4 New Sides for Thanksgiving


Photo by Ellen Silverman

Years ago my family stopped being nuclear and evolved into an extended and very eclectic family of friends. My Thanksgiving dinners have evolved too, from the traditional menu of my childhood to the wondrous offerings of many cooks who come together yearly, each bringing a different dish, to form a collective feast.

In this way Thanksgiving has become the ultimate potluck dinner, a fabulous array of the "best of" each cook. The overused phrase "new traditions" is all too apt. We enjoy innovations of the traditional themes--stuffing, cranberry sauce, side dishes, pies--that always seem to embody the originality and generosity of the makers. Favorite dishes are requested the following Thanksgiving, to become a time-honored custom.

Purees using the season's produce--chestnuts, winter squashes, and root vegetables like celery root and turnips--make appealing plays on the classic Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. Their velvety texture and rich, spicy flavors seems to unify the other elements of the feast. These purees are also unexpectedly virtuous, requiring minimal enrichment of cream or butter due to their naturally creamy textures (and a few tricks I use to enhance them).

Throughout the cooler months, these unexpected purees are also great accompaniments to simple roasted meats and poultry such as pork, lamb, venison and chicken, and game birds like duck and quail. All can be doubled or tripled to serve more, and can be made up to 2 days in advance. Reheat them in a double boiler, adding a little chicken broth, water or cream to thin them if necessary.

Spiced Winter Squash Puree with Roasted Garlic
Celery Root and Apple Puree
Chestnut Puree with Fennel Seed and Bay Leaf
Roasted Chestnuts for Cooking or Eating

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.

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