8 Make Ahead Staples for a Low-Waste Thanksgiving

fresh pumpkin purée

Cooking without producing waste requires some planning but not that much. Cooking Thanksgiving dinner without waste needs a bit more planning.

I don’t like to leave all my prepping for Thanksgiving to the day before or day of. I like to sleep. So this week and continuing on the weekend, I’ll prep a bunch of the stuff below to save my sanity. It’s cheaper than therapy. Not that I would know how much therapy costs… I especially don’t know how much years and years of therapy cost…

1. Bread for stuffing (or eating)

sourdough bread
Sourdough bread baking in a Dutch oven

You want your bread stale for stuffing, so bake it within the next few days, slice it, cube it and spread it out on a cookie sheet or wooden board to dry. I’m starting sourdough bread tonight, after I post this. I won’t actually make a bird this year. But I will make stuffing, baked in a ceramic dish. To do that I’ll need recipe #2.

If you’ll serve bread with your meal, you can bake it now and freeze it for later. I freeze my sourdough in one of my homemade cloth produce bags. Don’t slice your bread before you freeze it. It keeps better whole.

2. Broth

Frozen vegetable scraps for making broth

I’ll use broth to make my stuffing. Broth also comes in handy for making gravy or a pot pie or soup with Thanksgiving leftovers. Trust me, you’ll use your homemade broth for something. (It also freezes well.) This make-ahead suggestion assumes you stash vegetable scraps or bones in the freezer until you have amassed a pile large enough to simmer in water to make free broth sans Tetra Paks. Here is my post for vegetable broth. And here is my post for bone broth.

3. Salad dressing

vinaigrette ingredients
Balsamic vinaigrette ingredients

Will you serve a green salad with dinner? I crave some fresh vegetables with my meal. Make your salad dressing now and store it in a bottle in the refrigerator. It will keep for a couple of weeks at least. Here is my recipe for balsamic vinaigrette. You can substitute the balsamic for red wine vinegar or even kombucha vinegar if you have let your booch ferment to the point of strong vinegar. Add some spices to that and viola, hardcore hippie vinegar.

4. Labneh

straining yogurt
Yogurt straining in a jar to make labneh

Will you serve appetizers? If you want to make labheh—yogurt cheese—for you dinner, you must make it ahead of time. To make it, strain yogurt in the refrigerator for at least a day or two, until it has the consistency of cream cheese or goat cheese.

You can strain the yogurt a couple of different ways—but in the refrigerator for either method. Many recipes instruct you to line a sieve with a thin cloth, fold that cloth over the top of the yogurt and place the whole thing over a bowl to catch the whey that will strain out. But I am a crazy jar lady. I told students in my fermentation class this past weekend that jars solve all of your problems in the kitchen. Secure a thin cloth to the inside of a large jar with a rubber band so that the cloth is suspended inside the jar and not touching the bottom where the whey will collect. Pour in the yogurt. Close the lid.

Once the yogurt has strained to your desired consistency, transfer it from the cloth to a jar and store it in your refrigerator until your meal. Store the whey you strained from it for something else (like pizza dough, another ferment or soup). Serve the labneh as a spread for crackers or bread.

Here are instructions for making yogurt.

5. Sauerkraut

fermented sauerkraut

Before I started fermenting food, the only cabbage I ate was mayonnaise-slathered coleslaw at Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. These days I eat cabbage several times a week. Sauerkraut makes a delicious garnish for just about anything savory and, filled with probiotic goodness, helps you maintain a healthy gut. It ferments in three days so you still have time to make some for your meal. I try to eat at least one fermented food every day and I rarely get sick. To make sauerkraut, you chop cabbage, salt it, pack it in jars and wait. Here are (very) detailed instructions.

6. Pear-cranberry chutney

I have trouble finding loose cranberries for cranberry sauce. I can buy them at one store I don’t get to as often as I’d like and I won’t make it there this year before Thanksgiving. So I’ll make fermented chutney, a delicious—and probiotic—alternative to cranberry sauce. This is my fermented fruit chutney recipe. It calls for 4 cups of mixed fruit. I’ll use 4 cups of pears. Instead of raisins, I’ll use dried cranberries, which I can buy in bulk.

Fermented chutney is so easy to make. You chop a bunch of fruit, some onion, a jalapeño if you want heat, mix that with some spices and a starter if you’re using one (I use my ginger bug but whey works and kombucha should work also), stuff everything into jars and wait two days. This will ferment without a starter but will take a little more time without one.

7. Pumpkin purée

fresh pumpkin purée
Pumpkin purée cooked in a pressure cooker and run through a food mill

Make this instead of using canned pumpkin. Cans are lined with plastic. Blech. You won’t want to buy canned pumpkin after you taste this. But it does require more work than opening a can! So make it a few or several days before you bake pumpkin pie. It keeps for about a week in the refrigerator and even longer in the freezer.

You can either roast a whole pumpkin in the oven (find instructions here) or cook it in mere minutes in a pressure cooker (find instructions here). The pressure cooker pumpkin has more liquid remaining in it, so adjust your recipe accordingly. You can bake other goodies besides pumpkin pie, of course. I made the pumpkin bread pictured below with some pumpkin cooked in the pressure cooker. Yum!

pumpkin bread
Pumpkin bread made with fresh pumpkin purée

8. Pastry

Pastry keeps for several days and needs to chill so why not make it now, chill it using my advanced pastry chilling system below and have it ready to grab out of the refrigerator to make pies. Go here for my whole-wheat pastry recipe for one 9-inch pie crust.

About that turkey…

I get questions regularly about buying zero-waste meat. You may have trouble procuring a turkey without a plastic bag or plastic-lined paper. You can ask your butcher to cut up the turkey for you and put it in a large container that you bring to the store. If you want a massive turkey, this strategy likely won’t work.

I’m not roasting a bird this year. At the holidays, my younger daughter loves (and expects) tourtière, a French-Canadian meat pie, so I’ll make that for her as the main attraction (this is my older daughter’s recipe). We don’t eat that much meat but when I buy it—always in small amounts of a pound or two—I take metal Lunchbots to the meat counter and the butchers fill them up for me. I can buy the rest of the ingredients for my daughter’s tourtière loose or in bulk.

This year at Thanksgiving, a group of us will have a potluck. Everyone will bring a few dishes and I will have made a bunch of stuff in advance. I’ll cook less and eat more 😉

Go here for my interview with Dana Gunders, senior scientist at the NRDC, for ideas to help you reduce food waste this Thanksgiving.

6 Replies to “8 Make Ahead Staples for a Low-Waste Thanksgiving”

  1. Love these make ahead ideas! It will save me so much stress on the big day. 🙂 Thank you!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Christina. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family! ~ Anne Marie

  2. Very helpful! Coming from a vegetarian family, I’ve always struggled a bit with Thanksgiving as I’d now like to share it with my (foreign) husband and new friends. This is a nice jumping-off point to make it less scary!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I’m glad you found the post helpful, Polly. Sounds like you may have a big crowd! Prepping in advance makes it much less overwhelming and I find, more enjoyable. Happy Thanksgiving 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  3. […] and other vegetable odds and ends to make a delicious, healthy broth for soups, sauces or more. The Zero Waste Chef suggests eschewing time-saving ingredients like canned pumpkin, bagged croutons and vinaigrette to […]

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