Keep Them Simple, Keep Them Coming: Thanksgiving Appetizers, Side Dishes, and Salads

While turkey is the centerpiece on Thanksgiving, the appetizers, side dishes, salads and desserts reign supreme. Cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing with sausages and dried apricots, mushroom and giblets gravy, green salads, beet salad, homemade pickles, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, string beans, squash...and the desserts: cakes, pies, custards, fresh fruit, cheese... 

The easier the recipes, the more you'll make. If Thanksgiving is nothing else, it is a celebration of variety and plenty, so here are some easy-to-make recipes we'll be making on Thursday.

Blackened Peppers with Capers, Parsley, and Garlic

The peppers should be made a day or two ahead.  To start, simply grill the peppers on top of a gas range, remove the blackened skin, discard the seeds, and put them in a sealed jar where they'll keep a week in the refrigerator or for months in the freezer.

Overnight the peppers will miraculously create their own "oil."

Use a mix of peppers so the result is that much more colorful. Chef's note: I haven't had as much success grilling green or purple peppers, so I stick to the red, yellow, and orange ones.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 15 minutes


3-4 red, yellow, or orange peppers, washed, pat dried
4 garlic cloves, skin on
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped
1/4 cup oil from the grilled peppers
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, optional


The garlic can be used either raw or grilled. If cooked, they'll have a milder flavor, which I prefer. Leave the outer skin or paper on the garlic and skewer the cloves. Blacken them on an open flame on top of the stove until the skins have all but burnt away. Remove and finely chop.

Toss together the peppers, garlic, parsley, and capers. Return to the sealed jar and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Marinated Peppers as an Appetizer

Yield: 8 servings

Time: 15 minutes

2 cups marinated peppers (julienned or finely chopped)
1/2 pound soft cheese
Olive oil
Pepper flakes
Sea salt and pepper
Toast rounds or crackers

Start with a thin slice of goat cheese, a triple cream, or mozzarella, lay on a strand of marinated pepper, 
and drizzle some of the pepper's own oil. There are variations to play with: add chopped avocado or scallions or cherry tomatoes or grilled corn...

Top with a little olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.

Roasted Whole Tomatoes

A side dish, full of flavor and perfect to serve alongside turkey and stuffing.

Ripe and over ripe tomatoes work best. If you shop at farmers' markets, keep an eye out for discounted tomatoes. 

When they're roasting, tomatoes give off a clear liquid. The flavor is pure essence of tomato. The wonderful chef, cookbook writer, and founder of Fra'ManiPaul Bertolli was famous for hanging tomatoes in cheese cloth and capturing the clear tomato water that he called "the blood of the fruit."

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 90 minutes


3 pounds ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the whole tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes. When the tomatoes are removed from the pan, be certain to spatula off all the seasoned olive oil and tomato water. That liquid is full of flavor. Spoon the liquid over the tomatoes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes


1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasoning, put in a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 F degree oven 30-45 minutes, turning every 5-10 minutes for even cooking.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

I prefer sweet potatoes that have a bright orange flesh. Find ones about the same size that are slender, appropriate as a single serving. 

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 2 1/2 hours


4 sweet potatoes, washed, skins on
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves only, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Wrap each sweet potato in tin foil, place in the oven, turn every 30 minutes. 

Depending on your oven and the size of the sweet potatoes, they can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. When the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch, they are done.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, drizzle olive oil in a frying pan, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned.

Remove and discard the tin foil. Using a sharp paring knife slice each sweet potato the long way. With your fingers, push the sweet potato in from the ends so the cut section opens like a flower. 

Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter and a light dusting of cayenne (optional). Top with the shallot-mushroom sauté and serve.

Grilled Vegetables Couscous

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Incredibly versatile, couscous can be as simple as you want with one or two ingredients or as complex and layered as you have time to prepare. 

1 1/2 cups couscous,  quick-cook style
1 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olives, cracked green or kalamata, pitted, finely chopped
1 basket cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1/4 cup capers, chopped
1 cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped
1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, cut into slabs 4"x1/4"
2 garlic cloves, washed, trimmed
7 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste


Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil onto a flat plate, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, roll the corn on the plate to coat with the seasoned oil. Do the same with the carrot slabs and garlic cloves. Reserve the seasoned oil.

Lightly brown on a hot grill or roast in a 350 F degree oven for 10-20 minutes, turning to avoid burning. Let cool , finely chop the carrots and garlic. Cut the kernels off the cob.

Boil the water. In a non-reactive, stainless steel or glass bowl mix together the couscous with the hot water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and a dusting of black pepper, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap, toss with a fork to break up all the pieces.

To the couscous, add the carrots, corn, garlic, parsley, capers, olives, cherry tomatoes, the seasoned oil used to marinate the vegetables and another 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt or black pepper. 

Can be served chilled or at room temperature.


Add grilled broccoli, marinated and cooked the same way as the carrots).

Serve with arugula.

Serve with a sliced avocado.

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes


1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper


On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately.


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