If I’ve learned anything over the course of 30+ Thanksgivings, it’s that you can never have too much gravy. While battles could be fought over canned or fresh cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts or green beans, everyone agrees that the standard serving size for gravy is about a pint per person. No matter what’s on the menu, it’s always much more palatable when swimming in a pool of this savory sauce.
In my early years as a newly minted vegan, I distinctly remember my first tentative meals with the extended family. It was a classic situation where misunderstandings meant there was chicken stock in the rice, butter in the roasted vegetables, and of course not a scrap of plant-based protein to be seen. Prepared to fend for myself, I did come armed with the one thing I knew would enhance any meal: gravy.
Though simple, made from sauteed onions and blended chickpeas, it was a golden elixir that brightened everything on the plate. My only mistake was offering to share because as soon as it hit the table, the pitcher was dry as a bone. Even my picky, omnivorous family who would never dream of forsaking the traditional spread drank down every drop. After that, I learned to at least double, if not triple, my gravy contribution.
My cooking has evolved considerably since then, resulting in a much more complex gravy that’s even easier to whip up. Adding in volumes of umami flavor with a little pinch, Sugimoto shiitake mushroom powder is the ace up my sleeve. Like whole dried shiitake mushroom caps, this miraculous seasoning gains even greater depth when allowed to soak overnight, which makes it an ideal candidate for including in my greatest make-ahead gravy.
Becoming more flavorful the longer it sits, this gravy is your new best friend for Thanksgiving. Prepare it well in advance of the main meal so you don’t need to worry about such a critical component when the day of the big feast arrives. It can scale up almost infinitely, as leftovers keep like a dream. Since there is genuinely no such thing as too much gravy, you won’t regret making this investment in culinary currency.
Forget about turkey and pecan pie; it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without potatoes. The greatest disappointment of my teenage years was a fateful Thanksgiving potluck where no one stepped up to bring potatoes. I haven’t spoken to them since.
Okay, so we exchanged a few choice words about the value of using spreadsheets for menu planning in the future, but I’ll never forget that lost year.
While you can’t go wrong with good old buttery mashers, smashed potatoes introduce a whole new textural element with crispy edges, making them even more compulsively edible with a drizzle of rich gravy aioli on top. After one taste of these spuds, no one could ever forget about the celebratory potatoes again.
Thanksgiving as we know it is an entirely modern phenomenon. Nearly every element is so far removed from the original harvest, the original pilgrims and native Americans would find the spread entirely unrecognizable. The “classic” dinner menu is more of a marketing ploy than historical homage, after all. The indispensable green bean casserole is the best example on the table.
Invented by none other than the crafty Campbell Soup Company, it hit the holiday scene in 1955 as a thrifty way to utilize canned goods. As canning technology picked up following WWII and the end of rationing, hapless housewives needed guidance on how best to work with these novel tin cans. The green bean casserole called for just six ingredients, minimal prep, and a short cook time; perfect for a party.
Quite frankly, I never saw the appeal. Mushy green beans with mushy mushrooms baked until they’re mushier? Yum…! Despite that, I’m in clearly in the minority, as the infamous casserole graces the table for over 20 millions Americans every Thanksgiving. This year, I was determined to take back the green bean casserole on my own terms.
For starters, let’s lose the cans. Modern innovations mean that fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer out of reach, no matter the season. Crisp, snappy green beans retain their crunch through a flash fry without oil, but the favorite kitchen toy of our generation: The air fryer.
Freed from their tomb of mushroom goop, the beans get a light coating of crushed fried onions in this festive twist on green bean fries. Better than breading, it infuses savory flavor into every crunchy bite, while providing a naturally gluten-free alternative to bland old breadcrumbs.
Now these slender green dippers can take center stage as an appetizer before the main event, or stand up to competition on the dinner plate as a truly stellar side. Don’t forget to whip up an extra batch of rich gravy for dunking to your heart’s content.
Taking a moment to pause and appreciate our good fortune is something we should really do all year round, but Thanksgiving is the only national holiday that calls for such mindfulness. As a celebration of a successful harvest, seasonal produce takes center stage, but that doesn’t always mean that fresh is best for every ingredient.
Believe it or not, dried Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms are a wiser choice than fresh for numerous reasons. They have much greater longevity, better flavor, and enhanced nutritional attributes.
By removing the moisture, they’re naturally preserved to keep longer, without the need for refrigeration, making them an indispensable pantry staple. Fresh mushrooms must be kept in the fridge for about a week, two at the most, while dried Sugimoto shiitake will keep perfectly at room temperature at least a year, springing back life as good as new when needed.
Long used in eastern medicines as natural supplements, shiitake mushrooms are rich in many vitamins and nutrients, but only when dried can those elements be concentrated and better absorbed. The drying process breaks down proteins into amino acids and transforms ergosterol to vitamin D.
Of course, most importantly for their culinary value, Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms are incredibly delicious because the drying and rehydrating process produces guanylate, a natural umami enhancer. Guanylate amplifies the umami taste of all foods, making dishes richer, bolder, and simply better.
That’s a whole lot to be thankful for right there. It should go without saying that these powerful little mushrooms definitely deserve a place of honor at your Thanksgiving table. I’ve got the perfect dish to grace your menu right here.
We’ve already talked about the best stuffed mushrooms, so what about… Mushroom stuffing? This one isn’t designed to be stuffed into a bird, of course. Some would say that it’s more accurate to call it “dressing” if that’s the case, but that’s an even more confusing title, if you ask me. Dressing is a liquid condiment meant to coat and flavor various side dishes, not something to eat as the side dish itself! Semantics aside, this is a dish that’s essential for any holiday feast.
Tangy, crusty sourdough creates a hearty foundation for this autumnal treat. Perfumed with savory herbs and umami mushrooms, one whiff could tide you over, at least until the meal is served. Chewy and soft in the center, saturated with stock while crowned with crisp, crunchy, toasted edges, each bite is a study in contrasts. Don’t forget the nutty flavor of caramelized browned butter infused into every soft cube of bread, adding luxurious layers of umami into a simple casserole dish.
There are many ways to make great stuffing, or dressing, if you prefer, but shiitake mushrooms should always make the guest list. This is the secret ingredient for an unforgettable feast that everyone will talk about for years to come.
Scaling down a recipe is a cinch… In theory. The math isn’t hard, the general procedure is all the same. Maybe the time or temperature needs some adjustment, but we’re not talking about anything drastic here. In reality, at least speaking from personal experience, there’s a strange mental block that makes it feel much more difficult. Why go through all that effort to make a meal for one, when you can just as easily feed an army? That would certainly explain why I’ve ended up with Thanksgiving leftovers that could very well last me until next Thanksgiving, no matter how consciously I planned for a downsized feast.
Now, however, I do have yet another thing to be thankful for. Leftovers are quite simply the best part of any meal, be it takeout or home cooking. Cook once, eat twice or thrice, and the flavors only get better over time. If repetition gets dull, it’s a snap to switch things up, re-purposing tired components into a vibrant, fresh dish.
If you’ve never tried toasting your quinoa, you’re missing out on a wealth of flavor, nutty and woodsy, with notes of warm cereal, and a gorgeous golden color. To this endlessly accommodating base, Thanksgiving leftovers get a new home, no matter what you’ve got kicking around in the fridge. Brussels sprouts, tender persimmons, and roasted pumpkin seeds cozy into these plush grains, revived and enlivened with a hot browned butter vinaigrette- No dairy need apply, of course.
Sometimes, the leftovers are simply too good to mess around with aside from reheating. There’s no shame in eating Thanksgiving on repeat, verbatim. Just make sure you don’t miss out on this winning combination, even if you have to start from scratch.