We all know that Thanksgiving is a turkey-centric holiday, but I don’t think I’m speaking an untruth when I say that for most of us, it’s a meal that’s really more about the side dishes than the main event. Truly, it’s stuffing, potatoes, green beans, and casseroles that make this annual meal feel both special and festive.
Cookbook author Tara Matazara Desmond knows that it’s really the side dish that makes the meal, and has recently published a book celebrating the things we serve along with our mains. Called Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal, this book features side dishes for every occasion.
Whether you’re searching for something special to join a brunch menu or you’re simply on the hunt for some new flavors to enhance a weeknight regular, this book is here to serve as useful guide for home cooks who are stuck in a rut and need a few new ideas.
The volume is divided into eight sections that speak to topics like “Breads for Any Occasion” and “Warm-Weather Cookouts.” Though we’re only at the very beginning of the holiday season, I have turned to the chapter entitled “Holiday Feasts” at least half a dozen times looking for inspiration.
In the time I’ve had Choosing Sides in my possession, I’ve assembled the Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad, and have cooked the Ginger Honey Carrots and the Browned Brussels with Maple Butter.
The salad had a nice marriage of sweetness and crunch, and I appreciated how the instructions guided you to make it pretty without too much added fussiness. It’s one I could certainly see on a Thanksgiving table, for the color and freshness alone.
I was impressed with the carrots, because the balance of sweetness and gingery fire was spot-on. I also appreciated the fact that after just a couple minutes of prep, this one could be left on the stovetop for 10 minutes without much tending. I’m keeping this one on regular rotation, as I deeply appreciate a single burner, single pot dish.
I roast a goodly number of Brussels sprouts during the season, and so figured I had them down. However, Tara has a couple of tricks built into this recipe that I most certainly plan on using again. The first is that she has you preheat an oiled baking sheet in a hot oven for five minutes. It sizzles when you pile the sprouts onto the pan and makes for a far more even and satisfying crust.
The second thing I will do again is brown the butter before using it to dress a side dish. When I butter steamed or roasted vegetables, I typically just add a pat of butter to the finished veg. However, that toasting step elevated the flavor and made a small amount of butter deliver 100 times more flavor (the maple syrup didn’t hurt, either).
This book is one I am certain I’ll be turning to again and again. If you struggle with what to serve alongside your mains, this one should join your kitchen shelf immediately.
Persimmon, Pomegranate, and Pistachio Salad
Sweet, ripe, and vibrant orange persimmons are a soft, satiny bed for a colorful tangle of greens adorned with shiny ruby pomegranate and peridot-hued pistachio bits. Fennel’s earthy anise notes weave through all the flavors, which are perfect accompaniments to the most popular tastes and textures on a holiday buffet.
2 medium ripe Fuyu persimmons
1 small pomegranate
½ cup shelled roasted and salted pistachios, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced or finely shaved on a mandoline
6 packed cups (about 6 ounces) mixed greens or arugula
Use a sharp paring knife to cut the skins off the persimmons and then slice the fruit into very thin rounds (if you have a mandoline, use it set at smaller than ⅛ inch). Line a large platter with the slices. Cut the pomegranate into quarters and tap out the arils, or juicy, edible seeds, from within. You’ll have to do some work with your fingers to separate the arils from the peel and white membranes, which you can discard. Toss the pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and fennel with the greens and pile the mixture on top of the persimmons. Drizzle with the vinaigrette of your choice and serve.
Serves 4 to 6
Ginger Honey Carrots
Cooked carrots, like so many other throwback sides, too often suffer cooking abuse, jostling around in bland, boiling water until mushy soft. Scraped out into a seeping watery pile next to wrinkled green peas, an orange mound of homogenous carrot coins is a sad site. But this preparation does right by the sweet, earthy root, coaxing its sugars with a quick sauté and then cloaking the cuts in a sweet and spicy simmer sauce. Fresh ginger packs a punch that heat seekers will love.
1½ tablespoons honey
1¼ cups water
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus salt to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1½ pounds carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 (2-inch) chunk fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a Microplane or very finely minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Whisk the honey, water, vinegar, and salt together in a small mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat the butter in a medium deep sauté pan or a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and sauté for 5 minutes, until they start to release some water and the outsides become just slightly tender. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 30 seconds.
Pour the liquid over the carrots and bring it to a boil. Cover the pan and decrease the heat to medium-low to simmer for 5 minutes, until the carrots are mostly tender when pierced with a knife. Remove the lid, return the heat to medium-high, and boil the liquid and carrots 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the liquid is nearly gone.
Season to taste with more salt and the pepper as needed. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6
Browned Brussels with Maple Butter
Some people are evangelical about their favorite foods, determined to sway skeptics to their way of thinking and tasting. I’m this way about Brussels sprouts. If any preparation of these cruciferous bulbs is going to spur converts, it’s this one. The maple butter is reminiscent of caramel, creating a sweet cloak over savory sprouts that become deeply browned and crisp wherever their surfaces meet the hot pan. The maple butter can be made a day ahead, cooled completely, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature while the sprouts roast and then scrape it into the hot sprouts to melt it.
1 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, stem ends trimmed, outer leaves peeled, and halved (quartered if large)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush 1 tablespoon of the olive oil on a baking sheet and transfer it to the hot oven for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, toss the sprouts with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the salt and pepper. Pour the sprouts out onto the hot baking sheet and spread into a single layer. (Take the time to place each sprout cut side down for especially crisped and browned sprouts.)
Roast the Brussels sprouts for 15 to 20 minutes, until fork-tender and a dark brown crust forms on the sides exposed to the baking sheet.
While the sprouts roast, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling it around as it becomes liquid. Keep a close eye on the butter as it starts to foam. If you look closely at the liquid butter as it cooks, you can see tiny specks of brown appear (which are the browning milk solids). Continue heating it until it starts to smell nutty and turns from off-white to golden to light brown. Immediately remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup. Stir briskly as the mixture sizzles and spurts. Set aside in the saucepan until the Brussels finish roasting.
Remove the Brussels from the oven and transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle the maple butter all over, tossing to coat evenly. Serve immediately.
Serves 4 to 6