Thanksgiving Guide Part II: Ode to Side Dishes

Sweet plantains casserole

Broccolini and Mushrooms Warm Salad with Puerto Rican White Cheese & Sweet Plantains Casserole with Homemade Marshmallow and Honey Glazed Bacon Bits

You suddenly start hearing the chins of the spoons and big forks grazing the casseroles and trays atop the table.   All of their bottoms are exposed except for maybe some crumbles or drippings left behind, and their luck will depend on what time they are about to be cleaned and how far it’s from the last bite the person doing the dishes took.  Some of these trays probably touch your table once a year.  This time of the year though, is their time to shine, given that they will present the guest with all our beloved side dishes for Thanksgiving.

Even in the food world there is no such thing as a small role.  If there is a day where foods live to that is on T day.  Side dishes on this day are way more than sidekicks to our crispy, juicy and tender turkey.  I will dare to go further in saying that they humbly wait for this holiday to take over the dinner table and rob all the attention from the supposedly main attraction of the feast.  Even salads have their moment to shine with its crunchy croutons and indulgent cheeses!

Broccolini and mushroom salad with queso blanco

It is definitely with side dishes that you could use all that creativity you have let wild while browsing all those food magazines and Instagram’s posts.  Besides a couple of seasonings that we like to experiment with, the reality is that the turkey, even in its deliciousness, it’s pretty straightforward in terms of flavors.  It is also with them that we use that new gadget that has been sitting on the counter for a while, travel the world with exotic flavors or have fun mixing and whipping, disconnecting yourself for a while of the stresses of everyday life.  Side dishes rock!!

Sweet plantains casserole
Sweet plantains casserole with homemade marshmallow and honey glazed bacon bits

So, following my Thanksgiving guide series, I share with you today my side dishes for that amazing turkey you already saw on my last post.  They are easy and extremely delicious.  I have first a broccolini and mushroom warm salad with Puerto Rican white cheese and recao vinaigrette.  Then a spin on the traditional sweet potato casserole, a sweet plantains casserole with homemade marshmallow crowning it and honey glazed bacon bits on top.  I am very sure you will love all of them.

Recipe notes:

1.     You should make the salad the same day of your party.

2.     I found that cutting the broccolini half way through helps on speeding the cooking and creating more flavor.  You could leave them whole if you prefer them that way.

3.     For the sweet plantains casserole, I mashed the plantains and stored them in the fridge for 2 days, then prepared the casserole and finished the whole dish the day of the party.  You could prepare the casserole the day before and just pop it in the oven on Thanksgiving, just let it come to room temperature before baking.

4.     The bacon also needs to be done the same day in order for it to be crispy.

5.     The homemade marshmallow is the best part of everything.  This is not a recipe note, just a personal note ; )

Broccolini and mushrooms salad with Puerto Rican white cheese
Total and Active -
20 minutes

Olive oil – 7 ½ TBSP, divided
Fine seal salt – 1+ Tsp, divided
Freshly ground pepper – ½+ Tsp
Broccolini, cut halfway through – 1 ½ pound, about 32 stalks
Mushrooms, diced – 2 cups
Puerto Rican white cheese or queso blanco, cubed – ½ cup

In a large skillet, preferably stainless steel, lightly heat 2 ½ of the olive oil over medium heat.  Place half of the broccolini on it and sprinkle with ¼ of the salt and a good sprinkle of freshly ground pepper.  Toss everything well and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, 5 if you prefer them softer, and toss constantly.  Retire from skillet and place over a plate and repeat the process with another 2 ½ tablespoons of the olive oil and the remaining broccolini, ¼ teaspoon of salt and more pepper.  Retire from skillet and place them with the others.

Add then to the skillet 2 ½ tablespoons more of olive oil and the mushrooms, adding the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt and a good sprinkle of freshly ground pepper.  Toss constantly, resting just for a couple of seconds in between, until the mushrooms have absorbed the oil and they seem and feel a little bit softer, 3 to 4 minutes.  Retire the skillet from the heat and integrate them with the broccolini.

If desired, sprinkle with a dash of salt and more ground pepper to adjust the taste.  Add the cubed cheese and combine everything into your service plate.  Toss some cubed or crumbled cheese on top for decoration.  Serve warm.

Sweet plantain casserole with homemade marshmallow and honey glazed bacon bits
Total time -
1 hour  Active time - 40 minutes

Honey glazed bacon bits
Good quality bacon – ½ pound
Honey- ⅓ cup

Sweet plantains casserole
Sweet plantains – 5 medium plantains
Fine sea salt – 1 ¾ Tsp
Unsalted butter or vegetable spread – 2 TBSP (reduce the salt slightly if using salted butter or vegetable spread)
Coconut milk – ½ cup
Ground cinnamon – ½ Tsp
Eggs – 2, separated

Water – 1/4 cup
Light corn syrup – 1 cup
Raw sugar – ¾ cup
Egg whites – 4
Cream of tartar – ½ Tsp

Bacon:  Preheat the oven to 425° and place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Place a baking rack over a baking sheet covered in aluminum paper.  Spread 6 to 7 stripes of bacon on the rack.  With a pastry brush cover one side with half of the honey.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Take out the bacon, turn them over, and brush the other side with the remaining honey.  Put back in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes more, keeping an eye at the 8th minute so they don’t burn.  Take out of the oven and let the bacon cool for a minimum of 10 minutes so it gets sticky and crispy.  Chop into small bits.

Sweet Plantains:  Prepare a medium bowl filled with water; you can even use the same medium saucepan where you are going to cook.  Peel each of the plantains, then slice in pieces of ¼’ approximately and submerge in the water bowl.  Let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse with more water.  Throw the plantains in a medium saucepan (if not already there) and cover them with water.  Add 1 ½ teaspoon of the salt and boil in moderate heat for 25 to 30 minutes.  You may remove the white foam that forms on top of the water at the beginning of cooking.

Rinse the plantains with water one more time, leaving them slightly dampen.  Place them in a medium mixing bowl and add the butter.  Roughly mash the plantains with a fork to break down the big pieces, then continue blending with an immersion blender, until you get a smooth and creamy consistency.  If preparing in advance, you may store them in the fridge at this point.  (You will need for them to loose the cold from the fridge for a few minutes before continuing to cook them.  If you are not storing them for later, you may continue with the recipe as normal.)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix in the coconut milk using the immersion blender, then add the salt and cinnamon and blend a little more.  Add the egg yolks and blend some more.  In a separate small bowl beat the egg whites until they become white and soft peaks form, you may use the whisker attachment of the immersion blender.  Gently fold the egg white into the sweet plantains mash.  Transfer to an oven proof baking dish and cover it with aluminum foil paper.  Bake for 20 minutes covered, then bring the oven temperature to 375°, uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Retire from oven, let it cool down for a few minutes, then spread the marshmallow on top and sprinkle with the honey glazed bacon bits.

Marshmallow:   In a medium sauce pan combine the water with the sugar and syrup and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until strong bubbles form and the syrup reaches 240° on a candy thermometer, about 20 to 25 minutes of total cooking time.

While the syrup is cooking, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk in medium speed (4) until soft peaks form.  Turn the mixer to medium high (6) and slowly in a thin stream start to incorporate the syrup into the egg whites down the side of the bowl, until stiff peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Spread the marshmallow over the sweet plantains casserole with a silicone spatula or big spoon, creating waves or peaks on it.  Brown the top with a manual torch or by placing it under the broiler in medium for less than two minutes.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn.

Spiced cranberry sauce