by kellie abrahamson
Most would agree the turkey is the crown jewel of any holiday meal. This year give the bird a run for its money and kick your traditional sides up a notch with these terrific (and tasty) tips.
Sweet potatoes are an extremely versatile holiday staple from preparation to toppings. Mixing fruits and other veggies into your sweet potato soufflé can really add something special to the table. There are several fruits that blend well with the spuds, like bananas, apples, pineapples or peaches. The fruits add natural sugars to your dish, making it healthier for your guests. For an even more calorie-conscience option, replace some of your sweet potatoes with pumpkin or summer squash. Your family will never be able to taste the difference but their waistlines will thank you.
For many people, sweet potato casserole wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of marshmallows melted on top. Change things up this year by adding some crunch to your usual topping. A mixture of crushed corn flakes, brown sugar and butter add some bite to the dish. You can also try mixing in pecans or coconut flakes for an extra treat. If you simply can’t do without marshmallows, do both! Sprinkle your crunchy topping and your marshmallows in alternating rows for a side that’s as delicious as it is beautiful.
Most people choose to serve their sweet potatoes with plenty of brown sugar, making it almost dessert-like. But sweet potatoes can be just as delicious when they’re savory. Do an internet search for “savory sweet potatoes” and you’ll find plenty of yummy-sounding recipes worth trying this holiday season. I was particularly drawn to one called “Spicy Sweet Potato Gratin” (found at bigoven.com) which mixed the tubers with heavy cream and chipotles and was topped with Gruyere cheese.
corn on the cob
Few people realize the experimentation potential in corn on the cob. Most just throw some ears on the grill or in a pot on the stove and call it a day. But with a few tweaks, corn can yield plenty of flavorful surprises, beginning with the preparation. If you choose to boil your cobs, throw in a few teaspoons of sugar or some honey to make sweet corn even sweeter. Believe it or not, adding milk to your boiling water also helps bring out the corn’s natural sweetness. One thing you should avoid adding to your water is salt, which tends to dry out the kernels, making them overly chewy. When grilling, soak the corn, husks and all, in water for about 30 minutes to keep them from burning. Just before laying the ears on the grill, peel back some of the husk and tuck some fresh herbs inside (rosemary is particularly good) for some extra flavor.
Once your corn is cooked, the culinary sky is the limit. Stick with butter, salt and pepper or experiment with the herbs and spices in your pantry. Paprika, garlic butter, cayenne pepper, mustard, Old Bay, grated cheese and lime juice are just a few ways you can season your ears, but really, any spice, herb or sauce will work in harmony with those yummy yellow kernels.
Another incredibly versatile dish served at most holiday tables is also one of the most commonly overlooked. Cranberry sauce is often served in can-shaped gelatinous blob form, which is a shame since it’s super easy to make and a lot of fun to experiment with. A cup of sugar, a cup of water and four cups of fresh cranberries is all it takes to make a very basic sauce in no time flat. But throwing in other complimentary flavors can turn this turkey trimming treat into a star of its own. Orange slices, raisins, apple chunks and apricots all add a gourmet twist to standard sauce. My particular favorite addition is pomegranate arils, which add a nice little burst of flavor to the dish.
Like sweet potatoes, your cranberry sauce doesn’t have to be sweet. Add some Latin flavor to your Thanksgiving table and make a cranberry salsa instead. Combine a 12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries with some cilantro, green onions, a seeded jalapeno pepper, lime juice and a pinch of salt in a food processor and chop to a medium consistency. Serve this with your turkey or even chips and enjoy waves of compliments for both taste and creativity.
It seems like every holiday table I’ve had the pleasure of sitting around has either had collard greens or green bean casserole with no other green veggies in sight. While these are perfectly fine sides, it doesn’t hurt to mix things up with something different every couple of years. Take some time and give thanks for other veggies this holiday season. Start by taking a peek at some of the vegetables you don’t normally serve. Artichokes are a rarity at my house so steaming up a few for our Thanksgiving table would make the meal extra special. Asparagus, bok choy, edamame and okra are other “occasional” veggies that you may want to consider in addition to traditional holiday sides.
If you can’t live without your green beans and collards, try serving them in different ways. Instead of a casserole, make little bundles of beans by wrapping a slice of bacon around a few fresh green beans and sautéing them over medium heat. Admittedly, I wouldn’t change a thing about my family’s collard greens recipe (boiled to perfection with a ham hock- yum!), but I would be open to topping my serving with something other than vinegar, like onions, tomatoes or even salsa.
Little changes here and there to your standard holiday menu can really make the difference between a ho-hum meal and something worthy of the celebration. Take some chances in the kitchen this holiday season and add some sass to your sides. You may just stumble upon a new favorite family recipe.
by kellie abrahamson