Thanksgiving is all about Thanksgiving Sides
Has your search for the perfect Thanksgiving menu started yet? I won’t decide on the final picks until it’s time to shop, but I like to let some ideas percolate in my mind for a few weeks prior. The days fly by, and it’s far better to have my Thanksgiving sides in mind than to be blindsided by the big day.
Thanksgiving sides are a big deal to me, and most meatless diners, because they are our way to integrate into the traditional Thanksgiving feast. Someone else can make a turkey, we bring our best Thanksgiving sides, and plan to eat them as main courses. It all makes for a great spread, and in my own way, I tempt my friends and family to crowd that plate with plant-based food, perhaps nudging into the space where another slice of turkey would go.
They can save that for tomorrow’s lunch.
Bringing People Together
There are plenty of reasons to avoid your family, but food should not be one of them. This holiday is about giving thanks, and is a throwback to ancient harvest celebrations. It can be as pagan or religious as you make it, or you can focus on the mashed potatoes and keep it all about the food.
I’m lucky to be a guest this year, invited to bring sides to share with one of my oldest and dearest friends, and her extended family and friends, and I can’t wait. Because I don’t have to do the heavy lifting of making the main course, I’m free to explore the Thanksgiving side dish, in all its harvest season glory.
So I’m trying out this creamy, herb-laced version of shepherd’s pie. Usually shepherd’s pie is covered with a deep, boring layer of of mashed potatoes. So, I roasted some whole garlic cloves until they were sticky and sweet, and pureed them with parsnips. I love parsnips, and can’t believe that I still meet people who don’t know what they are. Try my Easy Thai Roasted Red Curry with Parsnips, or my Comforting Parsnip Soup, to explore the long white root. You can pick your milk- almond, coconut, or if you are into dairy, go for half and half. As you can see from the photo, I did a quick piping job- it only takes a few minutes to pop them into a piping bag and make decorative dollops on top of the filling. Of course, you can just spread them on top, too.
As I contemplated the usual shepherd’s pie filling, I wanted to freshen it up, so I went for spinach. I’ve found that dishes with spinach appeal to just about everyone, and the bright green just gives the casserole curb appeal. A few carrots for color contrast, a creamy sauce, and a generous dose of fresh sage, and I have a winning Thanksgiving side.
Make Your Thanksgiving Side into a Main
For the vegetarians, you can make it a main with a package of seitan, a can of mock duck, or a can of white beans. Just drain and stir into the spinach mixture before topping. Gluten-free folks can use white rice flour instead of unbleached for thickening the sauce.
Because making sure there is a good option for everyone is one way to share love and compassion this Thanksgiving. As well as great food.
Roasted Garlic Parsnip Spinach Shepherd's Pie
- 8 cloves garlic whole, peeled
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 pounds parsnips 5 cups chopped
- 1 cup non-dairy milk or milk
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 12 ounces spinach washed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large onions chopped
- 2 large carrots chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh sage chopped
- 3 tablespoons unbleached flour or white rice flour for GF
- 1 cups non-dairy milk or milk
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons tamari
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces seitan, or a can of drained white beans optional
- Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. Place the garlic cloves and olive oil in a small metal bowl and cover with foil, and roast for 20 minutes. The garlic should be very soft and browned. Take out to cool.
- In a large pot, place the parsnips and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium low and simmer until the parsnips are very soft. Test by piercing with a paring knife. Drain well.
- Transfer the garlic and oil to a blender or food processor, and add the parsnips and salt. In a food processor, puree completely before adding the milk. In a blender, add the milk and puree. When smooth, transfer to a large piping bag with a large star tip, or just reserve to spread on the pie.
- Prepare a 9x13 inch pan or other medium casserole.
- For filling: Boil a large pot of water and drop the spinach in, cook for about 2 minutes, then drain. Rinse with cold water, squeeze out, then spread on a thick kitchen towel, roll up, and squeeze until very dry.
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onions, carrots and sage until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the onions in the pan and stir to coat the vegetables with flour and eliminate any lumps. Gradually stir in the milk and stock, and cook over medium heat until thick. Add salt, tamari and pepper and stir. Take off the heat and stir the spinach (and seitan or beans, if using) into the sauce, then spread in the 9x13 inch casserole.
- Pipe the parsnips on top of the spinach filling as shown, or place dollops on top and spread them with a spatula. Spritz with a little olive oil, then bake at 400 for 35 minutes. I cranked up the broiler and watched carefully for a few minutes to get my parsnip topping nicely browned.