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Recipes: Alternatives to Turkey on Thanksgiving

NPR's Melissa Block talks with Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and the New York Times food column "The Minimalist," about alternatives to the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. His suggestions range from leg of lamb to salmon.

Following are some of Bittman's recipes for a different kind of Thanksgiving meal:

Basic Roast Leg of Lamb

Makes at least 6 servings

Time: About 1 1/2 hours, largely unattended

1 leg of lamb, about 5 to 7 pounds (bone in), preferably at room temperature

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds waxy red or white potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

2 onions, quartered

1/2 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock, or water, plus more as needed

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove as much of the surface fat as possible from the lamb; rub the meat all over with salt and pepper. Place it in a roasting pan and scatter the vegetables around it; moisten with 1/2 cup of the stock or water.

2. Roast the lamb for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350 degrees. Check the vegetables; if they're dry, add another 1/2 cup of liquid. After about 1 hour of roasting, check the internal temperature of the lamb with an instant-read thermometer. Continue to check every 10 minutes, adding a little more liquid if necessary. When it reaches 130 degrees for medium-rare (125 degrees for very rare) -- check it in several places -- it is done (total cooking time will be less than 1 1/2 hours). Let it rest for a few minutes before carving. Serve with the vegetables and pan juices.

Salmon Roasted with Butter and Herbs

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Time: 15 minutes

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or extra virgin olive oil

1 (2- to 3-pound) salmon fillet, skin on (scales removed) or off

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon

1 tablespoon chopped dill

2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Melt the butter (or heat the olive oil) in a medium roasting pan, either on top of the stove or in the oven as it preheats.

2. Stir in the tarragon, dill, and half the parsley. Place the salmon in the pan, flesh side down, and put the pan in the oven. Roast about 5 minutes, then turn and roast 3 to 6 minutes longer, until the salmon is done (peek between the flakes with a thin-bladed knife). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, garnish, and serve immediately, with the pan juices spooned over, and garnished with the parsley.

Roast Capon

Makes at least 6 servings

Time: About 1 1/2 hours

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, or any other potent green herb, such as rosemary, marjoram, oregano, or sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 (6- to 7-pound) capon, trimmed of excess fat, then rinsed and patted dry with paper towels

Fresh herbs for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Mix together the olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Place the bird, backside up, on a rack in a roasting pan, and place the pan in the oven.

3. After the capon has roasted for about 30 minutes, spoon some of the olive oil mixture over it, then turn the bird breast side up. Baste again, then again after 10 or 12 minutes; at this point the breast should be beginning to brown (if it hasn't, roast a few more minutes).

4. Turn the heat down to 350 degrees, baste again, and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. Total roasting time will be at least 1 hour 15 minutes.

5. Before removing the capon from the pan, tip it to let the juices from its cavity flow into the pan (if they are red, cook another 5 minutes). Remove the bird to a platter and let it rest for about 5 minutes. Carve, garnish, and serve with the pan juices.

Crisp Pan-Fried Noodle Cake

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

1 pound fresh Chinese egg noodles, or 12 ounces dried pasta

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 cup minced scallion

4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; cook the noodles in the water until tender but not mushy. Drain, then toss with the scallion, soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of the oil.

2. Put 2 tablespoons of oil on the bottom of a heavy medium to large skillet, preferably non-stick; turn the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot, add the noodle mix, spreading it out evenly and pressing it down.

3. Cook 2 minutes, then turn the heat to medium-low. Continue to cook until the cake is holding together and is nicely browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Turn carefully; the easiest way to do this is to slide the cake out onto a plate, cover it with another plate, invert the plates, and slide the cake back into the skillet, browned side up (use the remaining oil if necessary).

4. Cook on the other side until brown. Cut into eighths or quarters and serve.

Corn Flan

Makes 4 Servings

Total time: 1 hour (largely unattended)

4 ears corn

2 cups milk

2 teaspoons butter, more or less


2 eggs

1 yolk

1 teaspoon chili powder, preferably ancho

pinch cayenne

1. Strip the kernels from the corn; combine them with the milk in a blender and blend. The mixture will not become perfectly smooth; that's fine. Pour into a saucepan and heat gently until steam arises, about 5 minutes. Cover and let steep for about 10 minutes, longer if you have time (up to about 30 minutes).

2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and set a kettle of water to boil. Use the butter to grease the bottoms and sides of 4 6-ounce ramekins.

3. Strain the corn-milk mixture and add salt to taste (oversalt just a bit, since you'll be adding the eggs). Beat the eggs and yolk together and add a little of the strained milk, then pour the mixture back into the milk. Add the spices and pour or ladle into the ramekins.

4. Put the ramekins in a deep roasting pan or ovenproof skillet and add boiling water to come about halfway up their sides. Bake about 20 minutes, until barely set -- still quite jiggly in the middle -- then remove. Leave the flans in the ramekins or remove them by inverting each over a plate about 15 minutes after the come out of the oven. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Morning EditionAll Things Considered
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.