Kitchen Shrink: The tantalizing sideshows of Thanksgiving


We all know that the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving feast, but like a circus extravaganza, 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.

Catharine Kaufman
(Copyright of Catharine Kaufman)

The Contortionist

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 a cruciferous oomph, roast the whole stalk of Brussels sprouts with a Meyer lemon marinade for an eye-catching presentation.

The Miniatures

Tender dwarf vegetables either 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. The “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 Golds are best simply roasted with some autumn spices, Himalayan pink sea salt, and 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 like sesame, sunflower, or hemp, and dried cranberries, the lip-puckering little darling of fall.

Now let’s get saucy with that petite powerhouse that makes 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 try healthier options like 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.

The Giants

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 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 still whip up a classic green bean casserole with a healthier twist blending an assortment of caramelized, wild mushrooms and onions, low-fat Greek yoghurt, and topped with crispy baked shallot strings.

The Illusionist

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. Take heart, the menu can be easily 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 root or parsnips, or for a low-cal, anti-cancer spin swap out spuds for cauliflower. As for that iconic sweet potato casserole with a toasty layer of cloying marshmallows, instead top 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 choice seafood. For scrumptious gluten-free options try rice of all manners, 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’ll surely be an attention-grabber at your Thanksgiving show.

Delicious stuffing
(Catharine Kaufman)

Rustic Bread and Cranberry Stuffing

1 crusty baguette cut in 1-inch cubes, lightly toasted

1-pound assorted mushrooms (crimini, button, Portobello), 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 (Italian parsley, rosemary, sage,) your choice, chopped

3-tablespoons butter, avocado, or grape seed oil

Sea salt, 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.

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