my favorite. Not only is it delicious and nutritious, but it’s also super-quick-and-easy to prepare. It’s a clear nod to Thanksgiving, featuring all the familiar ingredients: cranberries, cinnamon, ginger, sweet potato, pecans and, of course, a big dry bird. Except that here, it’s not dry because we’re using turkey thighs – the most juicy and flavorful part – that I shred and toss in an aromatic cranberry-infused barbecue sauce and fruity olive oil for maximum taste and moistness.
Instead of serving this with mashed sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows (sorry, I just can’t), I like to pile the shredded meat into creamy baked sweet potatoes — a delightful contrast of flavors and textures. You can serve this with any of your favorite Thanksgiving sides; one of mine is roasted Brussels sprouts and red onions tossed in garlic, olive oil and Parmesan. A salad of crisp green leaves — I love arugula lightly tossed in lemony olive oil vinaigrette, or endive, orange & pomegranate salad (featured in my e-cookbook, Modern Mediterranean Christmas and New Year) — makes a delicious and easy addition.
If you’re well organized, this sumptuous spread shouldn’t take more than one hour to prepare. And if you’ve even more organized, you can prepare the turkey and sweet potatoes in advance and reheat on the day; the sprouts taste best freshly prepared. And since meat leftovers make delicious sloppy-joe style sandwiches, so why not double this recipe?
If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, you can cook extra-firm tofu or tempeh in the flavorful sauce (no need for the pressure cooker — 15 minutes at a low simmer in a small saucepan should suffice) and serve this in the sweet potatoes with sides of your choice. Lastly, If you’re trying to keep carbs low, serve the turkey on a luscious pile of buttery pumpkin or cauliflower mash instead of sweet potatoes.
Not Your Mother's Thanksgiving Turkey
- 8 small sweet potatoes (4-6 oz each)
- olive oil
- a pinch of salt
Pulled turkey in BBQ sauce
- 1 cup low-sugar BBQ sauce ideally no more than 5 g sugar per 2-tbsp serving; I use Motherlode Provisions’ Rocky Mountain BBQ sauce; if you’re on a keto/no-sugar diet, you can make this sugar-free BBQ sauce)
- 1 tbsp 1 tbsp garlic, minced about 5 cloves
- 1 tbsp 1 tbsp fresh ginger root, finely grated finely grated
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce vegan, if desired
- 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- ½ cup chicken bone broth or vegetable broth or water
- ½ cup dried cranberries I use these 50% less sugar dried cranberries
- 1 cinnamon stick
- finely grated zest of ½ organic orange I use a Microplane zester/grater
- 2½ lbs bone-in, skin-on turkey thighs dark turkey meat has the best flavor and isn’t as dry as the rest; if you want white meat, use turkey tenderloins, which are less dry than the rest of the breast. Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs work well here, too.
- 1 tbsp best-quality olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tbsp pecan nuts toasted and coarsely chopped
Garlicky Brussel sprouts and red onions
- 1½ lbs Brussel sprouts, trimmed, halved lengthwise trimmed and halved lengthwise
- 1 large red onion or 2 small red onions, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 5 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
- Start by baking the sweet potatoes. Preheat oven to 425F. Scrub sweet potatoes under running water; dry thoroughly. Rub lightly with olive oil and prick each potato 8 times with the tip of a sharp paring knife to prevent them from bursting as they bake. Place in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with a little salt and set timer for 45 minutes. When the timer rings, test for doneness: the potatoes are ready when they ooze sticky juice, their skins look wrinkled and a knife inserted into the thickest part slides in easily. Your potatoes may need longer than 45 minutes, depending on their size.
- While the potatoes are baking, get the turkey started. In the Instant Pot, combine BBQ sauce, garlic, ginger, Worcestershire sauce, blackstrap molasses, chicken broth/water (whichever using), cranberries, cinnamon stick and orange zest and stir to mix. Add turkey thighs and coat all around with the sauce. Lock lid. Set pot to HIGH PRESSURE and program for 20 minutes.
- While the turkey is cooking, prepare the sprouts and onions. In a large mixing bowl, toss the halved Brussel sprouts and sliced onions in 2 tbsp olive oil; season with ½ tsp salt and several grinds of black pepper.Tip onto a large baking sheet and turn sprout halves cut-side down (this helps them brown evenly). Slide the sprouts into the oven next to the sweet potatoes and set a separate timer for 15 minutes.
- When the turkey cooking time is up, let the pressure reduce naturally for 10 minutes, then shift the pressure valve to VENTING to release the remaining steam. (Cover valve with a thick kitchen towel.)
- Transfer meat to a plate and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Remove skin and discard; shred the rest with two forks and discard the bones. While shredding the meat, cook the cranberry-BBQ sauce on SAUTE, LOW to thicken it. Return the shredded meat to the sauce, add the olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm.
- To finish the Brussel sprouts, warm 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the chopped garlic and parsley and sauté for 30 seconds (don’t let it brown or the garlic will taste bitter), then add the roasted sprouts and onions and toss to combine. Sprinkle with a squeeze of lemon juice and season to taste with salt & pepper. Scatter with Parmesan and transfer to a serving bowl; cover to keep warm.
- Once the sweet potatoes are ready, place one on each dining plate, cut in half and open. Spoon the pulled turkey and its delicious sauce onto the sweet potato halves and scatter with chopped pecans. Serve with the garlicky Brussels sprouts and onions and enjoy immediately.