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Taking sides

A savory crumble of cubed beet roots and beet greens in a cheesy sauce might be enough to convert even the most ardent beet-hater.
TRR photos by Laura Silverman

November 24, 2015

With the big day looming, no doubt you’re giving some thought to what will grace your Thanksgiving table. Who am I kidding? You’re probably going to make the exact same menu as last year (and the year before), because culinary traditions tend to become deeply entrenched. There’s comfort in your grandmother’s stuffing recipe, your mother’s cranberry sauce, your uncle’s famous apple pie. But how will you make your mark on the holiday? New traditions have to start somewhere. So maybe this is the year you get a little creative.

While there may be no messing with the Big Five (turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes and pumpkin pie), the side dishes are where you can make your move. Although Thanksgiving is ostensibly all about the turkey, the sides are usually the most exciting part—unless yours belong to the Dark Ages of marshmallow fluff and canned fried onions. I celebrate the holiday with my husband’s family and have managed to make a couple of inroads in the last 10 years. My Parmesan-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates, a twist on the classic devils on horseback, are now hotly anticipated. And a simple preparation of cubed garnet yams tossed with maple syrup, pancetta and chile flakes has also earned a place at the table. It’s blitzed in the oven until yielding and caramelized, during the half hour or so that the turkey is resting. You can even make it ahead of time and reheat it at the last minute, and this versatility is definitely ingratiating.

If every man I knew didn’t disdain beets, I might consider trying to sneak in a savory crumble made with tender chunks of the root vegetable and their nutritious greens enrobed in a cheesy sauce and baked under a crunchy crust of Parmesan, oats and hazelnuts. It’s the perfect amount of richness without compounding the turkey’s soporific qualities, and would probably be just as good made with cauliflower or broccoli.

For cool refreshment (I can’t be the only one who craves this), something crisp and green that is not “a boring old salad” fits the bill. This is your opportunity to trick people into loving Brussels sprouts. Try an easy slaw made by shaving them as thinly as possible—a sharp knife works, so does a mandolin—then tossing them with shallots, toasted walnuts and Parmesan in a mustard vinaigrette. I’ve actually witnessed young children scarfing this down. Do I have your attention yet?

I’m hoping that no matter what you cook, your friends and family will thank you. But if you step outside the comfort zone, your taste buds will be eternally grateful.

Sweet & Spicy Yams

Serves 8-10

4 lbs garnet yams