On the Side

For some families, tradition reigns supreme at Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, what's familiar on the Thanksgiving table isn't always the best. So this year, I'm going to mix up things a bit with some new side dishes.

Stuffed roasted squash is a great side dish, as well as a vegetarian entrée option. Roasting the squash first gives it big flavor and helps it to cook evenly.

In the stuffing for the squash, the flavor of the wild rice is bolstered by tart dried cranberries, heady sage and earthy walnuts. The cranberries and walnuts also add a chewy textural contrast to the soft squash.

Spare your green beans the cream sauce bath, and instead dress them in spicy garlic butter. Simmer garlic and red-pepper flakes in olive oil to enhance the flavor, then add butter and pour over blanched green beans.

Warning: These spicy beans aren't for the faint of heart, so if there are small children or weak stomachs at the table, be sure to have some plain green beans on hand.

Chestnut stuffing is a tradition I can't shake. I first made it more than 10 years ago. Like most stuffings, it's a combination of toasted bread, sautéed vegetables, herbs and broth; the sweet chestnuts help transform the mixture to the sublime.

For dessert, try this seasonal take on a Middle Eastern classic: maple-walnut baklava. The same crisp, flaky layers you know are paired with spiced walnuts and sweet maple syrup. The result is decadent and delicious.

Who knows? Maybe these dishes will become your family's newest traditions.

Stuffed Squash With Wild Rice and Cranberries


3 acorn squash, about 11/2 to 2 lbs. each, halved and seeded
3 Tbsps. olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup wild-rice blend (a combination of wild rice and long-grain rice)
2 cups water
1 cup dried cranberries
6 Tbsps. maple syrup
1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts
2 Tbsps. fresh chopped sage

Preheat oven to 400°.

Brush cut side of squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.

Place cut side down on a baking sheet and cook 25 minutes, or until soft.

While the squash is cooking, prepare the stuffing.

In a medium saucepan, combine the rice, water and 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 10 minutes, or until water is absorbed and rice is tender. Remove from heat, add the cranberries, cover, and let sit 5 minutes to allow the cranberries to rehydrate.

When the squash is cooked, brush each piece with 1 tablespoon maple syrup.

Add the walnuts and sage to the rice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the stuffing among the squash halves.

Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over top of stuffing and bake 5 minutes, or until maple syrup caramelizes.

Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

Chestnut Stuffing


While nothing beats the flavor of fresh roasted chestnuts, it is also true that few things are as frustrating as trying to peel a pound of them. If you have the time and the patience, roast them yourself.Cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Pour 1/2 cup of water on the baking sheet, and cook in a 400° oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Find some friends to help you peel the chestnuts; it's easier to do while they're still hot. Be sure to remove the skin as well as the shell. If you don't have the patience or the time, you can buy prepared chestnuts at many specialty food stores.


6 cups cubed bread
1/2 cup margarine
21/2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
11/2 cups chopped carrot
2 cups peeled and crumbled chestnuts (about 1 lb. in the shell)
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
1/2-11/2 cups chicken or turkey stock

Spread the bread cubes in an even layer on one or more baking sheets, and toast in a 400° oven for 5 to 10 minutes until crisp and dry. Check often — bread can burn very quickly.

Melt the margarine in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the onion, celery and carrot, and cook for 10 minutes until soft. Add the chestnuts, sage, thyme, parsley and bread; stir thoroughly to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Add enough stock to achieve the desired consistency: If you are cooking the stuffing in the bird, only add about 1/2 cup to slightly moisten. If you are holding or reheating the stuffing (and not cooking it in the bird), add about 1 to 11/2 cups, depending on how moist you like it.

To reheat the stuffing, place in an ovenproof container, cover and warm in a 350° oven for 10 minutes until heated through.

Serves 6.

Spicy Green Beans


1/4 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps. red-pepper flakes
2 lbs. green beans, trimmed
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

In a small skillet, combine the olive oil, garlic and red-pepper flakes.

Cook over low heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until garlic is brown and aromatic. Remove from heat.

When the water is boiling, add the beans and cook for 2 minutes, or until bright green and al dente.

Drain well and combine with the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Maple-Walnut Baklava


This recipe is a modified version of one given to me by pastry chef and friend Greg Case.

8 oz. walnuts
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
1 lb. phyllo dough
11/2-2 cups maple syrup, grade B

Preheat oven to 300°.

Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Combine the walnuts and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until finely ground.

Carefully open phyllo and unroll the dough so that all sheets are stacked in one pile. Cover with a damp towel to keep from drying out.

Using two sheets of pastry at a time, place dough in pan, brush with oil, and repeat three times, so you have four layers of eight sheets of pastry. Sprinkle half of walnut mixture over the pastry. Repeat with remaining pastry and walnut mixture, ending with the pastry, brushed with oil.

Using a very sharp knife, cut into 2-inch squares or diamonds.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden-brown.

Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes, then pour the maple syrup over top of baklava. Cool completely before serving.

Serves 10 to 12.

Keri Fisher is a food writer and the co-author of One Cake, One Hundred Desserts. E-mail her at: [email protected] 



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