Vibrant shades of orange are everywhere in the fall, and the Thanksgiving table is no exception. The warm, invigorating color also stimulates the appetite — one reason that orange is perfect for the plate.
In our second of three stories on Thanksgiving side dishes themed by color, we're highlighting orange dishes. They are great for adding seasonal flavors and a pop of festive color to your holiday feast.
At Thanksgiving and throughout the year, Ali Clark likes to consider what's in season. This time of year, a wide variety of root vegetables, including sweet potatoes, are at their best.
Clark, one of the growers with the Omaha-based Big Muddy Urban Farm, loves sweet potatoes for their natural sweetness, nutritional content and versatility. The orange-fleshed spuds can be turned into hearty soups, crispy fries, creamy purées and many other dishes.
For a simple, satisfying side, Clark oven-roasts them to intensify their flavor. They're cut into uniform-size chunks, tossed with a little olive oil, salt and fresh chopped rosemary (or any seasoning you like), then roasted in a 400-degree oven until tender on the inside and browned on the outside.
For others, the traditional way to enjoy sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving is smothered in brown sugar and butter, topped with marshmallows, then baked until bubbly. It's a dish so rich and sweet it could pass for dessert.
To give classic candied sweet potatoes a more modern flair, Michael Combs reaches for the bourbon. He spoons a luscious bourbon-spiked sauce of brown sugar, butter and cream over roasted sweet potatoes, then tops it with crunchy toasted pecans — no marshmallows required.
“The flavor of the sweet potatoes roasted with a pinch of salt, together with the butter bourbon sauce, gives the dish a sweet and salty taste,” said Combs, executive chef at Metropolitan Community College's Institute for the Culinary Arts. “It's like bananas foster with sweet potatoes instead of bananas.”
Like sweet potatoes, carrots are extremely versatile and easy to prepare. They can be glazed, braised, roasted, puréed or sautéed.
One of Clark's favorite carrot recipes is carrot-parsnip purée. With its creamy texture, vivid orange color and sweet, earthy flavor, the dish makes a light yet flavorful alternative to the usual mashed potatoes served at Thanksgiving, she said. “It's nice to have an alternative to that,” Clark said.
In a food processor, she combines cooked carrots, parsnips and onion with butter, olive oil, garlic and salt, then purées them until smooth and creamy. You can make the dish a day ahead to save time on Thanksgiving and to allow all the flavors to develop.
Gene Cammarota, chef-instructor in the culinary program at Iowa Western Community College, turns carrots into a simple, flavorful side dish that cooks on the stovetop, which is convenient because it frees up oven space for the rest of the holiday meal.
He slices carrots into rounds, sautés them in butter, salt and pepper, and then adds just enough chicken stock to cover them. With a lid on the pan, the carrots cook until tender and all the liquid evaporates.
Besides sweet potatoes and carrots, other orange options include pumpkin and several types of winter squash such as butternut, kabocha and acorn. Not only do they embody the flavors and colors of fall, but they're full of nutrients and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
For a delicious and healthy side dish, Amanda Jochum suggests trying acorn squash with cranberry stuffing. Lots of fall flavors and colors make it perfect to serve at Thanksgiving.
It's also easy to prepare and packed with vitamin A, fiber and other nutrients, said Jochum, a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee at 156th Street and West Maple Road.
The dish features a savory filling of cranberries, apples, chopped celery, onion and other ingredients nestled inside roasted acorn squash halves. When roasted, the squash becomes sweet, tender and caramelized around the edges. And it makes for a lovely presentation at the table, Jochum said, since each squash half becomes its own serving vessel.
Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Butter Bourbon Sauce
• 4 whole sweet potatoes, diced (large dice) and roasted
• 2 tablespoons canola oil
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
• ¼ cup bourbon
• ¾ cup heavy whipping cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• ½ cup chopped roasted pecans for garnish
Toss diced sweet potatoes in a light oil such as canola (just enough oil to coat the potatoes); roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. While the potatoes cook, make the bourbon sauce.
Before you begin, make sure you have everything ready to go — the cream and the brown sugar next to the pan, measured and waiting. In a 2-quart heavy-bottomed stainless-steel saucepan, melt butter over low to medium heat. Just before the butter is melted, add the dark brown sugar all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until sugar is uniformly wet.
Stir infrequently until mixture goes from grainy to resembling molten lava. Make sure to get into the corners of the pot, and watch closely to notice how the mixture changes. It will take about 3 to 5 minutes.
Right before you add the cream, the caramelizing brown sugar will begin to look and feel more like liquid and less like thick wet sand. Add the bourbon and flame until the fire is extinguished.
At this point, add the cream all at once and replace your spoon with a whisk. Lower heat a little and whisk cream into mixture. When the liquid is uniform, turn heat back to medium and whisk every few minutes for a total of 10 minutes.
After the liquid has been boiling on the stove for 10 minutes, turn heat off and let rest for a minute or two before transferring to a heatproof container (stainless steel or glass bowl). Cool to room temperature.
When bourbon liquid is room temperature, take a small taste. Whisk in half the salt and vanilla extract. Taste again. Add more salt and vanilla extract until the taste of butterscotch is achieved. Pour the bourbon sauce over the roasted sweet potatoes and top with roasted chopped pecans.
Make-ahead tip: Store bourbon sauce in a non-reactive container with a tight-fitting lid after sauce has chilled completely. It will keep for one month refrigerated.
— Michael Combs, Omaha
Recipe: Maple-Glazed Carrots
• 12 medium carrots, julienned
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 2/3 cup orange juice
• 5 tablespoons maple syrup
• 5 tablespoons butter, melted
• 1 tablespoon grated orange peel
• ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan, bring 1 inch of water and carrots to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Meanwhile, in another saucepan, combine the cornstarch and orange juice until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.
Drain carrots; transfer to a serving bowl. Pour glaze over carrots; gently stir to coat.
Makes 6 servings.
Cook's note: Two 10-ounce bags of shredded carrots can be substituted for julienned carrots.
Nutrition information: 1 cup equals 205 calories, 10 grams fat, 26 milligrams cholesterol, 338 milligrams sodium, 29 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber and 2 grams protein.
— Taste of Home
Recipe: Skillet Acorn Squash
• 1 large acorn squash (2 pounds)
• ½ cup apple juice
• 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
• ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Trim ends off squash. Stand squash on end; cut in half. Remove and discard seeds and fiber. Cut each squash half crosswise into ½-inch thick slices.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, combine apple juice, butter and cinnamon; mix well. Add squash. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Turn slices; cover and simmer an additional 5 to 8 minutes or until squash is tender.
Makes 4 servings.
Recipe: Acorn Squash with Cranberry Stuffing
• 2 medium acorn squash
• ¼ cup chopped celery
• 2 tablespoons chopped onion
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 medium tart apple, peeled and diced
• ½ teaspoon lemon juice
• 1/8 teaspoon pepper
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
• ½ cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons water
Cut squash in half; discard seeds. Cut a thin slice from the bottom of squash halves so they sit flat. Place squash hollow side down in an ungreased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Add ½ inch of water. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Add the apple, salt, lemon juice and pepper. Cook, uncovered, over medium-low heat until apple is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cranberries, sugar and water. Cook and stir until berries pop and liquid is syrupy.
Turn squash halves over; fill with cranberry mixture. Cover and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until squash is tender.
Makes 4 servings.
— Amanda Jochum, Omaha