Give side dishes their due at holiday feast

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The turkey is golden and steaming. The ham is in the oven. The prime rib is resting on the counter. The goose, so to speak, is cooked.

At your holiday dinner, it is the entrée that is the star attraction. It is what gets the attention and garners all of the obviously well-deserved praise.

But something seems unfair about that. Undemocratic. The mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles do the heavy lifting, yet it is those elitist beef wellingtons that bask in the glory.

We say it is time to stand up to this abuse. Time for vegetables of all shapes and varieties to come together in peas and harmony, and demand the recognition they deserve.

Side dishes of the world, unite!

With this stirring thought ringing through the clear skies, we set about to make side dishes for the holidays that are worthy of the occasion. Side dishes that are good enough that they can hold their own against the ceaseless bullying of a salt-crusted leg of lamb.

But because the entrées are still the star of the show, no matter what we say, and they demand most of the cook’s attention, I made side dishes that were not too difficult or time-consuming. Which is to say I did not make Delmonico potatoes.

Delmonico potatoes, named for the legendary New York restaurant that invented them, are potatoes au gratin that are served inside the hollowed-out skin of a baked potato. You can imagine how good they are, and how much effort they are to produce.

Instead, I made mashed potatoes – but not just ordinary mashed potatoes. I made the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever made. They are silky smooth and deliriously rich without being too, too caloric. Which is to say they have a lot of butter, but no cream.

A couple of tricks go into making them so smooth and satisfying. One is that they must never, at any time, be allowed to go cold. Another is that instead of smashing the potatoes with a crude masher, you push them through a ricer or a food mill, for a much finer result. And the final trick seems to be to that instead of melting the butter and pouring the milk directly into the potatoes, you melt the butter into the milk and pour the mixture into the potatoes like that.

They are the epitome of mashed potatoes, everything a mashed potato should be. Who needs Delmonico potatoes?

On the lighter side, I made a delightful – and delightfully colorful – salad: Roasted beet goat cheese salad.

It’s a classic, and worth bringing out for the holidays. It begins with a base of bright and peppery arugula, which is topped with gemlike diced beets, creamy dots of goat cheese, slices of rich avocado and crunchy bits of toasted walnut.

That is a delicate balance of flavors, and it needs the perfect dressing to make it even better and bring the most out of each ingredient. But that’s easy: the recipe includes a simple vinaigrette that is lightly sweetened with balsamic vinegar and a touch of maple syrup.

Actually, you’ll want to serve it when it isn’t the holidays, too.

Roasted winter vegetables came next: Brussels sprouts and carrots, cooked with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, rosemary and thyme. You could use other winter vegetables if you like, but the Brussels sprouts and carrots strike me as a nice and festive mix for Christmas.

You could just serve the vegetables like that, and everyone would enjoy them. But for the holidays, I made them extra special. I sprinkled them with toasted pecans and dried cranberries. It’s just the right touch to put everyone in the right spirit.

My final side dish of the season was another salad, and this time it’s all about the dressing. Kale, Ginger and Peanuts Salad is pretty straightforward: It is shredded kale tossed in a dressing of peanut butter, ginger and lime juice. A bit of sugar cuts the bitterness, a single shallot adds depth and water thins out the mixture until it is a proper dressing.

All it needs is something unexpected, a special treat to add flavor and crunch. All it needs are roasted peanuts scattered across the top.

It’s light and surprisingly flavorful. It’s just the sort of side dish that can stand up to an entrée, no matter how haughty it may be.

The trick to making silky mashed potatoes is to keep them warm throughout the process and to mix the butter and milk together before adding them.

SILKY MASHED POTATOES

Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • Pepper

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the potatoes, garlic, bay leaf and a large pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover the potatoes by an inch or so, bring to a simmer, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Drain the potatoes, discard the garlic and bay leaf, and toss the potatoes in the pan for about 1 minute to dry them out. Remove from the heat.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the milk and butter, and heat over medium heat until the butter is melted.

4. Meanwhile, transfer the potatoes to a ricer or food mill and process them back into the warm saucepan. Gently stir in the hot milk mixture, mix well and season with salt and pepper.

Per serving: 409 calories; 25 g fat; 15 g saturated fat; 66 mg cholesterol; 7 g protein; 42 g carbohydrate; 4 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 37 mg sodium; 90 mg calcium

Recipe from “The Grammercy Tavern Cookbook” by Michael Anthony

Delightfully colorful roasted beet and goat cheese salad is a classic worth bringing back for the holidays.

ROASTED BEET GOAT CHEESE SALAD

Yield: 4 servings

For salad

  • 6 medium beets, scrubbed
  • 6 cups arugula
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

For dressing

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap each beet in foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast until tender (you can insert a fork or knife through the foil to test), about 1 hour. Let sit until cool enough to handle, then peel and cut into wedges.

2. Meanwhile, make vinaigrette: In a jar, shake together olive oil, vinegar, maple syrup and Dijon mustard until fully combined. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Place arugula in a large serving bowl and lightly dress with vinaigrette. Top with beets, avocado, goat cheese and walnuts. Toss gently and add more vinaigrette as needed.

Per serving: 395 calories; 32 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 3 mg cholesterol; 9 g protein; 24 g carbohydrate; 14 g sugar; 8 g fiber; 170 mg sodium; 100 mg calcium

Recipe from delish.com

Holiday Roasted Vegetables, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

HOLIDAY ROASTED VEGETABLES

Yield: 4 servings

  • 3/4 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Note: This can also be made in an air fryer. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Place vegetables in basket of air fryer and cook at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, shaking halfway through. Before serving, toss roasted vegetables with pecans and cranberries.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scatter vegetables on a large baking sheet. Toss with oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary and thyme. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the vegetable are tender, shaking the pan halfway through.

3. Before serving, toss roasted vegetables with pecans and cranberries.

Per serving: 272 calories; 17 g fat; 2 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 5 g protein; 31 g carbohydrate; 19 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 358 mg sodium; 64 mg calcium

Recipe from delish.com

Kale, Ginger and Peanuts Salad, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. (Hillary Levin/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

KALE, GINGER AND PEANUTS SALAD

Yield: 4 servings

  • 9 ounces by weight (1 full cup) smooth peanut butter
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • Juice of 4 limes
  • 2 teaspoons grated (not minced) ginger
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon superfine sugar, see note
  • 2 tablespoons water, plus more if needed
  • 10 ounces kale, washed, stalks removed and hand-shredded
  • Handful of dry-roasted salted peanuts, halved

Note: To make superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in blender and blend on medium-high speed for 10 to 15 seconds.

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, lime zest, lime juice, ginger, shallot, sugar and water. You want a creamy consistency. If it’s still a bit thick, add more water to thin it out.

2. Toss the kale generously with the peanut dressing, adding more or less to your liking. Serve with a sprinkling of peanuts on top. Any leftover dressing will keep in the refrigerator 1 week.

Per serving: 416 calories; 31 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 23 g protein; 35 g carbohydrate; 12 g sugar; 329 mg sodium; 139 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe in “Claridge’s: The Cookbook” by Martyn Nail and Meredith Erickson