Thoughts on Thanksgiving sides

Growing up, my grandmother hosted a very formal Thanksgiving. So my mother (her daughter-in-law) hosted a very casual community leftover party at our house the following evening. My mother would make multiple batches of sweet and sour red cabbage with onions and apples to bring to my grandmothers because she knew it went so well with the turkey sandwich fixings on her leftover spread.

Consider your leftovers when planning your shopping and menu. Buy a loaf of rye bread, swiss or gruyere cheese, and sauerkraut if you want to make turkey Reubens over the weekend. Buy extra dinner rolls or a brioche loaf if you fancy a hot turkey sandwich with stuffing and gravy. Buy some wild rice and keep some carrots, leeks, and celery in your vegetable drawer for a pot of turkey soup. 

Of course, while you’re cooking your meal, set aside the tops of your leeks, onion peels, carrot skins, parsley, and thyme stems for your turkey stock made from the carcass. We always freeze a little stock from one year’s turkey for the next year’s gravy. It might not be the best practice to hold something in your freezer for a year, but my family loves the idea that all our thanksgiving meals are related. 

I also want to remind you that every dish doesn’t need to involve complicated layers of flavors and textures. A simple salad with mustard vinaigrette might compliment the turkey perfectly. If you still have a persimmon in your fruit basket and don’t know what to do with it, slice it like an apple and add it to this salad. A platter of roasted vegetables can be made ahead of time, served at room temperature, and work with the other sauces and dressings on your plate. 

Also, consider dishes with different temperatures, mainly because they’re made or prepped ahead of time. Those roasted vegetables can be easily turned into a salad. Roast the vegetables, make a dressing, toast nuts, and such the day before, and then let the vegetables come to room temp. on Thursday and simply assemble your salad before pulling all the other dishes out of the oven. 

Delicious green beans are great briefly blanched (just until they go from warmed to cooked), and then dressed with a mustard and lemon vinaigrette, our leek-mustard relish or an almond or hazelnut aillade. 

A friend served me this Ottolenghi roasted cauliflower salad in a month that didn’t even end in ER, but I immediately thought it would be perfect for Thanksgiving. Well it was, and I’m going to make it again this year. I think we added a bunch of arugula to it as well. 

Roasted delicata squash, honey nut or the little kabocha can be roasted ahead of time and used in a salad... like bitter greens (arugula or raw kale) dressed with date-sherry vinaigrette and then tossed with the roasted squash, toasted almonds, pomegranate seeds, parsley, and some shaved parmesan. 

In a mortar and pestle pound 3 dates and 1 small-medium clove of garlic with a little salt until it’s a smooth paste. Add 2-3 Tablespoons of sherry vinegar and stir until it’s a slightly looser paste. Stir in olive oil until it tastes balanced. If you have any walnut oil, you could add a little of that as well. This will be a thick, pungent and sweet dressing. 

Is great with sage-brown butter and parmesan. Although easy, a brown butter sauce is a last-minute preparation, and the butter congeals when it gets cold, making the dish less appealing when you return for another serving hours later. So consider Gabrielle Hamilton’s brown butter vinaigrette from Prune. Like bagna cauda (another great sauce to serve alongside a platter of room temp. roasted vegetables), just make sure to take this dressing out of the refrigerator in enough time for it to temp and the fat to become liquid.

A simple baked sweet potato might need to play the role of a team player, making your life easier, and letting other dishes shine. But if you have the bandwidth and your spread needs a show stopper, consider Suzanne Goin’s roasted sweet potatoes with bacon and romesco. Or Gjelina’s roasted sweet potatoes dressed with lime-yogurt. I like how the sweet potatoes are cooked in this recipe, and you can dress it with something else.

I think roasted Brussel sprouts are delicious as is. They are also great with some blue cheese crumbled on top or even bacon if you want more decadence. I also love the combination of roasted brussel sprouts, roasted cauliflower and roasted potatoes. Or perhaps a shaved brussel sprout salad with apples, walnuts and blue cheese.

Here’s my family’s recipe for sweet and sour cabbage. This dish is magenta, and good hot or room temp. We also serve it on rolls with milk-braised turkey at the school lunch program I’m involved with. 

5# cabbage
1 # onion
1# apples
3 Tbs. olive oil, chicken or duck fat
1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons cider vinegar
1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons water
4 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons of brown sugar
sweat onions in oil or duck fat
add apples and thyme
season with salt & pepper
add cabbage and stir to coat
add vinegar, sugar, water (can use chicken or turkey stock in place of water)
cover and cook over low for 30-45 minutes
stirring every 10-15 mins