Turkey may be the star of the Thanksgiving table, but for many people it's the tasty trimmings that really get their appetites going and have them coming back for seconds.
Today and the following two Wednesdays, we'll highlight scrumptious side dishes perfect for the holiday feast. Ranging from classic favorites to dishes with a more modern or creative spin, several of these sides feature a variety of fall vegetables, so they're bursting with seasonal flavors and color.
We'll explore green dishes first, orange-hued fare next week, then white sides (mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower and more) the week before Thanksgiving.
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As the guy in charge of cooking the turkey for 30-plus guests, Gene Cammarota thinks the bird is a big deal. But even he admits that for many of those gathered at the table, it's the fixings they favor.
“Just turkey by itself wouldn't nearly be as nice. People are really interested in all the things that go with it,” said Cammarota, chef-instructor in the culinary program at Iowa Western Community College.
One dish that's usually part of his family's Thanksgiving menu is sautéed green beans. It's a simple yet elegant side that comes together quickly and easily, Cammarota said. Fresh green beans are sautéed with garlic, ginger and shallots, then finished in the pan with a splash of soy sauce.
For other families, it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without green-bean casserole.
It's part of Michael Combs' holiday spread, but his take on the tried-and-true dish is an improvement over versions made with cans of green beans, cream of mushroom soup and french fried onions.
To upgrade this classic, Combs, executive chef at Metropolitan Community College's Institute for the Culinary Arts, uses fresh vegetables and makes a deliciously rich and creamy sauce from scratch.
Green beans and sautéed shiitake mushrooms are baked in a béchamel (a white sauce made with butter, flour and milk), then topped with crispy, savory fried shallots. It's a side dish that pleases both the traditionalists and those who crave something a little more up-to-date.
“When it comes to Thanksgiving, some people don't like a lot of change,” he said, “but you can do side dishes that are nontraditional.”
To make things easier on the big day, you can prepare the beans and even the sauce ahead of time, Combs said. Slice green beans in half or thirds, blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then cool the beans in ice water. Drain and store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble the casserole.
For a nutritious and flavorful alternative to the layer of french fried onions that typically go on top of the casserole, Elisa Sloss uses a handful of toasted sliced almonds as a crunchy topping.
“It's important to have a balanced plate, even on holidays, and make sure you're still getting healthy sides,” said Sloss, a registered dietitian at the 51st and Center Streets Hy-Vee.
One healthy and simple way to transform vegetables into satisfying sides is roasting them, Sloss said. Using a little canola or olive oil and salt and pepper, roasting concentrates flavors and caramelizes the natural sugars in vegetables.
Broccoli, for instance, roasts up beautifully in the oven with a crisp-tender texture and deepened flavor, she said.
Roasting is one of Combs' favorite ways to cook Brussels sprouts. It's an easy side that can be on the table in less than 30 minutes. And since Brussels sprouts' peak season is from September to February, now is a perfect time to enjoy them.
Cut fresh Brussels sprouts in half through the core, toss them in a bowl with canola oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet in a hot oven and roast for 20 minutes. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for a sweet, tangy kick.
Besides Brussels sprouts, green beans and broccoli, other verdant veggies to consider for sides include asparagus, artichokes, spinach and kale.
Kale has become a favorite among many restaurant chefs and home cooks. Versatile, nutritious and easy to prepare, it can be sautéed, baked into crispy chips or enjoyed raw in salads.
The latter method is how Ellen Walsh-Rosmann of Harlan, Iowa, likes to highlight the dark leafy green. She and her husband, Daniel, grow kale and other organic produce and sell it to several Omaha restaurants and grocers through their business, Pin Oak Place at Rosmann Family Farms.
For the salad, she combines fresh chopped kale with grated golden beets, shredded carrots and diced red bell pepper, then dresses it with a vinaigrette of apple cider vinegar, tamari (similar to soy sauce but thicker and less salty) and other ingredients.
Whether it includes kale, spinach, romaine or other types of lettuce, a fresh green salad not only tastes great, Cammarota said, but it offers a light and crunchy counterpoint to the rich, hearty flavors of the Thanksgiving feast.
“It's nice to have something cool and refreshing,” he said.
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Recipe: Kale and Golden Beet Salad
• 1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped
• ¾ cup golden beets, peeled and shredded (boil first and let cool, then peel and shred)
• ½ cup carrots, peeled and shredded
• 2 green onions, minced
• ½ of a red bell pepper, diced
• 8 ounces sprouts (optional)
• ¼ cup hemp seeds (optional)
For the dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
• ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
• 2 tablespoons tamari
• 2 tablespoons tahini
• 2 teaspoons minced garlic
• 1 teaspoon dry oregano
• 1 teaspoon dry basil
Place kale, beets, carrots, onions, peppers, sprouts and hemp seeds, if using, in a large bowl. To make the dressing: Combine ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour over kale mixture, toss and serve.
— Recipe courtesy of Ellen Walsh-Rosmann
Recipe: Basic Sauteed Kale
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 to 1½ pounds kale, ribs removed, coarsely chopped
• ½ cup water
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
• 2-3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, or red-wine vinegar
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add kale and cook, tossing with two large spoons, until bright green, about 1 minute. Add water, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Push kale to one side, add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil to the empty side and cook garlic and crushed red pepper in it until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in vinegar to taste and salt.
— Recipe courtesy of EatingWell.com
Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar
• 1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
• 3 tablespoons canola oil
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• Balsamic vinegar
• Pomegranate seeds (optional)
With a baking sheet inside, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, toss Brussels sprouts with canola oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables on baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until they begin to brown. Transfer the roasted Brussels sprouts to a serving bowl and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Recipe: Asparagus With Orange-Chive Sauce
• 1 pound fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
• ¼ cup orange juice
• 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
• ½ teaspoon cornstarch
• Dash pepper
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
In a large skillet, bring 1/2-inch water to a boil. Add asparagus; return to a boil. Cover; cook 3-5 minutes or until asparagus is tender. (If desired you can place asparagus spears in a steamer basket over boiling water, cover; steam 3-5 minutes or until asparagus is tender.)
Meanwhile, in small nonstick saucepan, combine orange juice, orange peel, cornstarch and pepper; mix well. Cook over medium heat until mixture boils and begins to thicken. Remove from heat; stir in chives.
Drain asparagus; place on serving platter. Top with chive sauce.
— Recipe courtesy of Pillsbury