Traditional family recipes are hard to beat when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner. They are familiar, reliable, and many have been part of family celebrations for decades. If certain favorites don’t show up, forks sag with disappointment; everyone expects to see them on the table.
But in the spirit of the first Thanksgiving, intrigue lies in trying something new. In 1621, a group of European immigrants celebrated the first Thanksgiving with their Native American hosts who provided a bountiful feast of deer and wildfowl. Not much is known about the side fare, but most likely, it included a variety of unfamiliar foods and flavors.
For many people, the “T” in Thanksgiving stands for turkey; others would abandon the bird in favor of the stuffing. But judging by all of those heaping holiday dinner plates, they’re filled with a goodly portion of diverse sides. We give thanks for such abundance. Side dishes add flavor, color, texture, and nutrition to the meal. The most ordinary ingredients can become extraordinary sides.
To elevate your traditional menu, why not give a favorite side dish a different twist or incorporate a brand-new recipe? Plenty of room is available at the table to mix old favorites with new culinary traditions, particularly with the increasing global influence in our ingredients and seasonings.
The typical Thanksgiving table usually doesn’t hold many whole grain dishes, but why not add one such as ancient farro, the daily fare of the Roman legions, to your menu? Protein, mineral, and fiber-rich, the slightly sweet, chewy grain complements the flavors, textures, and colors in the Farro & Squash Harvest Salad recipe.
Substitutes for farro include nutty-tasting ancient kamut and barley. Whole grains retain the nutrient-rich outer bran layer and germ requiring overnight soaking to shorten the 30- to 40-minute cooking time. This step can often be avoided by cooking firmer grains with the “pasta” method, which calls for the grains to be cooked in a large pot of boiling, salted water until tender, then drained. Use 1 cup whole grains to 2 or 3 quarts water. Cooking times between brands can vary; begin checking for doneness after 10 minutes. This method is often used to cook rice in the Lowcountry.
Quick-to-cook grains, including pearled and semi-pearled, that are minimally processed are convenient, tasty, and still nutritious. Some of the fiber and nutrient-rich bran is still intact in semi-pearled grains.
Pass the Gravy
Mashed potatoes are an essential holiday side, especially when turkey gravy is on the menu. The vegetables in Golden Potato & Cauliflower Mash are also a perfect match! Vitamin C-rich cauliflower bumps up the nutritive value and adds an appealing flavor dimension, although it isn’t dominant. Increase the amount, if desired. This dish can be made two days ahead; refrigerate, then reheat in the oven or microwave. If you drizzle the top with melted butter infused with a smashed garlic clove, you won’t need gravy at all.
In the Roasted Vegetables recipe, the caramelization that occurs during the roasting process intensifies the inherent sweetness of the vegetables and enhances their flavor. Prepare the vegetables a day ahead; refrigerate in zip-top plastic food bags. Roast in the oven while the cooked turkey rests before it is carved.
Embellished with shallots, mushrooms, and orange zest, the recipe for Orange-Scented Green Beans is a modern upgrade from the customary green bean casserole, a holiday staple with canned mushroom soup that was a hot new trend in 1955.
Pumpkin has long been part of America’s culinary heritage. What would Thanksgiving be without pumpkin pie? For a new twist, try these fragrant Pumpkin Rolls glazed with honey butter.
Whichever Thanksgiving side dishes you choose, it’s a time for celebrating with family, friends, and even strangers. Gather with your chosen family to give thanks — while indulging at a table filled with old and new seasonal favorites.
Farro & Squash Harvest Salad
Farro with winter squash, cranberries, and pecans makes a wonderful side dish for Thanksgiving. It’s especially good served the following day with leftover, sliced turkey. Cook farro according to package directions. One cup uncooked farro yields about 3 cups cooked grain. If cooking pearled or semi-pearled farro, use 2 cups broth or water per cup of farro and cook it like rice. Cooking times will vary depending on the type of farro and method used. You can substitute other salad ingredients for those in this recipe. Uncooked winter squash cubes can be conveniently purchased for cooking. This recipe is easily doubled for a crowd.
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 sage leaf, minced
1 teaspoon thyme leaves or chopped rosemary
3 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small shallot, minced
¼ teaspoon each fine sea salt and black pepper, or to taste
3 cups cooked farro
½ small acorn squash, cooked, peeled, and cubed
1 packed cup organic kale pieces or fresh baby arugula, blanched and torn
3 green onions, thinly sliced
3 to 4 slices crispy cooked bacon, chopped
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup pomegranate seeds
Garnishes: Roasted pecan halves and herb sprigs
For the Herb Dressing, heat oil with the herbs until warm. Cool; whisk in remaining dressing ingredients. Set aside. Cook and cool farro; toss with the remaining ingredients. Drizzle in the Herb Dressing, as needed. Scoop into an attractive bowl; add garnishes. The salad keeps well for 2 to 3 days.
Variation: For a warm side dish, saute shallots or onion, sliced mushrooms, diced celery, and diced red bell peppers in a little olive oil, then stir vegetables into the cooked grain. Mix in cooked cubes of pumpkin, Hubbard squash, or acorn squash. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and fresh chopped herbs.
Orange-Scented Green Beans
If available, buy the long, thin French green beans or haricot verts. More tender and flavorful, they are harvested earlier than regular beans. Quality haricot verts are also available frozen; they work well too. Lemon rind can be substituted for the orange rind.
1 pound fresh, small green beans
3 large shallots, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil, divided
⅓ pound mushrooms, sliced
Rind of ½ small navel orange, blanched then cut in julienne strips
Walnut pieces or sliced almonds, toasted
Boil green beans in a large saucepan of salted water about 5 minutes or just until tender. Drain well and cool. Beans can be refrigerated in a zip-top plastic storage bag until last minute cooking. In a medium skillet, saute shallots in 1 tablespoon olive oil until softened. Remove from pan; set aside. Add remaining tablespoon of oil; saute sliced mushrooms. Add green beans and shallots back to the pan with butter and orange strips. Toss until hot; season as desired. Arrange on a platter; sprinkle with walnut pieces. Serves 6.
Golden Potato & Cauliflower Mash
This appealing side dish combines potatoes with golden-tinted cauliflower. The cruciferous vegetable is sometimes called “cauliflower cheddar.” It tastes like the white variety but is higher in antioxidants. It is a beautiful addition to any garden. When you drain the vegetables, retain just a little of the flavorful cooking water. The dairy products will enhance the rich flavor and texture of the dish without the extra need for cream or milk. Feel free to adjust the amounts to taste.
2½ to 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
¼ head of golden or white cauliflower, cut in small pieces
4 ounces soft, mild goat cheese or soft cream cheese
4 tablespoons softened butter
½ to ¾ cup plain or low-fat sour cream
Sea salt and white (or black) pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chives, snipped
Cut potatoes into large chunks. Place into a large pot of salted, cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until about halfway done. Add cauliflower pieces and cook 10 minutes more or until vegetables can be easily pierced with a knife. Drain and place into a large bowl. With a potato masher, begin to mash vegetables, adding in goat cheese, butter, sour cream, and seasonings. You can also use a hand mixer. The mixture should be mostly smooth. Scoop into a serving bowl; sprinkle top with chives and drizzle with extra melted butter, if desired. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
Roasting brings out the best flavors in vegetables. Most small squash have edible rinds so it’s not necessary to peel them. Try the elongated, striped delicata squash or the golden acorn squash that appears in the photo. Although considered a winter squash, acorn squash actually belongs to the same species as all summer squashes. The soft skin of a small butternut can also be eaten. Additional vegetables that you might consider: brussels sprouts, fennel, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and parsnips.
2 medium red onions, peeled and cut in wedges
1 winter squash with edible rind, cut in rings, then again in half-moon shapes
3 carrots, scraped, cut in small chunks
2 small zucchini, cut in chunks
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
¼ pound medium to large mushrooms, cut in half
1 small head of fresh broccoli, cut in florets, stems peeled
Olive oil, as needed
Fine sea salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme leaves or chopped rosemary leaves
Line the bottom of 1 or 2 large sturdy baking pans with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 F. Prepare the vegetables; in a large bowl, lightly coat with olive oil. Spread the vegetables evenly over the baking sheet. Season with sea salt, black pepper, and fresh thyme. Roast about 30 minutes, gently turning vegetables when halfway done. Cook just until they are fork tender and beginning to brown. Arrange on a serving platter; garnish with fresh thyme.
These golden yeast rolls can be made with cooked, pureed pumpkin, sweet potato, or winter squash. For a special touch, brush the warm rolls with honey butter glaze immediately after they are baked. To make the glaze, combine 2 tablespoons each melted butter and honey. The rolls can be made a day ahead; if stored airtight, they remain soft and delicious. Reheat before serving.
½ cup milk or warm water, heated to 105 to 115 F
One ¼-ounce package active, dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup canned, plain pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3⅓ cup all-purpose flour, divided
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine milk, yeast, and 1 tablespoon sugar. Proof until foamy, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk pumpkin with all remaining ingredients except the flour. Add mixture to the proofed yeast. With the electric mixer, beat in 3 cups flour, adding 1 cup at a time. Beat 2 minutes more until soft and smooth. Dough will form a shaggy mass around the beater and be slightly sticky. If too soft to handle, beat in the ⅓ cup flour. Remove dough; put into a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover and let dough rise 1 hour or until doubled.
Punch down; let rise again, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 360 F. Cut dough into quarters, then each quarter into 4 pieces. Shape into balls; arrange in a lightly greased 13- by 9-inch baking pan or two 9-inch round pans. Cover lightly; let rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes. While dough rises, preheat oven to 365 F. Bake 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Brush baked rolls with honey butter glaze or plain melted butter, as desired. Serve warm or cool and store in an airtight container. Makes 16 rolls.