On Saturday afternoon — a gorgeous, unseasonably warm one in New York — I was sitting with some moms on the sideline of Phoebe’s last soccer game of the season. In a conversation interrupted every two minutes with a cheer for whichever formidable 8-year-old was rocketing down the field with the ball, we discussed the merits of our coach’s European-style alignment (only one forward!), we discussed grand plans for our soon-to-be soccer-free weekends, and, of course, we discussed Thanksgiving sides. Technically I had been having the Thanksgiving-side conversation with one of the moms for three straight weeks. It seemed like every time we ran into each other –at the farmer’s market, at the away game in Chappaqua (where we crushed, btw), and on the night she and her husband cooked the happiest, market-freshy-est dinner for my family — she was plotting a dish that would be substantial enough for her vegetarian Thanksgiving guests. The pressure was on because she had gone ahead and killed the year before — some sort of baked polenta with mushrooms — a fatal error because now that she realized she had to top herself. It was so delicious, she kept telling me. So special!
“So why not just make it again?” I asked her the night at their house.
“Yeah,” she said. “I guess I could.” But I could tell she thought this idea was uninspired. Lazy. Total loser move.
Here’s the thing: Repeat dishes are only uninspired and lazy if they’re not good. Repeat dishes that are so memorable you’re still talking about them a year later in a tone usually reserved for George Clooney, are the opposite of that: They are Signature Dishes. This is what the holiday family table is about. I don’t know about you, but in 10 years I want to get that call from Phoebe when she’s in college (playing midfield for UNC, natch) begging me to make her favorite confetti brussels sprout dish when she returns home for break…because what kind of Thanksgiving would it be without that on the table?
Anyway, I think I convinced my friend while we cheered on our girls. (Final Score: 3-0; the good guys.) I’ll find out for sure and report back to you — and try to nail down the polenta recipe for you, too.
Confetti Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Serves about 8
To make this vegetarian, just skip the bacon and add a few more more glugs of olive oil before you saute the brussels.
Using a food processor fitted with the shredding disk, slice 1 1/2 pounds of brussels sprouts. Meanwhile, fry 3 pieces of thick-cut bacon in a large skillet. Remove bacon and chop into small pieces. Using a paper towel, soak up some of the bacon fat from the pan and add a little olive oil. Add 1 clove garlic (minced), 1/2 medium onion or 1 small shallot (chopped), salt and pepper. Add brussels sprouts and saute about 1 minute until coated with oil and slightly wilted. Add 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth and cook another 5 minutes. Remove brussels to serving platter and sprinkle with bacon pieces.
What to do ahead of time: Shred brussels (up to one day in advance)
Arugula Salad with Butternut Squash, Lentils, Candied Pecans, & Feta
Serves about 8
On a cookie sheet, toss 1 small butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and chopped into small pieces as shown below) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and a teaspoon or two of fresh thyme leaves. Roast at 425°F for 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss about 8 cups baby arugula, 1 cup cooked beluga lentils (you can buy these precooked at Trader Joe’s), a handful of crumbled feta, and a handful of storebought candied pecans. Make dressing: Whisk together 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, snipped chives. When squash is ready and has cooled, add to the salad and toss with vinaigrette right before serving.
What to do ahead of time: Make dressing, wash greens, chop up squash.
More adventurous than my family? Here’s what I’d check out:
Brussels Sprouts with Thai Chili Pepper Sauce (The New York Times)
David Chang’s Crazy Delicious Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette
Roasted Beet and Blood Orange Salad with Spicy Greens (101cookbooks)
Bright, Beautiful Creamy Shredded Beet-Carrot-Celeriac Salad (devil & egg)
Beet and Orange Barley Salad (p. 53, Time for Dinner)
Raw Lemony Brussels Sprout Slaw (The New York Times)
Beets in Lime Cream (food52)