Sweet Potato Mash and Warm Asparagus Salad [Thanksgiving 2013]

Recipes, Side Dishes

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.

Soy Sauce Glazed Chicken with Sticky Rice Stuffing

Soy Sauce Glazed Chicken with Sticky Rice Stuffing

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.”

Ready to Party

Ready to Party

**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.

Sweet Potato Mash Ingredients:

Sweet Potato Mash Ingredients:

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).

Baked Sweet Potatoes

Baked Sweet Potatoes

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.

Peeled Sweet Potatoes

Peeled Sweet Potatoes

Step 3: When cool enough to handle, peel the skins off the sweet potatoes. Add to a medium sized mixing bowl.

Sweet Potato Mash - the final product

Sweet Potato Mash – the final product

Step 4: Mashing with a fork, sprinkle in the salt, sugar, and spices. Taste and adjust to your liking.

Warm Asparagus Salad Ingredients:

Warm Asparagus Salad Ingredients:

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

Lemon Vinaigrette Ingredients:

Lemon Vinaigrette Ingredients:

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

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

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.

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted Asparagus

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.

Whisking the Lemon Vinaigrette

Whisking the Lemon Vinaigrette

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.

Warm Asparagus Salad

Warm Asparagus Salad

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….

Sup Mang Cua (Vietnamese Crab & Asparagus Soup)

Sup Mang Cua (Vietnamese Crab & Asparagus Soup)

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.

Nuwave Oven

Nuwave Oven

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.

Our dads carving the turkey... I mean, chicken.

Our dads carving the turkey… I mean, chicken.

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… ;)

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Potato Gratin (and Bonus – Homemade Potato Chips)

Appetizers and Starters, Recipes, Side Dishes

“What’s a potato gratin?” “It’s like the mac & cheese of the potato world.” “Really?” “Yeah, seriously.”

Yup – I totally had that conversation last week. But layered with cheese, simmered in milk, and beautifully browned with a crunchy crust, the classic potato gratin really does bear resemblance to a baked macaroni and cheese dish. The fork-tender slices of potato glued by savory Gruyère and a golden crust worth fighting over both make this dish a winner!

Voilà - potatoes gratiné!

Voilà – potatoes gratiné!

Ingredients:

2 to 2.5 lbs potatoes (yukon golds are best but any will do)
4 oz gruyere cheese
1.5 cups of milk (whole, low-fat, nonfat… your choice)
Salt & pepper
Butter, about 2 tablespoons plus a thin pat for greasing the pan
1 medium onion, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and peel the potatoes.

Potato Slices

Potato Slices

Being very careful with a knife (or using a mandoline if you have one), slice into rounds anywhere from paper-thin to no thicker than about 1/8th inch thick. Just be as consistent as you can, for even cooking.

Gruyere!

Gruyere

Grate the cheese into a bowl and set aside.

In a small pan, heat the butter until it just starts to bubble and brown. Add in the onions and season with salt and pepper. Saute until translucent and sweet – about 5 minutes. Once they’re done, set aside to cool off.

Layer #1

Layer #1

Butter a 9 x 13 pan (or a 9 x 12 gratin dish) generously on the bottom and be sure to work up the sides as well. Arrange potato slices in a single layer, allowing the slices to overlap a bit. Season with fresh cracked black pepper and sprinkle lightly with cheese. The gruyere I buy comes salted so I go easy on the added salt. Be sure to reserve about 1/3 of the cheese for the very top crust layer. Continue layering with potato, black pepper, and cheese.

Onion time!

Onion time!

After about 3 or 4 layers, arrange the next potato layer. Top with the sauteed onion, spreading to evenly distribute as best you can. Continue with another potato layer and repeat as before.

Use up all of your potato slices or as many as it takes to make about 8-10 layers, leaving one last layer of just potato. Fret not if you have extra lonely slices – you can reserve these leftover slices for making potato chips!

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Pour the milk over the prepared gratin, letting it seep between the layers. Finally, top with the reserved 1/3 of cheese and bake for about 45 minutes to one hour, or until everything gets bubbly and the crust becomes a gorgeous golden brown.

The finished product!

The finished product!

Slice into squares and serve hot. We generally cut the 9 x 13 pan into sixths but it can easily serve 8 if part of a larger meal.

Serving Suggestion

Serving Suggestion

Some nights we’ll eat the gratin on its own paired with a freshly tossed salad… and other nights, we’ll start sizzling up some steaks when the gratin is about 15 minutes out from being done. As a side or as a (relatively) light main, this potato gratin is comforting and hearty dish that’s sure to please!

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IMG_5577

Bonus Recipe: Homemade Potato Chips!

Oil (olive or vegetable)

Leftover gratin slices

Salt

Pour enough oil into a pan (or the small pot you used to saute onions if you want to save on dish-washing) to come up about 1/2 inch. Heat until a small drop of water dripped into the oil fizzles away (if it splatters, and be careful if it does, turn down the heat and let the oil cool a bit).

Fry away, little ones!

Fry away, little ones!

Drop in a few slices, making sure to not crowd the pan. I like my chips nice and browned – this will take a few minutes. Watch them carefully though! They can go from toasty to burnt in the blink of an eye.

Tip: they'll crisp up more as they cool

Tip: they’ll crisp up more as they cool

Transfer toasty chips to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Sprinkle on a bit of salt (or seasonings of choice!) right when you take the chips out of the oil so they will adhere better.

Com Do – Vietnamese Tomato Red Rice

Recipes, Side Dishes

One of our favorite sides in French-Vietnamese cuisine is com do — a beautifully bright red stir-fried tomato rice often served with rotisserie or roasted meats. It’s quick and easy to make, and it’s a great way to use up leftover white rice!

NomCat tip for the ingredients:

1) The Rice: You definitely need the long grain Vietnamese jasmine rice to get the proper texture. The Japanese botan rice (and its equivalents) will be too sticky and sweet. Whichever rice you would use to make fried rice will be perfect. Either cook it in a rice cooker with a bit less water than you would normally use, or use leftover rice from a day or two before so that it will be dry enough to not clump when sitrfrying.

2) The Seasoning: Maggi is maggi-cal! It’s darker in color than soy sauce and has a deeper flavor than just plain saltiness. It’s a critical flavoring agent for making and eating com do. You should be able to find it in any Asian grocery store and even in the “Asian” goods section of chain grocery stores as well. If given the option, spring for the higher priced (and higher quality) variety imported from Germany. It’s worth the extra few dollars. :) For additional info, hop over to our follow-up post!

We mentioned com do in our post about herb roasted rack of lamb.

Maybe they should rename it to com cam (orange rice). By any name, it’s a delicious side dish!

Ingredients:

3 cups of cooked white jasmine rice

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 clove garlic, minced

Olive oil (about 1-2 tablespoons)

Maggi Seasoning Sauce (for flavor and color – a few good shakes will suffice)

Salt (or garlic salt) and pepper to taste

If cooking the rice shortly before making com do, be sure to leave the rice cooker lid open after it “clicks” finished so that the steam will escape and allow the rice to dry out a bit. In a deep pot (you’ll want room to toss the rice without losing any), heat the olive oil and minced garlic over medium-high heat. Just as the garlic is starting to brown, add all of the rice. Toss to evenly distribute the oil-garlic mixture. If you are using leftover rice, you will need to increase the time for this stage to allow the rice to warm up. Add the tomato paste and stir vigorously to coat the rice. You should not have any white or dark red splotches; all of the rice should take on an even orange-red color. Season with salt, pepper, and Maggi. Let it sizzle on high heat for a few minutes if you like your com do a little crispy. Enjoy!

Our Thanksgiving dinner, prepared by the NomCats

NomCat tip:

If you have leftover tomato paste, scrap the contents of the can onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap to create a little bundle. Place in a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer. The next time you need to use it, just break off a piece, wrap up the rest, and put it back in the freezer. This preserves the shelf life of the opened tomato paste much better than leaving it in the can (which can make the tomato turn rancid in just a few days).