There more to Thanksgiving than just turkey
In one week, America’s biggest feast holiday will be upon us. Families will come together to share a meal that hopefully reminds us all that we should be grateful for what we have in life (as opposed to not have).
So now you might have a turkey or ham in mind for the main course, but what about your accompanying dishes? The usual plans of mashed potatoes, Stove Top stuffing, and green beans swimming in canned mushroom soup? I say we as foodies can do better.
I have for you today three recipes for you to try on your holiday guests that just might make you a rockstar in the kitchen and hopefully have them begging you for the recipes. Even if you decide not to try them on Turkey Day, they’re good almost any time of the year.
Stuffing? Or Dressing?
I’m kicking off our feast with what has been the most popular dish that’s graced our Thanksgiving table every year since I was a child. My father would always cook a turkey with this wonderful stuffing made of roasted chestnuts, raisins, and pine nuts. I couldn’t get enough of it, and longed for it even after the holiday.
As a child, I never knew this recipe was actually Greek. It was only as an adult that I saw it mentioned in many cookbooks and websites. It’s a very traditional dish for Greeks, and I’m happy to have learned it.
Now it’s up to you if you want to stuff this in the bird or do it on the side. I actually like to make this as a dressing (not in the bird) simply because I can do it beforehand as well as be free to cook the turkey as I see fit. Try it yourself:
Greek Chestnut Dressing
- 3 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 small yellow onions, diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 4 stalks of celery, diced
- Liver/gizzards of a turkey, or 1 lb of ground meat
- 2/3 cup of milk
- 1 lb of roasted chestnuts
- 1/3 cup of pine nuts
- 1 cup of raisins
- 1 tbsp of parsley
- 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
- 3-4 cups of stale bread cubes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Warm up your oven to 350°.
- Using a stock pot on your stove, heat up the olive oil on medium-high.
- Place the onions into the oil and sauté until soft.
- Add in the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Mix in the celery and sauté until it softens.
- Place the meat into the pot with the vegetables.
- Cook the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the meat is partially brown.
- Pour in the milk.
- Stir in the chestnuts and cook for a minute or two.
- Add the pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Stir the mixture and cook for five more minutes.
- Add in the bread cubes and stir.
- Move the dressing to a baking pan and place in the oven.
- Bake the dressing until it begins to brown on top.
The choice of meat is really up to you. When I've made this dressing, I didn't have any liver or gizzards from a turkey, so I bought ground beef. You could also try pork, lamb, or even sausage. If you do have the liver and gizzards of a turkey, go with it.
When it comes to the chestnuts, I'll admit I go the easier route and buy packaged roasted chestnuts. It's not just about the convenience, but also the guarantee of a back of good chestnuts, as sometimes you'll buy fresh ones and end up with 1/4 to 1/3 of them spoiled. However, if you want to roast fresh chestnuts, Take a few steps from when we made Chestnut Puree:
- Preheat open to 425°
- Using knife that has teeth, cut an X into the round side of each chestnut shell.
- Place chestnuts into a stock pot or saucepan and fill with water until they are just covering the nuts.
- Add in a dash of salt.
- Heat the pot on the stove on high until the water comes to a boil.
- Remove the nuts from the water and place in a single layer on a baking pan.
- Put chestnuts in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove roasted chestnuts from oven and allow them to cool.
- Peel all chestnuts and set the nut meat aside while discarding the shells.
If you need stale bread cubes, just cut up 5-6 slices of your favorite bread into cubes and leave them out overnight to harden.
Making this as a stuffing: If you wish to make this a stuffing for your turkey, simply hold off on cooking any of the ingredients. Mix them all together in their raw form, stuff your bird, and let it slow cook inside. It'll be just fine. I personally like dressings better because they can be done beforehand.
You can variate on this one any way you like. Raisins are preferred as the dried fruit, but I've seen some use dried cranberries or apricots.
The pine nuts are a part of this recipe, but they are truly optional. At the time I made this recipe, they were $9 a pound, thus a bit too pricey for me. However, they are a mainstay of this recipe, and thus I leave it in hoping the price will drop one day.
Healthy It Up
Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free: I recently was challenged to make this recipe for a guest who is on a diet free of gluten, dairy, and soy. What I ended up doing was to substitute unsweetened almond milk for the regular milk, and use gluten-free rice bread for the cubes. Worked out perfectly and no one could even tell.
If you're allowing yourself some gravy, definitely put some on top. It's magical.
In most American families, you’ll often see a dish of what looks like potatoes soaking in a sweet brown sauce, sometimes topped with marshmallows. I’ll be honest, I always found this dish to be gross, and it was only when my father made it sans the marshmallows and added in brandy did I grow to like it.
However, if I were to try serving sweet potatoes, I’d want them to be drier with a more savory taste fitting of the Autumn season. I gave the tip last year to introduce grilling and roasting to your sides. Thus I decided to try roasting the potatoes with some carrots, garlic, and onion. It was wonderful, and I’d so do it over candied ones any day.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Carrots with Rosemary
- 1 1/2 - 2 lbs of sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 1 bag (16 oz) of baby carrots
- 2-3 yellow onions, cut into chunks
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp of rosemary
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 425°.
- In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots, and onions with the garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
- Pour the oil on top and gently mix the ingredients with your hands until the vegetables are coated with oil and seasonings.
- In a baking dish, lay out the ingredients.
- Place the dish in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until you see the mixture browning.
My choice to use baby carrots was based on how nice the small-shaped carrots look in this dish. If you would rather use regular carrots, feel free.
This dish is pretty open to different translations. Feel free to add or remove ingredients. Some also like to top this dish with grated Parmesan cheese.
No more canned soup!
Zuzana has always been a big fan of the traditional green bean casserole, but of course would prefer a homemade healthier option. On an interesting note, I actually had a colleague trying a gluten-free diet, and wondered if I could pull off a gluten-free version of this tradition. Challenge accepted.
From looking around on other websites and borrowing ideas, I crafted several recipes together into my own version of the green bean casserole, complete with gluten-free onion topping. The recipe here is more “normal”, but I did put in how I made it both gluten-free and dairy-free.
I will note though that making the onions was a pain, and would suggest just breaking down and buying the canned ones for this one occasion if you're not worried about gluten.
Homemade Green Bean Casserole
For the onion topping
- 1 medium onion, sliced thinly
- 6 tbsp of flour
- Oil for frying
For the casserole
- 4 tbsp of olive oil plus oil for greasing a baking dish
- 1 shallot, peeled and minced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 8 oz of bella mushrooms, sliced
- 3 tbsp of butter
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/4 tsp of thyme
- 2 lbs of fresh green beans, cleaned with the ends trimmed, and cut in half
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preparing the onion topping
- Place the sliced onions into a bowl with the flour.
- Mix the flour and onions with your hands.
- Pull the onions out, shaking off excess flour, and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, fill it with about 1-inch of oil.
- Heat up the oil on medium-high.
- Working in batches, fry the coated onions in the oil until golden or slightly tan.
- Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside for later.
Making the casserole
- Preheat your oven to 350º. Lightly grease a baking dish with a little oil.
- In a stock pot, heat up 4 tbsp of olive oil on medium.
- Add in the shallot and garlic, cooking until soft and fragrant.
- Place the mushrooms in, cooking until they soften.
- Set the mushroom/onion/garlic mixture aside.
- In the stock pot you just used, melt the butter.
- When the butter is a liquid, add in the flour and stir continuously to make a light roux.
- Slowly pour in the stock, stirring continuously, then again with the milk.
- Season with salt, pepper and thyme, then bring the liquid to a near boil.
- Lower your heat and simmer until the liquid thickens into a near gravy.
- Add back in the mushroom/onion/garlic mixture and stir.
- Place the green beans into the mushroom sauce, gently stirring to coat the beans.
- Transfer your casserole to the baking dish. Spread it into an even layer.
- Cover the top of the casserole with the fried onions.
- Place the whole dish in the oven and bake for roughly 30 minutes.
I'll be brutally honest. It was a pain in the butt to make those fried onions. Unless you're looking to go gluten-free, I'd suggest taking the easy route and buying a can of French fried onions. However, if you're a purist, then go for making your own.
Be sure to stir gently when handling the mushrooms and green beans. You don't want to break them up into bits under the heat.
Watch your heat when dealing with the butter. Your goal is a light tan roux, so lower your heat if it seems things are moving too fast.
If it seems like your sauce is a paste, don't worry. The beans will let some water go, thus bringing back the gravy consistency. I once added in more stock, worried about the consistency, but ended up with a watery casserole.
Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free: I recently was challenged to make this recipe for a guest who is on a diet free of gluten, dairy, and soy. What I did was to use 6 tbsp of olive oil and no butter, as well as a gluten-free flour. For the milk I actually used unsweetened almond milk. Worked wonderfully. For those who want gluten-free but do not want to fry up onions, consider maybe some fresh sliced onions mixed with gluten-free breadcrumbs. The whole topping will toast in the oven nicely.
If you wish to go vegan, then use 6 tbsp of olive oil and no butter. Also use a vegetable stock.
We want to wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and hope your feast marvels the eyes as much as the taste buds.