Whenever I imagine Thanksgiving dinner, I see the covers of November food magazines and Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving illustrations. A turkey is always the centerpiece, while unsung side dishes discreetly nestle alongside each other, out of focus and in the background, as inconspicuous as the trivet under the sweet potatoes.
But there is something wrong with this picture. Even the well-roasted turkey — crisp on the outside and moist on the inside — is forever the same, a repetition of every succulent bird that came before it. I find it maddening that turkeys grab all the attention, when the side dishes have so much more to offer.
Varied and nuanced, side dishes are a symphony of vegetables, tubers, fruit and grains. They can be roasted or whipped, drizzled with maple syrup or brandy, or seasoned with anything from cinnamon to exotic Indian spices. Emerging as piping-hot casseroles or chilled cranberry relishes, they can be as trendy as kale sprouts or heirloom enough to properly reflect Thanksgiving’s Pilgrim roots. The possibilities are endless.
Side dishes elevate Thanksgiving dinner from a couple of slices of white meat or a drumstick on a plate to a thrilling assortment of textures, flavors, and color. While the aroma of a turkey in the oven is mouthwatering, the meat is essentially bland, a blank slate begging for inspiration on the side. To succeed, a turkey needs the drama of piquant side dishes — and the more of them, the better. I shudder to think what Thanksgiving dinner would be like if the turkey came to the table alone!
Meat or Pareve
1½ lbs. peasant, Tuscan, sourdough or any good quality crusted bread. (Can be gathered from leftovers in the freezer. Mixing of different breads is encouraged.)
2 Tbsps. olive oil, or more,
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
8 stalks of celery, diced
½ lb. of mushrooms, sliced
Kosher salt to taste
½ tsp. each: dried basil, dried thyme, dried crushed rosemary and paprika
¼ lb. pre-peeled and roasted chestnuts
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Cut bread into cubes. (This can be done 3 days in advance or further ahead and frozen.)
Heat oil on a medium flame in an extra large pot. Sauté onion and garlic, stirring until softened, about 2 minutes. Add celery and mushrooms and stir. Sprinkle in salt, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage and paprika. Mix until combined. Stir occasionally until celery and mushrooms are wilted. Add chestnuts and stir.
Reduce flame to low. Spoon in the bread cubes. Slowly drizzle in the broth, stopping to stir the mixture several times as you go. Incorporate enough broth to moisten the bread cubes. They should stick together but not be so saturated that they’re pasty or, worse yet, soupy. If there’s leftover broth, use it for another purpose.
Cover the pot and let stuffing cool to room temperature. For health reasons, do not stuff a turkey or any poultry with warm stuffing. Cooled chestnut stuffing can be spooned into the chest cavity of the turkey and roasted. If there’s more stuffing than will fit inside the bird, the remainder can be placed in a small casserole coated with no-stick spray. If you prefer not to stuff the turkey, place all of the stuffing in a casserole coated with no-stick spray. Refrigerate until ready to use and heat at 350˚ until casserole bubbles, about 15 minutes.
Yields 3½ cups of stuffing
Whipped Carrots, Parsnips and Yukon Golds
Nonstick vegetable spray
4 Yukon gold potatoes
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
2 Tbsps. margarine
6 Tbsps. apple cider or
6 Tbsps. brown sugar
Kosher salt to taste
White pepper to taste
Spray a 1½- to 2-quart soufflé dish with nonstick vegetable spray. Reserve.
Peel and dice carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Place in a large pot and cover generously with water. Add the bouillon cubes and cover the pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft when pierced with a fork, about 30-40 minutes.
Drain in a colander. Transfer to a food processor in two batches. To the first batch, add 1 Tbsp. margarine, 3 Tbsps. apple juice, 3 Tbsps. brown sugar, and salt and pepper. Process mixture until pureed.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature, cover with aluminum foil, and refrigerate for 1 day. Reheat at 350˚until piping hot.
Roasted Vegetables with Apple Cider
3 Tbsps. olive oil for coating, plus 3 Tbsp. for roasting (or more, if needed)
½ lb. butternut squash, purchased peeled
½ lb. fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
½ lb. radishes, cleaned and cut in half, if large
½ lb. haricot vert, French string beans
Kosher salt to taste
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1½ tsp. rosemary, broken into pieces
2 Tbsps. apple cider
Coat a 10-by-15-inch ovenproof roasting pan, such as Pyrex, with 3 Tbsps. olive oil. Preheat oven to 375˚.
Dice squash into ¾-inch squares. Place squash, potatoes, radishes and string beans into the prepared pan. Drizzle 3 Tbsps. olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder and rosemary. Toss with a spoon until vegetables are evenly coated.
Place pan in the oven and roast. After 15 minutes, turn the vegetables. Add more oil at any point, if needed. Turn every few minutes.
After the vegetables have roasted for 40 minutes, drizzle on apple cider and mix well. Continue roasting for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are browning and the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork. Serve immediately.
Candied Sweet Potatoes and Pecans
Pareve or Dairy
4 sweet potatoes, small to medium size
4 Tbsps. margarine or butter, cut into several pieces
½ cup whole pecans
¼ cup maple syrup, preferably Grade A amber
1½ tsps. dark brown sugar
Kosher salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350˚. Coat a 7-by-11-inch baking pan, such as Pyrex, with cooking spray. Reserve.
Peel potatoes, rinse under cold water, and cut into 1- to 1½-inch chunks. Fill a medium-sized pot halfway with water. Place the potatoes in the water and cover the pot. On a medium flame, bring water to a boil and then reduce to a fast simmer. Simmer for 6-8 minutes from when the water started boiling, or until the potatoes are soft on the outside and still slightly firm on the inside when pierced with a fork. Do not over-boil, as the potatoes will turn mushy.
Strain the potatoes in a colander. Immediately place the margarine or butter in the warm pot the potatoes came from. Transfer the drained potatoes to the melting margarine or butter. Add the pecans, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Sprinkle on a scant amount of kosher salt. Stir gently with a wooden or plastic spoon, until well combined.
Transfer ingredients to prepared baking pan. Bake, stirring every few minutes, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until warmed through. Serve immediately.
Linda Morel is a writer based in New York City. Email her at: [email protected]