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Supporting roles: Add to the bounty of your Thanksgiving table with three simple vegetable side dishes

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

I grew up in a country where everyday cooking emphasized the fact that little things mean a lot. Austria's national dish, Wiener schnitzel, literally translates as "Viennese little slice." With spicy goulash, my mother and grandmother always served the tiny homemade dumplings called spaetzle, "little sparrows." And one of my favorite desserts, the sweet souffle called Salzburger nockerl, means "little mountains of Salzburg."

This Thanksgiving, I'd like to remind you not to forget the little things, especially vegetable side dishes. Fortunately, when it comes to side dishes, I think that simplicity is the key to success. They should never call attention to themselves, instead fulfilling the same role as supporting players in a big show: making the stars shine.

So, I am pleased to share three of my all-time favorite sides featuring seasonal produce you can find easily on that last hurried shopping trip to your local market. As you'll see, each is incredibly simple, yet calls for attention to small details that ensure perfection.

In fact the first recipe, simple buttered green beans, calls for just four ingredients; and two of those are salt and pepper. (If you like, you can garnish with a classic fifth ingredient: slivered or sliced toasted almonds.) But a few small details ensure that they'll be the best beans you've ever tasted. First, I cut the beans into uniform, bite-sized pieces for a more beautiful presentation. Next, I blanch them by boiling them until barely tender and then plunging them into ice water to keep their color bright green. At this stage, they can be conveniently kept covered in the refrigerator, to be tossed in melted butter until heated through just before serving.

You'll find a similar spirit of simplicity in my recipe for wild mushrooms with fines herbes, a perfect autumnal side. Look in your supermarket for your choice of any so-called wild fresh mushrooms -- basically, anything other than white cultivated ones. All the earthy morsels need is to be wiped clean, trimmed, and cut into bite-sized pieces before you quickly saute them with chopped shallots and a medley of fresh herbs -- a task easily done while your roast rests before carving.

Finally there's my recipe for artichoke mousse, one of my favorite accompaniments to any kind of roast. (Try it as a flavorful bed for sliced turkey.) Though the preparation is slightly more involved, calling for trimming fresh artichokes, boiling them, and then pureeing with touches of butter, cream and lemon juice, you can make it up to several hours ahead, to be reheated briefly just before serving.

I hope you'll try at least one or maybe even all three of these little sides that can add so much to your holiday table. Have a happy Thanksgiving!


Serves 8

2 pounds (1 kg) green beans

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the beans into uniform 2-inch (5-cm) pieces.

Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to a boil. Fill a large mixing bowl with ice cubes and water.

Add the beans to the boiling water, and cook until barely tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and immediately immerse in ice water. Drain well and pat dry thoroughly in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.

Before serving, melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the beans and stir continuously until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.


Serves 8

2 1/2 pounds (1.25 kg) wild mushrooms such as chanterelles, cepes, cremini or oyster mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed

1/2 lemon, juiced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

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3 shallots, minced

3 tablespoons mixed minced fresh tarragon, chervil, Italian parsley, and dill

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the mushrooms into bite-sized halves or quarters, or leave small ones whole. In a mixing bowl, toss them with lemon juice.

In a large saute pan, melt 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and 1 tablespoon of the herbs, and saute for about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, and saute until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Strain off any excess liquid.

Add the remaining butter, and raise the heat to high. Continue sauteing until the mushrooms begin turning golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a serving dish, and serve immediately.


Serves 8

12 large artichokes

Kosher salt

3 lemons, halved

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon extra if needed

3 tablespoons heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon extra if needed

Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, with a sharp knife, cut off the stem and the top third of each artichoke, rubbing cut edges with a lemon half to prevent oxidization. Pull the remaining leaves downward to remove them, and carefully trim off the tough skin, again rubbing with lemon.

Add the juice of 2 lemons and the salt to the boiling water. Add the artichokes. Cover and cook at a low but steady boil until the artichokes are tender when the bottoms are easily pierced with a knife tip, 40 to 50 minutes.

With a large slotted spoon or wire skimmer, remove the artichokes and drain them bottoms up. When cool enough to handle, use a sharp-edged spoon to scoop out the inner leaves and fibrous choke from each artichoke, leaving just the tender artichoke bottoms.

Transfer the artichokes to a food processor. Process until pureed. Transfer to a fine-meshed strainer set over a heavy saucepan and press through with a rubber spatula. Over medium heat, stir in the butter and cream and adjust the seasonings to taste with salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice.

If not serving immediately, refrigerate in a covered nonreactive dish. To reheat, stir in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, adding 1 tablespoon each butter and cream to restore a smooth consistency.



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