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4 Thanksgiving veggie dishes get tasty updates

By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: November 15, 2023, 6:04am

We all love our turkey and many of us would find it hard to turn down a piece of homemade pumpkin pie, especially if it’s served with a dollop of homemade whipped cream. But we also know the truth about America’s favorite food-focused holiday: Thanksgiving would be nothing more than a boring turkey dinner if not for the cornucopia of side dishes that complete the meal.

For some, the jury will always be out on whether cranberry sauce — especially the jiggly, log-shaped stuff plopped from a can — is the food of gods or a gelatinous abomination. Yet most will agree that some of the best eats on Thanksgiving will always be the baked, roasted and mashed vegetables that every year find their way onto the table. We’re talking classics like green bean or sweet potato casserole, herbed stuffing and creamy (or maybe you prefer lumpy) mashed potatoes.

But to borrow a favorite line from the band Coldplay, if you never try, you’ll never know how good something different can be when it comes to building out and updating your holiday menu with fresh takes on those traditional dishes.

With that in mind, and to cure you of any possible Thanksgiving meal fatigue, we tweak a few favorites — gently! — with global flavors and unexpected ingredients.

Fish & Ash chef Cory Hughes, for instance, gives roasted sweet potatoes an unanticipated warm and spicy kick with a compound butter garnish made with red curry paste, maple syrup, garlic and lime zest. In defiance of Mom’s green bean casserole made with canned mushroom soup and those salty-but-irresistible crispy fried onions, Market District Chef Benjamin D’Amico channels the flavors of Greece with a fresh, mezze-style green bean salad that delights with sun-dried tomato, briny Kalamata olives and the salty punch of feta.

D’Amico also gives a simple platter of roasted asparagus the holiday treatment (and a tug at my heartstrings) with two of my father’s favorite seasonal add-ons: juicy, crunchy pomegranate arils and chopped pistachios.

And for the inevitable pan of Brussels sprouts, which are often roasted to a crisp? In Sarah Grueneberg’s new veggie-forward cookbook “Listen to Your Vegetables,” the James Beard Award-winning chef gets fresh by going old school and gently boiling the sprouts and then tossing them in a nutty brown butter with dried cherries and pecans.

All are so tasty they’re sure to make a repeat appearance on your Thanksgiving table for years to come, and then some.

Mezze-style Green Bean Salad

Serves 6. Market District chef Benjamin D’Amico

This modern take on green bean casserole is lighter than the traditional dish, but still full of incredible flavor. To make crispy chickpeas from scratch, remove any loose skins from 1 cup rinsed and dried cooked chickpeas with 1 tablespoon oil, sea salt and whatever spices you like, and bake in a 400-degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy.

For salad:

2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed (can be halved if preferred)

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced

1/2 cup Kalamata or black olives, halved lengthwise

1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup crispy chickpea

For vinaigrette:

1/4 cup canola or olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons fresh parsley

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a large pot of boiling water, steam or boil green beans for 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and submerge beans in an ice bath for 2 minutes to chill.

Drain beans and dry with a paper towel, and set aside while you prepare the vinaigrette.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon zest, dried oregano, fresh parsley, salt and pepper until well combined.

When ready to serve, place the green beans, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, red onions in a bowl. Add vinaigrette and toss until well coated, then place onto a serving platter.

Garnish the salad with crumbled feta cheese and crispy chickpeas.

Roasted Asparagus With Pomegranate, Pistachios and Balsamic

Serves 4-6. Market District chef Benjamin D’Amico

The colors of this roasted asparagus dish might be more appropriate for Christmas, but the flavor is worth celebrating any day of the week. Pomegranate arils add a juicy, seasonal crunch.

2 pounds fresh asparagus

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons pomegranate arils

2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Market District Balsamic Glaze

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Trim bottom 1/4 inch off of the asparagus. (Asparagus can be left whole or cut into 1-inch pieces if preferred.) Place in a bowl and toss with oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Place the asparagus onto a parchment-lined baking tray and cook in hot oven for 20-25 minutes, or until roasted and tender.

Remove asparagus from oven and place onto a serving platter. Garnish with pomegranate arils, chopped pistachios, lemon zest, chopped parsley and a drizzle or two of balsamic glaze.

Brussels Sprouts With Dried Cherries and Pecans

Serves 4-6. “Listen to Your Vegetables” by Sarah Grueneberg and Kate Heddings (Harvest, Oct. 2022, $45)

Dried cherries add a tart-sweet touch to this buttery, nutty, easy-to-make pan of Brussels sprouts. I used pecans.

Kosher salt

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

Leaves from 1 rosemary sprig

1/4 cup dried tart cherries, chopped

Fresh cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt (about 1 tablespoon salt per quart of water). Add the Brussels sprouts and boil until tender, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on size. To check if they are tender, treat them like potatoes: Stick a paring knife in one sprout, and if the knife doesn’t get stuck, the sprouts are done.

Drain sprouts in a large colander. Place pot back on stove over medium heat. Add butter and melt until foamy. Swirl the pan to check the darkening of the butter, about 1 minute.

As soon as the butter turns golden brown, add pecans and toast for 1 minute. Then add the rosemary and continue to cook, swirling the pan or stirring the nuts so they don’t burn. As soon as the rosemary is fragrant, add the spouts and cherries. (I cut the larger sprouts in half vertically to make them easier to eat.) Cook until evenly coated and the sprouts are warmed through.

Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Caramelized Yams With Red Curry-Maple Compound Butter

Serves 6. Chef Cory Hughes, Fig & Ash, North Side

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This globally inspired side dish is a modern take on candied sweet potatoes. Red curry and maple syrup add a subtle sweetness and spiciness.

For compound butter

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) butter, softened

1 teaspoon lime zest

1 tablespoon red curry paste, or more to taste

2 tablespoons minced basil

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoons minced shallots

2 tablespoons maple syrup

For yams

4 medium yams, cut into quarters lengthwise

2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 teaspoons minced shallot

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Maldon sea salt, for optional garnish

Chopped basil, for garnish

Prepare compound butter: In a mixing bowl, combine butter, lime zest, curry paste, basil, garlic, shallots and maple syrup, and stir with a spatula. Take a 12- to 14-inch piece of plastic wrap and spoon the mixture in the middle lengthwise, into a burrito shape.

Wrap the mixture and roll into a burrito. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.

Prepare yams: Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, toss together quartered yams, garlic, shallot, paprika, salt and olive oil. Lay yams flat on 1 or 2 sheet trays, taking care not to overcrowd them.

Roast for 20 minutes, then turn the yams over and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Set the oven to broiler and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes until golden brown and delicious looking, to caramelize the yams. (If you don’t have a broiler, skip this step and roast in a skillet.)

To plate, place the roasted yams in a shallow oval serving dish. Cut the compound butter into 1-inch slices, and place on top. Garnish with Maldon sea salt and basil, if desired.