For many of us, Thanksgiving Day is one of the most joyous events of the year; we celebrate with plenty of food, lots of love and gratitude. Since food and stories go together, here’s a short one for you from the 1600s: We owe this precious holiday to the Plymouth Pilgrims who were the first to celebrate Thanksgiving after their arrival to the United States in December 1620. Thankful to be alive, they decided to give a thanksgiving feast in the fall of 1621 inviting the neighboring Wampanoag Indians who were the ones that taught them how to cultivate the land. The feast lasted three days. Fast forward to 1789, President George Washington declared the first national Thanksgiving Day.
Today, similar to how it all started, Thanksgiving is an ‘open’ holiday… friends, relatives, and neighbors gather around the same celebration. Traditional or casual, exotic or rustic…whatever way we choose to celebrate. The soul of the celebration is one and the same for all: to come together and give thanks—being together makes it a strong reason to celebrate and be thankful.
While for many Thanksgiving might be all about the bird, to me it is about the various side dishes that complement the main dish. Lets face it: without good side dishes, there is no dinner. Side dishes are humble, they never say, “here I am, look at me, eat me now!” They just wait to be chosen, to be noticed. And, if you’re going to visit friends or family and bringing a side dish, don’t you want your side to be the star of the show? Side dishes have the huge responsibility to give contrast to the meal and add balance to the other flavors and textures. For that reason alone, whenever you prepare a meal don’t underestimate the power of your side dishes.
Having a holiday like this in front of you can be a bit stressful and challenging. Fear not. You can either have people a dish each, or if you are going to take it all on your own, just choose to have fun. This is how I do it: once I have my main element or the star dish, I go into “seasonal mode,” I let Nature inspire me with what it has. From there the marriage of flavors and dishes come out automatically.
So let me share some of my favorite accompaniments with you:
Though I love “everything potato”—garlic mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes with sage and mascarpone cheese, potato parsnip purée, roasted potatoes with sage and rosemary—potato croquettes has been my favorite side dish since I was little.
1 1/2 pound medium Yukon potatoes (organic), unpeeled and cooked
3 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Sea salt and fresh ground white pepper, to taste
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Optional: chives and garlic
If potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them with your hands. Place in a large bowl and mash. Mix in breadcrumbs, egg yolks, parmesan, parsley, nutmeg and season to taste.
Using a electric mixer, beat egg whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form.
Gently fold whites into potatoes mixture. Form mixture into sticks or patties. Coat them with breadcrumbs; place on baking sheet.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat; add 3 tablespoons oil to the skillet. Add half of croquettes and cook until golden—about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to baking sheet and repeat with remaining ones.
CARAMELIZED ROOT VEGETABLES
Quantities are optional so servings will vary. (The more the merrier as they make a delicious midday snack.)
Sweet potatoes, washed, dried and sliced (do not peel)
Parsnips, washed, dried and sliced (do not peel)
Baby potatoes, washed, dried, might leave whole (do not peel)
Carrots, washed, dried, sliced (do not peel)
Fresh rosemary and thyme (how? chopped or in sprigs?)
Preheat oven to 375F. Mix all the vegetables in a large bowl or just evenly spread them on a baking sheet—they’ll shrink significantly, so don’t worry if it gets too crowded. Season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil. Add the rosemary and thyme. Mix well and let cook for 45 min or until golden crispy.
Served with hummus makes a delicious appetizer!
CARROT SOUP WITH ORANGE, TARRAGON AND GINGER
1 Tb. butter
1 pound carrots
1 large onion, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth (low sodium) or water
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, no pulp
1 Tb. brandy
2 tsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
Fresh tarragon sprigs
Sour cream, optional
Chives, chopped, optional
Melt butter in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add carrots and onion. Sauté until onion is soft and fragrant (8 minutes). Add broth or water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, uncover and simmer until carrots are tender—about 10 minutes.
Working in batches, puree soup in blender—careful, it is hot!. Return soup to pot. Stir orange juice, brandy, chopped tarragon, and fresh ginger. Simmer for another 5-7 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Garnish soup with fresh tarragon sprigs or with any of the other options and serve.
CRANBERRY AND BEET RELISH
Cranberries and beets make a winning team, both in nutrition and flavor. This makes a delicious accompaniment to poultry, beef and game.
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1Tb. orange zest
1 (16-oz) jar sliced pickled beets, drained and quartered
Bring vinegar, water, and sugar to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add cranberries, orange zest and let simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until berries have burst and mixture has thickened, about 20-30 minutes.
Stir in beets and let cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
LIMA BEAN PUREE
Extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 leeks, green stems removed, thoroughly washed and sliced
5 (10-oz) packages frozen baby lima beans
3 cups water
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1/2 half-and-half (or heavy cream), additional for thinning
2 tsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
1/4 tsp. cayenne
Freshly ground black pepper
Add oil to a medium heavy saucepan. Once hot, add garlic, shallots and leeks and sauté, over medium heat, for 5-8 minutes until soft and fragrant. Set aside.
Simmer lima beans in water with salt until just tender, about 15 minutes.
Working in batches, purée beans with cooking liquid in a food processor until smooth. Force purée through a medium-mesh sieve (or food mill), optional.
In a small saucepan, melt butter, add beans, half-and-half, cayenne, tarragon and season with salt and pepper. If purée is too thick, thin to desired consistency adding more half-and-half.
CARAMELIZED UPDSIDE-DOWN PEAR TART
2 lb. large and firm ripe Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tb. cognac
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 Tb. raisins
1 9-inch frozen pastry dough, thawed
Optional accompaniments: Lightly sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
Preheat oven to 425F.
Heat butter in a 10-inch well seasoned cast iron skillet over medium heat—until foam surrenders, then stir in sugar (sugar will not dissolve). Arrange pears in skillet with cut sides up. Add cognac, let alcohol evaporate. Sprinkle pears with cinnamon and ginger.
Add raisins. Let cook undisturbed until sugar turns golden caramel.
Place oven rack in middle position. Place pastry dough over the caramelized pears, tucking edge around pears. Bake tart until pastry is golden brown—35 minutes. Let cool for 5-7 minutes.
Either invert tart or serve straight from skillet. Serve warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or both!