Get recipes and planning tips for an incredible Mexican-inspired Thanksgiving meal alfresco
written by Elaine Johnson
1 of 12Photo by Shelly Strazis
Informal beach feast
Photographer Shelly Strazis and her boyfriend, cinematographer Gilbert Salas, could make a food flick about their Thanksgiving. Every year for the past eight years, they’ve hosted it on the beach across the street from their home in Long Beach, California.
The menu is loosely themed around Gilbert’s Tex-Mex roots with a dash of California—which means dishes worth craving year-round, like chile-rubbed turkey with mole gravy, and chocolate cakes with a cayenne kick.
It’s a toss-up as to whether Shelly’s group enjoys the food or the beach more. Which makes us think that all Thanksgivings should at least involve a walk in the open air. Nature, after all, is partly what we have to be thankful for.
5 of 12Shelly Strazis; styling by Valerie Aikman-Smith
Chile and Spice Grilled Turkey and Mole Gravy
A chile-rubbed bird cooked on the grill and served with mole gravy makes for a richly seasoned centerpiece. Brining the turkey is the secret to a moist bird. For the most even cooking, leave turkey legs loose. Or if you prefer a tidy look, tie them. For garnishing, add color with herbs, a banana leaf, and fruit like kumquats.
8 of 12Photo by Shelly Strazis; styling by Valerie Aikman-Smith
Try simple desserts with a twist on tradition.
Mexican Chocolate Cakes: This very chocolaty Mexican dessert has a chile kick—and is fabulous with cinnamon ice cream. We decorated the cakes with stencils made from an autumn leaf traced onto tagboard.
Cinnamon Ice Cream: A super-easy addition to the table, inspired by Shelly’s favorite fall flavor from Fosselman’s Ice Cream, a SoCal landmark in Alhambra.
Long Beach Lime Pies: In honor of the Strazises’ Florida roots, Shelly’s mom whips up luscious Key lime pies. We use Mexican limes (the West Coast name for Key limes).
9 of 12Photo by Shelly Strazis
After dinner, guests warm up with canela tea by the bonfire. A splash of tequila added to the cinnamon drink provides an extra glow.
Tote dinnerware to the beach in baskets or milk crates. Guests help carry tables and chairs, tiki torches, the cooked food, and a grill (for reheating).
11 of 12Photo by Shelly Strazis
Get the look: Setting the table
Mix vintage plates with flatware from thrift shops. Display succulents in votives.
12 of 12Photo by Shelly Strazis
Here’s how two cooks can pull off this big meal—with one cook working indoors, using a single oven, and one working outdoors at a single grill. If you don’t have ample fridge space, you may need to store some food at a neighbor’s.
1 week ahead
Make cranberry relish.
Make cinnamon ice cream.
4 days ahead
Start thawing turkey in fridge, if frozen.
1 day ahead
Bake chocolate cakes.
Toast seeds and nuts for relish and salad.
Make pumpkin spread and slaw for tacos.
Make stuffing through step 2.
Grill sweet potatoes.
Make salad dressing.
4 hours before
Heat grill and start turkey (allow 31/2 hrs. for cooking, resting, and carving).
Spread topping on lime pies.
Top cakes with powdered sugar.
3 hours before
2 hours before
Add almonds to cranberry relish.
Finish tacos: Toast chiles, warm pumpkin spread and tortillas, then set out compo-nents. (Or do this as guests arrive.)
1 hour before
Assemble elements of salad; toss at serving time.
30 minutes before
Reheat sweet potatoes.
Reheat broccolini and cornbread.
Let turkey rest, then carve.