The first time my now daughter-in-law joined us for Thanksgiving, I sent a short Google form to all the kids asking about their menu desires. One item was, “It’s not Thanksgiving if we don’t have ______.” Greta answered: mashed potatoes, and although that had not been a tradition in our family, for her, I made that, too, of course.
And yet turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes make for a rather monochromatic plate! I love the ruby color of cranberry chutney, something green, usually my grandmother’s peas with mushrooms and water chestnuts, and something orange.
The traditional orange side that my family always made is the uber-sweet, uber-traditional, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, with pineapple mixed in for some zing. For many years this was the assignment for my cousin, Lauren. She would assemble the casserole ahead of time to reheat and top with marshmallows while the turkey was resting. And she would always bring two bags of marshmallows because, inevitably, she’d step away for a minute and the first batch would catch fire! (She would just remove that layer before using the second bag.) If you prefer a sweeter side dish, this is a great choice, and it’s even easier if you use canned yams.
For something more savory, try my recipe for a gratin of sweet potatoes and squash. The caramelized onions and Gruyère complement the veggies nicely, allowing you to include the traditional sweet potatoes with a different taste profile.
The simplest offering here are oven-roasted carrot “fries.” If you are serving anyone who is vegan or can’t have dairy, this can add beautiful color to your plate without any butter or cheese. (The sweet dish with marshmallows can be made with dairy-free margarine instead of butter, but may not be vegan as most marshmallows contain gelatin.) Although these carrots don’t get crunchy like fries would, the caramelization adds depth of flavor to this side dish. Here I’ve suggested seasoning with sage and nutmeg, to complement my stuffing recipe, but you can experiment with other flavors, such as za’atar or harissa as suits your menu.
All of these can be halved or multiplied to account for how many guests grace your table, but whatever you decide to serve, may the spirit of gratitude bring joy and meaning to your Thanksgiving meal.
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
Serves 8 to 10.
Two 40-ounce cans yams, mashed (about 4 cups) or an equal amount of mashed sweet potato (baked or peeled, then boiled or steamed, and mashed)
One 20-ounce can crushed pineapple, drained well
4 tablespoons melted butter or dairy-free margarine
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
One 10-ounce bag mini marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine all ingredients except marshmallows in a large bowl and mix well. Taste and add salt if needed. Grease a broiler-safe baking pan, such as a gratin dish, with cooking spray. Spread the sweet potato mixture into the pan. At this point the dish can be covered and kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake. If so, bring to room temperature before putting in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until hot throughout.
Remove the pan from the oven and turn on the broiler. Arrange the marshmallows in a single layer to cover the sweet potatoes. You may not need all the marshmallows depending on the dimensions of your pan. Place under the broiler watching constantly or checking repeatedly until the marshmallows are nicely browned, 1 to 2 minutes.
SWEET POTATO AND WINTER SQUASH GRATIN
1 pound butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 pound sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 cup grated Gruyère or Emmenthal cheese, about 3 ounces
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Bring water to a boil in a steamer. Add the squash cubes to the steamer basket, and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove to a large bowl. Add the sweet potato cubes to the steamer, and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add to the bowl with the squash.
In a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt, and sauté until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Add to the bowl with the vegetables.
Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a broiler-safe baking pan, such as a gratin dish, with cooking spray.
Add the cheeses, sour cream, heavy cream, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the bowl and mix to combine. Place in prepared pan and smooth the top. At this point the dish can be covered and kept in the refrigerator until ready to bake. If so, bring to room temperature before putting in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, or until hot throughout. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes until nicely browned.
OVEN-ROASTED CARROT 'FRIES'
1 1/2 pounds carrots
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or melted unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon dried sage, or other seasoning as desired
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, or other seasoning as desired
Spritz fresh lemon juice (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 F. For easier clean up, line a half sheet pan with foil (preferably non-stick) or parchment paper.
Peel the carrots and cut into 1- to 2-inch sticks, cutting the thinner pieces in half lengthwise and the larger ones in quarters as needed to keep the pieces of similar thickness.
Lay out the carrot sticks on the prepared sheet pan in a single layer. It’s fine if they are a bit tight as the pieces will shrink in cooking. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with olive oil or butter. Spread the seasonings evenly over all. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, checking occasionally to make sure they aren’t getting too dark, especially on the side touching the pan. Spritz with lemon juice before serving if desired.