By Madeline Grimes
I have spent nearly half of my Thanksgivings abroad; most in Canada, but others in Argentina, India, and Thailand. I have always endeavored to celebrate the holiday regardless of location restraints. Believe me: This is no easy feat. Good luck finding cranberry sauce at your local market in Pushkar, or an affordable Turkey in Bangkok. The process always requires compromise, substitutions, and the ability to Macguyver together a dish that resembles your traditional Thanksgiving fare from ingredients that most definitely do not (and if you’re in Asia, the ability to create all of your culinary masterpieces in a wok).
But for me, the pleasure of eating a home-cooked meal with loved ones and giving thanks supersedes any need to replicate your typical American side dish. Instead, I’ve found creative and delicious ways to add an international twist to some side dish classics. These side dishes will leave you salivating, passing on a second round of Turkey in lieu of more fixings, and best yet, are sure to impress all of your foodie friends.
Saffron and Garlic Spiced Mashed Potatoes
Mellow Yellow said it best, “I’m just mad about saffron.” The world’s most expensive spice by weight, saffron is reputed to have medicinal and aphrodisiac powers, and once sparked a fourteen-week war over its theft. The bitter, honey-like taste of saffron is one of a kind; indeed, no substitutions for this spice are available. Add it to mashed potatoes, and your holiday favorite will take on a honeyed, Far East aroma evoking images of desert sands or lush, wild tropics. People will marvel.
Shiitake Mushroom and Chinese Sausage Rice Stuffing
Umami, that loveable Japanese loan word for “good taste”. It is the word used to denote “savory” and “meaty” flavors, and should be included with every meal. In this dish, the combination of shiitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and turkey-infused rice, brings umami to the forefront of the tongue. And rice, the most important staple food for much of the world’s population, makes a refreshing alternative to the more traditional bread stuffing. So, dust off your rice cooker and start stuffing! Your guests will thank you.
Wok-Seared Haricot Verts, Bacon, and Chestnuts
This is an easy, but very impressive dish. Bacon and chestnuts pair perfectly with the green beans to create a colorful and delicious vegetable heavy dish. The chestnuts, crisp and just lightly browned, pick up the smokiness of the bacon, while the green beans provide a crunch to leave you hankering for more.
Sweet Potato Tempura and Ponzu Sauce
This is perhaps the most sophisticated of finger foods. Delicate slices of sweet potato are battered in wheat flour or panko crumbs and deep-fried for only a few seconds. The result is a fluffy but crispy exterior that gives way to the slightly sweet, soft taste of sweet potato. Dipped in Ponzu sauce, a tart citrus sauce from Japan, and you’ll find yourself reaching for seconds…and thirds, and fourths.
My memories of cranberry sauce from Thanksgivings past are not fond. A cold gelatinous lump, rings from the can permanently indented onto its jellied exterior staring up at me from the dinner table, daring me to tackle it. I was never quite sure how to approach it, so instead left it alone, until finally, a brave uncle would step in, take a scoop, and declare it “delicious.” Cranberry chutney, on the other hand, oozes sophistication. The mixture of spices – ginger, cloves, cinnamon - and the tartness of cranberries combine to create a delicious and stylish dish. And, no one can accuse you of serving something from a can!
Chickpea and Couscous Salad with Marinated Dried Fruits
The title may not immediately have you thinking “Thanksgiving side dish,” but close your eyes and imagine this: Sweet raisins, apricots, and currants marinated in cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, paired with light fluffy couscous and crunchy chickpeas. A tart lemon, olive oil, and garlic dressing blends all the ingredients together. Salivating yet?
Cheddar and Jalapeno Pepper Skillet Cornbread
Perhaps it is the simplicity of the recipe or the serve-in-skillet presentation that makes this dish so irresistible. Or maybe it’s the way the butter melts into the bread upon contact, or how the subtle spiciness of the peppers dances on your tongue long after you’ve finished your slice. Or maybe it’s the sharpness of the cheddar cheese, or the crumbling but moist texture of the cornbread. Or maybe…oh, just go on, have another slice.