A bountiful Thanksgiving dinner with just 20 ingredients

(Photos by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post; props by Limonata Creative for The Washington Post)
(Photos by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post; props by Limonata Creative for The Washington Post)

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays because it’s primarily about food. But its rising cost will make this year’s meal particularly fraught for those struggling financially. With that in mind, I took on a challenge: coming up with a budget-friendly Thanksgiving meal that’s still celebratory and full of flavor. While it’s easy to find affordable recipes for individual dishes, what can really make the meal costly is purchasing many different ingredients for each recipe. That’s why I developed this entire meal — turkey and gravy (or cauliflower as a vegetarian alternative), sides, cranberry sauce and pie — from only 20 ingredients total. (And yes, that includes everything, even oil, salt and pepper.)

From turkey to pie, all your thanksgiving questions, answered

The key: A number of ingredients show up in multiple places in these recipes. For example, there’s orange in the cranberry sauce, green beans and pie; sweet potatoes make for both a savory side dish and a sweet dessert (they’re even prepared the same way for added convenience); and almonds are used as a garnish for the green beans and cauliflower and form the crust for the pie. Though some ingredients repeat, the menu is not one-note; each dish contributes to a symphony of textures and flavors, and the result is a delicious meal bountiful enough to feed six to eight people that shouldn’t break the bank.

Ingredient and Shopping List: Many home cooks will have at least half of the ingredients for this meal already in their pantry. And while I realize most people might just incorporate one or two of the recipes into their meals this holiday, I’ve listed approximate total amounts for ingredients you’ll probably need to purchase or want to make sure you have enough of.

  • One 15-pound turkey or one large (2 1/2- to 3-pound) head of cauliflower. Or you could get both!
  • 4 1/2 pounds (about 9 medium) sweet potatoes
  • 2 heads garlic
  • 2 pounds green beans
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3 or more oranges: You’ll only need three if you remember to save the orange you zest from the pie to cut into segments for the green beans. But also, you could always use any extras to decorate the turkey platter or simply save them for eating later.
  • 1 quart chicken or turkey stock: You probably won’t need all of it, but having extra stock on Thanksgiving is never a bad thing. Also, buy unsalted or low-sodium stock if you can.
  • 1 pound sliced almonds: This leaves extra in case you accidentally burn a batch when toasting them.
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 pound unsalted butter: Though it would never hurt to buy more, because you can never have too much butter.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • All-purpose flour
  • Light brown sugar
  • Dried rubbed sage
  • Dried thyme
  • Garlic powder
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground cardamom
  • Fine salt
  • Ground black pepper

Turkey With Roasted Garlic Gravy

Olive oil and dried spices from your pantry flavor this roasted turkey. Roasting garlic, which you can do at the same time as the turkey, transforms gravy from simple to sublime.

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Whole Roasted Cauliflower With Almond Brown Butter

This vegetarian main is pushed over the top by almond brown butter, which adds crunch and decadence to the humble vegetable.

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Sweet Potato Puree With Roasted Garlic

This alternative to traditional mashed potatoes features sweet potatoes that are slow-roasted in a low-to-moderate oven to bring out more of their natural sweetness and produce a creamier texture. The addition of roasted garlic makes for an unexpected and lovely flavor combination, grounding it as a savory side dish.

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Green Beans With Oranges and Almonds

This easy, festive side dish includes toasted almonds for texture and orange segments to brighten it up and add a hint of sweetness.

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Cranberry Sauce With Cardamom and Brown Sugar

This cranberry sauce relies on brown sugar for a bit of depth, and on orange and cardamom for citrus flavor and fragrance.

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Sweet Potato Pie With Almond Crust

Brown sugar adds depth and sweetness to the filling, which is also flavored with orange zest, cardamom and cinnamon. The almond crust is low-effort in that it doesn’t require a rolling pin — and it happens to be gluten-free.

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