Tantalizing sideshows of the Thanksgiving feast
We all know the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving spread, but like in a circus, it would be nothing without its troupe of fun and flamboyant sideshows. So here’s an entertaining and scrumptious list of holiday sides to help the ringmaster of the event shine on Turkey Day.
For a chewy change-up, swap out traditional corn bread or buttermilk biscuits for twisted, golden pretzel buns coated with coarse sea salt. These braided buns nicely complement the roasted turkey, especially for anyone who wants to make a sandwich tableside with a slather of cranberry relish.
The Fire Eater
When prepping assorted sides, be a culinary adventurer and amp up the heat with warm autumn spices, as turkey tends to be a bland bird. Try garam masala, a blend of cinnamon, peppercorns, cardamom, mustard and coriander seeds, cloves, mace and nutmeg that hails from the subcontinent of India, sassy ginger, golden turmeric, zippy cayenne pepper, smoky paprika and musky cumin.
The Sword Swallower
Tender asparagus spears, whether vibrant green, violet or alabaster white varieties wrapped in bacon (pork, turkey or vegan), enveloped in a toasted hazelnut crust or simply steamed and drizzled with butter, are a mouth-watering delicacy that goes down nicely. For an oomph, roast a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts with a Meyer lemon marinade for an eye-catching presentation.
Tender dwarf vegetables, whether roasted, glazed, sautéed, steamed, creamed or baked casserole-style, make a festive side to enhance the main dish. Peewee carrots — or “Thumbelinas,” round and squat, resembling marshmallows — roasted whole with green tops intact in a rich, balsamic glaze add a sweet splash of eye candy to any table.
“Honeybaby” butternut squash, a miniature gourd that’s big on flavor, is especially divine stuffed with a seasonal grain.
Baby beets, roasted or raw, paired with a citrus vinaigrette make a nice side salad.
Fingerlings or other mini potatoes that can be as tiny as grapes, whether red-skinned, purple Peruvian or Yukon Gold, are best roasted with autumn spices, Himalayan pink sea salt and a drizzle of truffle or grape seed oil.
As for the baby greens, kale or spinach can be creamed; arugula wilted with a warm red onion relish dressing; and mixed lettuces tossed with candied walnuts or diminutive seeds, such as sesame, sunflower or hemp, and dried cranberries, the lip-puckering little darling of fall.
Now let’s get saucy with a zippy condiment, whether a sauce, relish or chutney to pair well with the turkey or other fowl of choice. While traditional recipes include large amounts of sugar to counteract cranberry’s tartness, you might try healthier options such as maple syrup, honey or date sugar along with golden raisins or cut fruits, including tangerines, pears and sweet apples, to add texture and natural sweetness.
Large sheet pans can be converted into a one-stop sideshow grouping vegetables with similar textures and roasting times on each pan. Slices of assorted winter squashes (Hubbard, delicata, kaboucha) alongside whole or sliced roots (parsnips, turnips, kohlrabi) and crosswise slices of yams and Okinawan purple sweet potatoes drizzled with a savory blend of walnut oil and warm herbs and spices make an impressive Technicolor image of autumn’s best offerings. For eye-popping presentations (that also save on cleaning dirty dishes), use the hollows of sugar pie pumpkins or acorn squashes as ramekins for seasonal soups, pilafs or grains.
The Thin Man
French string beans, or haricots verts, are long, slender green beans with a distinct earthy flavor. They are best steamed or sautéed, al dente, and dressed with shallots, lemon zest and choice herbs. If you’re a traditionalist, you can whip up a classic green bean casserole with a healthier twist blending an assortment of caramelized, wild mushrooms and onions, low-fat Greek yogurt and topped with crispy baked shallot strings.
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Thanksgiving, a celebratory food orgy emblematic of sugar and spice and every kind of fatty vice, has a no-holds-barred policy for butter, creams, duck fat, deep-fried dishes and various cheeses. But the menu easily can be transformed with some healthy culinary sleights of hand that will not leave anyone feeling deprived.
For slimmed-down mashed potatoes that still taste decadent, whip up the spuds with roasted garlic, chives, sage, rosemary and celery salt, your favorite plant-based butter and milk or silky Icelandic yogurt. For less-starchy versions, add pureed celery roots or parsnips, or for a low-cal spin, swap out spuds for cauliflower.
As for the iconic sweet potato casserole with a toasty layer of marshmallows, top it instead with crunchy, heart-healthy roasted walnuts or buttery tasting, mineral-rich pecans.
Abracadabra! Morph day-old bread into a rustic, savory stuffing delight (recipe below), and feel free to experiment with various breads, from rye and pumpernickel to challah and sourdough. Or whip up a grain-based stuffing, whether Israeli couscous, wild rice, farro, freekah or barley blended with seasonal roots, fruits, chestnuts, spicy sausage, oysters or other seafood. For scrumptious gluten-free options, try rice of all manner, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth or wheat-free breads baked with brown rice, teff, tapioca, potato, corn, almond or chickpea flours.
For my last performance, here’s a family favorite — casserole-style bread stuffing that will surely be an attention-grabber at your Thanksgiving show:
Rustic bread and cranberry stuffing
• 1 crusty baguette cut in 1-inch cubes, lightly toasted
• 1 pound assorted mushrooms (your choice), sliced
• 2 celery stalks, diced
• 1 sweet onion, diced
• 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
• 1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
• 1/3 cup toasted pepitas
• 1 cup mushroom or vegetable broth (adjust to desired texture)
• Juice from one orange and lemon
• 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (your choice), chopped
• 3 tablespoons butter, avocado or grape seed oil
• Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
• Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Grease large oven-safe casserole dish with butter or oil. Set aside.
• In large skillet on medium, add butter or oil and sauté vegetables until tender. Blend in bread cubes, cranberries, pepitas, herbs, spices, broth and juices. Mix well. Transfer to casserole and bake until golden, about 30 minutes.