Tradition is king at Thanksgiving, but there’s something to be said for new flavors at the table, too. Before we get too close to the holiday, it’s a good time to envision your potential menu — and think about what you could change or add.
“Food is a conversational piece,” says John Critchley, executive chef of Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar, which is offering a brunch buffet on the holiday (11 a.m.-4 p.m., $45). “People can either really like [new Thanksgiving dishes] or not, but if it gets people talking and gets the family together, then anything is worthwhile.”
We asked Critchley and other local chefs to share recipes worth adding to your repertoire. Nobody’s trying to upstage the turkey (or tofurky) here or get you to toss Grandma’s tried-and-true sweet-potato casserole. We’re simply easing you toward change and suggesting some standout sides. As a bonus, you can sample these dishes at their respective restaurants to determine if they’ll work on your menu. Hey, that’s even more to be thankful for.
Pickled Pumpkin Salad
Recipe by John Critchley, executive chef of Urbana Restaurant and Wine Bar (2121 P St. NW; 202-956-6650)
4 mini pumpkins, cut into wedges
Olive oil, to coat saucepan
1 cup white balsamic vinegar
2 cups distilled vinegar
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 cups sugar
2 cascabel chilies
4 heads baby lettuce, cut into quarters
1 Meyer lemon, thinly sliced
1⁄4 pound crumbled blue cheese
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs
Makes six to eight servings.
To prepare the pumpkin: Sear pumpkin wedges in olive oil. In a saucepan, combine white balsamic vinegar, distilled vinegar, pomegranate molasses, sugar and cascabel chilies and bring to a simmer. Add pumpkin and simmer until softened. Remove from heat and cool in brine overnight.
For the salad: Place lettuce in a serving dish. Arrange pumpkin, lemon slices, blue cheese and pomegranate seeds around the dish. Take the cooled cooking liquid from the pumpkins, mix with herbs and pour over the salad.
Pro Tip: Critchley suggests experimenting with this recipe, changing the flavors of the pickling liquid or adding and subtracting raw ingredients in the salad to match your tastes.
Red and Yellow Heirloom Beet Salad
Recipe by Claudio Pirollo, executive chef of Et Voila! (5120 Macarthur Blvd. NW; 202-237-2300)
1 pound yellow beets
1 pound red beets
Bay leaves, to taste
Thyme, to taste
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt, to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1⁄4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1⁄2 tablespoon diced shallots
1 ounce crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon crushed caramelized pecans
Makes about four servings.
Place beets, bay leaves and thyme in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for about an hour and a half, until beets are soft. Remove beets from water; peel and dice into ½-inch squares.
Prepare the dressing: Start with the mustard and whisk in two pinches of salt, sugar and balsamic vinegar. Incorporate olive oil while whisking.
Add the dressing, chives and shallots to the beets. Mix all together and place on a platter. Sprinkle blue cheese and pecans on top.
Pro Tip: Pirollo suggests cooking and dicing the beets a day in advance. Hold off on preparing the dressing until just before serving to avoid a soggy salad.
Recipe by Bryan Voltaggio, executive chef and owner of Family Meal (880 N. East St., Frederick, Md.; 301-378-2895)
5 pounds smoked ham hocks
2 pounds roasted chicken bones
1⁄4 pound carrots
1⁄4 pound celery
1⁄2 pound Spanish onion
1 bouquet of thyme and parsley
2 tablespoons black peppercorns
2 bunches collard greens
3⁄4 cup sugar
Salt, to taste
2 bunches mustard greens
21⁄2 ounces apple cider vinegar
3⁄4 cup hot sauce
Makes three or four servings (dish is pictured at top of post).
Prepare the stock: Place hocks and chicken bones in a tilt pan (or general braising pan). Cover with water and bring to a boil. Skim any scum that collects on the top. Reduce to a simmer and cook for four hours. During the final hour, add carrots, celery, onion, thyme, parsley and peppercorns. Strain. Save meat from the hocks; discard the bones.
Prepare the greens: Add the collards, 32 ounces of stock, sugar and salt to a braising pan. Bring to a simmer and cook until tender. Add mustard greens and cook until tender. Fold in meat. Season with apple cider vinegar and hot sauce to taste.
Pro Tip: You could make this dish with premade stock instead of the ham hock/chicken stock described in the recipe. Also, try substituting a different pork product (such as bacon) in place of the ham.
Extra Bites: Bacon Popcorn Balls
Recipe by Nate Waugaman, executive chef of EatBar (2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington; 703-778-9951)
A mainstay at EatBar, executive chef Nate Waugaman’s caramel- and bourbon-flavored bacon-flecked popcorn balls ($3) would make a novel pre- or post-Thanksgiving dinner snack. Waugaman says the treat was inspired by the homemade caramel popcorn balls he received while trick-or-treating as a kid. This version is more grown-up: Waugaman uses Maker’s Mark bourbon to add a rich, boozy flavor that holds its own against smoky bacon. The shortcut here is built into the recipe: Start with popped popcorn.
4 cups sugar
2 ounces bacon fat
4 ounces butter
2 ounces bourbon
1 cup chopped bacon
32 cups popped popcorn
Makes 40 to 50 golf ball-sized balls: In a saucepan, mix the sugar with enough water until its texture resembles wet sand. Cook over moderate heat until the sugar caramelizes (do not stir). After it’s caramelized, stir in the remaining ingredients (except the popcorn) in the order listed. Pour the mixture over the popcorn; stir to coat evenly. Roll into balls quickly before the mixture cools. (The chef recommends wearing latex gloves to protect your hands from the hot caramel).
Mushroom, Pine Nut and Sage Pie
Recipe by Logan Cox, executive chef of Ripple and Sugar Magnolia (3417 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-244-7995)
Delicate, mildly flavored pine nuts, savory mushrooms and aromatic sage make an impression in chef Logan Cox’s savory pie, sold at Ripple’s next-door to-go shop Sugar Magnolia. Cox prepares his own pate brisee (pie dough) crust from scratch, but at-home cooks can easily sub in store-bought dough to speed things along.
350 grams flour
4 grams kosher salt
14 grams granulated sugar
226 grams chilled unsalted butter, cut into small squares
75 grams of ice water
400 grams ricotta
120 grams cream cheese
50 grams Parmesan cheese
25 grams flour
2 cups Maitake or other mushroom, roughly chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
10 sage leaves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped chives and/or parsley
Makes one 12-inch pie or three five-inch pies.
For pie dough (recipe makes more than needed): Pulse the flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor until evenly distributed. Add butter cubes a few at a time, so the dough doesn’t form one large clump. With the processor still running slowly, add the water in an even stream until the dough just comes together. Roll into one large mass and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Place ricotta and cream cheese in a mixer with a paddle attachment and whip on high speed for five to eight minutes until light and fluffy. Add Parmesan and whip for one more minute to incorporate. Once Parmesan is incorporated, add eggs and flour and mix until fully combined and set aside. Place the mushrooms, pine nuts, sage and chopped herbs in a mixing bowl. Add cheese mixture and mix gently with a spatula so you do not break up the mushrooms.
Roll dough on floured surface, then place in pan, crimping or decorating edges as desired. Add cheese and mushroom mixture to pie shell; fill to the top. Garnish with more pine nuts and herbs, if so desired.
Place pie on a sheet tray and place in oven. Bake for 10 minutes and then turn to evenly cook. Bake 15 more minutes until the filling is golden brown and has risen slightly. Remove from oven and let cool. Serve at room temperature or heat in an oven to serve warm.
Mac & Cheese
Recipe by chef Kamal Chanaka of Smith Commons (1245 H St. NE; 202-396-0038)
Chef Kamal Chanaka’s Parmesan- and mozzarella-filled mac and cheese ($6) stands out with some out-of-the-ordinary ingredients such as a clove, truffle oil, Sriracha sauce and Panko (Japanese bread crumbs).
1/4 pound uncooked elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 tablespoon kosher salt
White pepper powder, pinch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 tablespoon onion powder
1 bay leaf
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese powder
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Sriracha sauce, dash
1/4 tablespoons truffle oil
2 tablespoons Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/2 tablespoons chives
Serves four people.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Set aside four 1-cup baking dishes. Boil macaroni until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside pasta.
In the same saucepan, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, onion powder, bay leaf, clove and cook until the mixture achieves a sandy texture. Add milk very slowly, whisking until smooth. Lower heat and continue cooking for 5 minutes while stirring. Add cheeses, stirring well. Cook for two minutes.
Reduce heat to very low setting, and whisk in nutmeg, Sriracha and truffle oil. Stir in the cooked macaroni. Spoon the macaroni and cheese into the prepared dishes. Sprinkle with Panko and chives. Bake, uncovered, until golden brown.
Editor’s Note: The recipes in this article were submitted by the restaurants featured. They were not tested by Express.