Three simple, yet impressive side dishes that are quick to prepare and easy to transport.
So you’ve been invited to Thanksgiving dinner, and you want to bring something fabulous enough to show your hosts how much you appreciate their invitation. But the kids will be home or you’re finishing up work and you’d rather not spend the entire morning cooking your contribution. What to do?
A wild rice pilaf is traditional, but a few hearty, seasonal additions can make it special enough to bring to a celebration like Thanksgiving. Washington’s own Bluebird Grain Farms’ Potlatch Pilaf is a flavorful blend of farro and wild rice, available at a number of Seattle area stores including Whole Foods, PCC, Metropolitan Market, Eat Local and Central Co-op for about $6.95 for a 1.18 pound bag (the best deal is PCC, which has it in bulk for $3.80 a pound). If you can’t find Bluebird’s Pilaf, you can make your own by using wild rice and adding long grain rice halfway through the cooking time.
Start by sautéing finely chopped onion in olive oil, then add the rice and stir to coat. Cook in broth for the most flavor. To dress it up, add roasted squash and mushrooms. I like delicata squash because they are small, relatively easy to cut into, quick to cook and have a thin skin that you can eat.
Simply cut off both ends then stand it up and cut it in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds, then lay the halves, flat side down, on a cutting board, and cut into ¼-inch slices, then cut each slice in half again. Toss them with olive oil, season with salt and spread them on a foil-lined sheet pan.
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For the mushrooms, I love chanterelles (available right now at a number of farmers markets), but you can also use crimini. Be sure to clean them well (use a dry pastry brush on chanterelles and a damp paper towel for criminis), then roughly chop them, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and spread them out on another sheet pan.
Roast the vegetables at 400 degrees in the top and bottom thirds of the oven for 15 minutes. Toss the vegetables, rotate the pans, then continue cooking for another 10 minutes or until the squash is soft and caramelized and the mushrooms are tender and beginning to crisp. Gently fold the roasted vegetables into the cooked rice, and top the pilaf with finely chopped parsley.
For a fresh green vegetable, I like to tweak a recipe by Jacques Pepin. Take a pound of green beans, trim both ends of the beans and cut them on the bias into 2-inch lengths. Saute them in a little olive oil over medium heat with thinly sliced shallots (8 ounces per pound of beans) until the shallots are golden and the beans are tender but still crisp, about 8 minutes. Add a tablespoon of butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve them sprinkled with roughly chopped toasted walnuts.
It’s always nice to offer to bring a salad to dinner for a crowd. Chances are your host’s refrigerator has been full-to-bursting and they’d like to avoid any last minute preparations. My favorite winter salad dressing is made with one part apple cider vinegar to two parts walnut oil, a squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of maple syrup, lots of finely chopped shallots, a handful of chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. I use a mix of baby greens, and then either thinly sliced apple or pear, pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries, toasted walnuts or pecans, and either goat cheese, blue cheese or shavings of Parmesan. You can assemble most of the salad before you leave your kitchen. Just toss the sliced fruit in the dressing, bring it separately, and add it to the salad when you’re ready to share.
Leora Y. Bloom is the author of “Washington Food Artisans: Farm Stories and Chef Recipes”