At the Thanksgiving table, the turkey is sacred. The stuffing is imperative, the gravy essential and the mashed potatoes a lumpy rite of passage.
But when it comes to any other side dishes, the cook is free to play. As long as it tastes good, is made of vegetables and fits on the table, pretty much anything can find a place at the feast.
In my mind, the most important considerations for Thanksgiving side dishes are practical ones. Since the rest of the day is one long marathon of turkey minding, pie tending and relative wrangling, I like to make something way in advance, or right at the last minute as the turkey rests. In either case, simplicity is everything, and using big, assertive seasonings to highlight one easy-to-manoeuvre vegetable gets you most of the way there.
Case in point: Cauliflower, which is a breeze to cut up and doesn’t shrink down to oblivion when you cook it, is a lot faster to deal with than, say, Swiss chard or kale with their fiddly stems, or mushrooms and spinach with their high moisture content.
In this recipe for a garlicky, crunchy, marinated salad filled with lemon and spices, you don’t even need to cook the cauliflower. It can be prepared entirely in advance, and gets better as it bathes in its pungent dressing. Better yet, cauliflower comes in a brilliant array of autumnal colours, making it a festive addition to the table — a bit like those ubiquitous decorative gourds, but tasty.
You can also substitute broccoli for the cauliflower. It doesn’t come in a rainbow of hues, but given the brown and beige monotony of most Thanksgiving tables, its emerald vibrancy will perk things up.
Another strategy is quick high-heat roasting, which you can do when the oven frees up, during the 30 or so minutes the turkey rests.
The key here is to prep all your vegetables in advance, so all you have to do is pop the pan into the oven when the bird comes out. You can do this with practically any vegetable, even the dense ones. Just remember: The smaller you cut the pieces, the faster they will cook (I’m looking at you, winter squash). I particularly like a combination of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and shallots, which roast quickly and get crisp at the edges. But if time is an issue, the slicing attachment of the food processor can be of help and you can slice the sprouts the day before.
Colourful, convenient and flavourful, these side dishes add brightness and verve, on Thanksgiving and beyond.
Recipe: Lemony Cauliflower With Garlic and Herbs
1 lemon, plus more lemon juice to taste
1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite-size florets (128g)
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
2 scallions, whites and greens thinly sliced
64g chopped fresh dill or basil
64g chopped parsley, leaves and tender stems
96g extra-virgin olive oil
2 fat garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
2 teaspoons whole cumin or cracked coriander seeds
Large pinch of red-pepper flakes (optional)
1. Finely grate the zest of the lemon into a large heatproof bowl, then halve the lemon and squeeze in juice. Stir in salt to dissolve it. Add cauliflower, jalapeño, scallions, dill and parsley and toss to combine. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in red-pepper flakes.
2. Pour mixture over cauliflower and toss well. Let cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 48 hours to let the flavours mingle.
3. Toss well before serving, adding more salt or a squeeze of lemon to taste. For the best flavour, serve at room temperature.
Recipe: Crispy Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Shallots
Serves 8 to 10
900g, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 shallots, sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 64g)
64g extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
8 thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon), plus more to taste
Grated Parmesan, for serving (optional)
1. Heat oven to 230 degrees. In a medium bowl, toss together Brussels sprouts, shallots, olive oil and salt. Evenly divide Brussels sprouts mixture between two rimmed 13-by-18-inch baking sheets, spreading everything into one layer. Top with thyme sprigs.
2. Roast, stirring once, until Brussels sprouts and shallots are tender, golden and lightly charred in spots, 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together garlic, Worcestershire and lemon juice.
4. As soon as Brussels sprouts emerge from oven, immediately drizzle with Worcestershire dressing, tossing to combine. Taste and add more salt, lemon juice, or Worcestershire if needed. Top with grated Parmesan if you like and serve immediately.