Thanksgiving, Hold the Turkey

 Thanksgiving, Hold the TurkeyI’m just going to say it: no one loves the turkey.  Oh, don’t look at me like that.  You do love turkey? I’m sorry.  But why?  Turkey is the most time-consuming, most cumbersome aspect of Thanksgiving, and yet it’s pretty unrewarding.  It sits on the table like a centerpiece, while its colorful, sweet, spicy side dish friends have a party on the sidelines.  Fine, I confess I like a good next-day turkey sandwich for lunch, and maybe it just wouldn’t feel like the holiday without it, but I think I could survive a Thanksgiving without the giant dry bird turkey.  I’m there for the sides, and I have two recipes that will surely bring you over to my team.

I was at a bar a few years ago the day before Thanksgiving when a guy, probably trying to hit on me, asked what my favorite Thanksgiving food was.  Without pause, I replied, “Sweet potato peanut butter soup.”  He stared at me blankly for a moment before bursting into laughter.  Needless to say, there was no romance to follow.  “Sweet potato peanut butter” became my nickname for the rest of the night, because it was so impossibly hilarious that this was part of my Thanksgiving repertoire.  Sure, it’s unusual, but it’s my tradition. Why must we stick to “classics” like cranberry sauce and green bean casserole when there’s so much to love about fall foods?  Sweet potato peanut butter soup embraces autumn to a T.  And it’s simply delicious.  It’s sweet, warming, nutty, earthy, spicy… everything I love about harvest foods.

 Thanksgiving, Hold the TurkeyIf you search for sweet potato peanut recipes online, most of the results are for an African soup.  Of course, I always assumed it was American, considering I eat it on perhaps the most American day of the year.  Regardless, there are lots of takes on this soup, and I borrowed a little from here and a little from there to compile the recipe below.  Our family friend, who so graciously brought this soup into my life, generally kind of ad-libs each year anyway, so it’s a flexible recipe.  I would say, however, if you try to make modifications, don’t leave out the hot pepper of some kind.  That kick is the real surprise, and takes this soup from sweet and nutty to “whoa, what’s going on there?!”  In a good way.

My second favorite Thanksgiving side is a newer tradition than the soup, which has been a regular at our dinner table since I invented the Annual Thanksgiving Eating Contest in 4th grade, because it was a game I knew I could win.  (So I’m a little competitive.)  In fact, this dish, Cannellini Beans with Brussels Sprouts and Sausage, is making its debut this year, and  I’m completely confident that it’ll fit right in.  Brussels sprouts are one of the things I look forward to this time of year.  Their season is fleeting, but now is the perfect time to take advantage and practice for T-Day.

 Thanksgiving, Hold the Turkey

I normally serve this as a main dish with a nice hunka bread, but it makes an excellent potluck/side dish.  There’s veggie, protein, and even some carbs, all rolled into one.  You shred the Brussels sprouts, which make a soft leafy bed for the other ingredients.  A food processor with a shredding blade will save you 30 minutes, maybe a couple of fingers, and your sanity, so, uh, I recommend using one.  I’ve chopped them up by hand, though, and can proudly attest that I still have 10 fingers.  Pinky-swear.  (Har-har.)  Cannellini beans are creamy and tender, while the sausage adds some nice heat and introduces a meat superior to that stupid turkey.  (I mean…) You also cook this with a little white wine, which adds a nice zing and means you can start drinking while you cook—another important Thanksgiving tradition, no?

OK, maybe I was a bit harsh to Team Turkey.  To each his own, right?  After all, I’m the girl that just raved up and down about sweet potato peanut butter soup.  But if you still have a hankering for a slice of white meat after you try these side dishes, let’s talk.  I’m gonna need to try your turkey.

Sweet Potato Peanut Butter Soup

Adapted from Thanksgiving 101 by Rick Rodgers, Ben Fink

Makes: 8-10 servings

Time: 45 minutes 

Note: the result of this recipe will be a very thick soup.  If you like thinner soups, add a little extra stock or water.

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

1 medium celery rib, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

2 garlic cloves, thinly slices

1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 medium-large), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

3 ½ cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/3 to ½ cup smooth peanut butter

1 tablespoon lime juice

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (black is fine too)

Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1. In a large soup pot, melt the butter or heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrot, celery, pepper, jalapeno, garlic, and ginger.  Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables soften, about 5-10 minutes.

2. Add the sweet potatoes and stock, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until the potatoes are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork.

3. Remove from the heat and puree the soup, either with an immersion blender, or in a regular blender in batches.  Return the soup to the pot, if removed, and whisk in the peanut butter and lime juice.  Start with about 1/3 cup peanut butter and add more to taste.  Season with salt and pepper.  Garnish with cilantro.

Cannellini with Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Sausage

From The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman

Makes: 4 servings

Time: 20 minutes with cooked or canned beans

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces Italian sausage (or any slightly spicy sausage), casings removed

2 tablespoons minced garlic

Red chile flakes, to taste

Salt and black pepper

1 pound Brussels sprouts, shredded in a food processor or roughly chopped

1⁄2 cup white wine or water

2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans, drained

1. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, stirring occasionally to break the meat into relatively small bits, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chile flakes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for another minute or so.

2. Add the Brussels sprouts and wine to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the sprouts are tender but still a bit crunchy, 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through, just a minute or 2. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve.

Freya Bellin writes weekly for Mark Bittman’s web site and alternate Wednesdays for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include My Purple and Pink Muses, Totally Worth the Garlic Breath,  Make Your Grandma Proud.

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