Lighten Thanksgiving with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Substituting butter and other fats for extra virgin olive oil is a great way to lighten your holiday menu while adding fresh flavors to the classics.
By Paul Kostandin
Nov. 4, 2021 14:55 UTC

Every year, mil­lions of fam­i­lies gather together in late November to cel­e­brate the Thanksgiving hol­i­day and, year after year, we spend the hours fol­low­ing the meal in a food-induced coma, feel­ing more than a lit­tle full and indul­gent.

Many will blame the inevitable slug­gish­ness on the turkey itself; specif­i­cally the tryp­to­phan found in the light meat, but in real­ity, the rea­son we all get so tuck­ered out after a big Thanksgiving din­ner has more to do with the rich­ness of our menu than any spe­cific dish.

The tra­di­tion sur­round­ing our hol­i­days keeps our menus reli­able year to year. Holiday recipes are often passed down through gen­er­a­tions and alter­ations come at great risk, espe­cially when you are med­dling with a rel­a­tive’s favorite dish.

This is why, even though we know bet­ter, we some­times keep our hol­i­day menus far richer in but­ter and cream than is nec­es­sar­ily ideal for a healthy, bal­anced diet.

High-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil has been a con­stant com­pan­ion through­out my career in restau­rants and pro­fes­sional kitchens. Its vibrant color, rich, fruity olive notes, and unique bit­ter­ness add dimen­sion to any dish or ingre­di­ent.

Beyond sea­son­ing, it works well for bak­ing, roast­ing, and sautéing. With so many fla­vors and qual­i­ties, it’s easy to find ways to incor­po­rate it into your hol­i­day meal this year.

Replace saturated fats

One of the eas­i­est ways to keep your menu light and fla­vor­ful this Thanksgiving is to con­sider sub­sti­tut­ing extra vir­gin olive oil in place of sat­u­rated fats like but­ter or short­en­ing.

If you don’t want to go all-in, you can just replace half of the but­ter, veg­etable oil or lard you might be using in a given recipe with extra vir­gin olive oil.


By replac­ing other liq­uid fats like canola or veg­etable oil with EVOO, you can add a won­der­ful depth of fla­vor to your meal that reg­u­lar oils just can’t match.

See Also:Recipes with Olive Oil
The sides

Try replac­ing half of the but­ter in your mashed pota­toes this year with a fruity extra vir­gin olive oil. Your favorite side dish will shine with a more com­plex fla­vor and it will be lighter and airier than with just but­ter or cream. Try adding some rose­mary and parme­san cheese for a nice Mediterranean touch.


Whether roast­ing, dress­ing, or sea­son­ing, extra vir­gin olive oil com­ple­ments all veg­eta­bles and adds com­plex­ity to the fla­vors com­pared with neu­tral, refined oils like canola or sun­flower.

I like to sauté my veg­eta­bles, like pre-roasted Brussels sprouts or car­rots and onions, in a medium-bod­ied extra vir­gin olive oil, such as a Frantoio. A mod­er­ately intense EVOO imparts great olive fla­vor and has a higher smoke point than a more del­i­cate option.

While I might not be able to get the oil quite as hot as with other veg­etable oils, the added olive notes and health ben­e­fits a good extra vir­gin olive oil impart are more than worth it.

One thing you learn when cook­ing for a crowd is the value of your oven when roast­ing veg­gies. By toss­ing your veg­eta­bles in olive oil and sea­son­ing, then spread­ing them evenly across a sheet pan and roast­ing them in a 350°F oven, you can save a ton of stove­top space and make prep eas­ier.


I love side dishes, and though the turkey is always the cen­ter­piece of our Thanksgiving table, I like to think that var­i­ous sides keep the meal excit­ing. By roast­ing some items in the oven, I can save the stove­top for other dishes like mashed pota­toes or gravy that require a ded­i­cated burner.

Extra vir­gin olive oil is an obvi­ous choice for any salad in your Thanksgiving spread. I like to mix a fruitier, del­i­cate oil like an Arbequina with a touch of honey and some cit­rus juice, whether orange juice or lemon juice for a light and refresh­ing vinai­grette.

Using apple cider vine­gar instead of cit­rus juice, with just a touch of fresh apple cider, makes a sea­son-aware choice that will surely please all of your guests’ palates. If you can’t find a del­i­cate extra vir­gin, mix a robust option with a touch of canola. A neu­tral, refined oil will mel­low out the rich, spicier notes of the olive oil.

The turkey

While it may seem obvi­ous, coat­ing your turkey with extra vir­gin olive oil this year will make it extra crispy and deli­cious.

I like to warm a cup of olive oil with fresh thyme, gar­lic and other dry sea­son­ings on the stove and then brush the turkey with it through­out the roast­ing process. This helps keep the skin crispy and con­tin­ues to add lay­ers of fla­vor.

Additionally, you can driz­zle the sliced turkey with a touch of fruity EVOO to help accen­tu­ate the fla­vors of the crispy roasted skin and juicy turkey.


Baking with olive oil may sound chal­leng­ing, but adding olive oil to many pas­try recipes is sim­ple. By sub­sti­tut­ing olive oil for some of the but­ter in cakes and cook­ies, you make the final prod­uct moister and lighter while giv­ing it added shelf life, which is a nice bonus.

Though olive oil has its role in the pas­try world, there are some places where it won’t work as well as other fats, such as pie crusts or lam­i­nated doughs, but you can always sub­sti­tute it for the but­ter in any fil­ings with lit­tle to no issue.

No mat­ter how you incor­po­rate extra vir­gin olive oil into your Thanksgiving meal this year, as long as you use high-qual­ity, well-crafted prod­ucts, you will surely be in for a delight­ful meal your guests will rave about for years.


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