Thanksgiving is not a Vietnamese tradition by any means, but our families have come to welcome the opportunity to have dinner together on a nationally-designated Thursday each year. Martin and I were assigned side dishes and dessert, and his parents made soup and hosted the party. Our soy sauce glazed chicken with sticky rice stuffing is a crowd-pleaser, so my parents handled that this year.
The side dishes we selected are colorful, easy to prepare in advance, use seasonal ingredients, and reheat well at our final destination. They are also both – *fanfare* – vegetarian / vegan! (I did use C&H light brown sugar, so depending on how that was processed, it arguably is or is not vegan.) In lieu of traditional mashed potatoes, we wanted to use sweet potato for its brighter flavor, not that we don’t love a good, butter-laden mash a la Thomas Keller. We were also assigned to bring a salad but, with the cooler weather, decided to go with a warm roasted asparagus salad instead. Both turned out to be great hits, so save these recipes for next year, serve them up at Christmas dinner, or make them “just because.”
**Note: I doubled the proportions for our dinner party, so while each recipe yields 4 servings, the photos will depict twice as much of each ingredient.
2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Step 1: Scrub the sweet potatoes under cold running water to remove any dirt and pick off the roots. Stab all over with a fork (like piercing a frozen dinner for the microwave).
Step 2: Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the skins pull away from the tubers and the sugars are dark but not burnt. Set aside and let cool.
Step 3: When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off the sweet potatoes. Add to a medium sized mixing bowl.
Step 4: Mashing with a fork, sprinkle in the salt, sugar, and spices. Taste and adjust to your liking.
12 ounces fresh asparagus (preferably the younger, thinner variety)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey or agave *
1/4 cup olive oil, slowly drizzled to emulsify *
Salt & pepper, to taste
* adjust the sweetener and oil depending on how much juice you get out of your lemon
Vinaigrette proportions based on this Food Network recipe
Step 1: Break the woody ends off the asparagus (the stem will easily snap in just the right place; if you’re fighting with it, you’re not doing it right). Rinse in cool water and drain well. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme. Arrange on a baking sheet in a single layer.
Step 2: Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. The stems will be tender and sweet and the tops will be toasty but not dark.
Step 3: Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, and sweetener. While simultaneously whisking, slowly drizzle in a consistent stream of olive oil. Taste and season as needed. The emulsification will mellow out the sharp acidity of the lemon juice (if it’s still too tart, keep whisking and adding oil). Set aside.
Step 4: Cut the asparagus into one-inch, bite-sized pieces and add to a bowl. Toss in the dressing or serve alongside, if desired. Serve warm or cold.
Didn’t I tell you these were easy? Especially if you have a good oven, since it will be doing most of the work. These dishes were great accompaniments to the rest of our Thanksgiving dinner which featured….
Martin’s parents made a soup commonly found at Vietnamese-Chinese restaurants, crab and white asparagus soup or súp măng cua. His mom adds a special twist that I don’t see very often (if ever!) – hard boiled quail eggs. With firm whites yielding to a smooshy yolky middle, it’s fun to find one of these surprises sitting at the bottom of your soup bowl. Garnished with fresh cilantro and a sprinkling of white pepper, this soup transports me back to fond memories of childhood.
When I was a kid, I used to stay up late at night watching infomercials on the little TV in my bedroom. I was always especially fascinated if it were food related (I’ve seen the flavor injector segment of the Showtime Rotisserie oven more times than anyone really should). Anyway, it turns out my parents were doing the same thing, so they got one of these — a NuWave induction oven. It actually did a pretty good job of cooking our humble 3-pound chicken in about 45 minutes.
So from our home to yours, we hope you enjoy these recipes for potluck-friendly side dishes that are sure to please the guests of your next holiday party. Wait – where’s the dessert, you ask? I guess you’ll just have to tune in again this Wednesday… ;)