Thankfully Unique

Unexpected side dishes for your holiday dinner

At Thanksgiving, food traditions run deep. The table is set with familiar favorites. Anyone who has ventured to cook something other than the expected menu is sure to report that there were times it did not go well.

The Thanksgiving meal is one that brings strong voices of dissent when a person is looking forward to a side dish all year long that suddenly goes missing. Or a trendy recipe change, like kale stuffing, adds an unforeseen curve to the holiday dining experience.

So when something new, interesting and even drool-worthy hits the inbox or pops off the page, we know there might be some hesitation. Your first instinct is to pause and pull back, vow silently not to “mix it up.” But then that little voice that tugs and draws you in whispers, “Maybe this time this recipe will be a winner.”

From a boutique hotel in France to a cozy forest in Northern California and the secret deep woods of Los Angeles, we located some talented writers, photographers, chefs, cooks and foragers willing to share some wonderful yet unexpected recipes to perk up the holiday table.

Does the creative culinary rebel in you want to dive in and take a chance? It could be a new tradition in the making … a couple tweaks here and there to up your holiday food game.


Erin Gleeson, accomplished photographer and author of The New York Times best-selling cookbook The Forest Feast and award-winning blog of the same name, presents two visually stunning side dishes that will please the senses and even limit some time in the kitchen. Her photo artistry and handcrafted details make her recipes easy to follow.

“Mashed potatoes are a Thanksgiving must, but why not make them purple to mix it up?” says Erin. “They taste the same and are just more fun. And this carrot dish is seasonal and has the warming flavors of sesame and cinnamon to add some variety to the usual Thanksgiving spice palette.”

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Purple Mashed Potatoes

Cube 6 purple potatoes and boil 15-20 minutes, until fork tender. Peeling optional. Drain, then mash with ½ cup Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, salt and pepper. Garnish with butter and chopped scallions. Serve immediately.

Red Roasted Carrots

Slice 6 medium carrots diagonally into ovals. Shake carrots in a plastic bag with ½ teaspoon each of cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder and coarse salt, plus 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1½ tablespoons olive oil. Roast at 425º for 20-25 minutes or until tender with crispy edges.

For more on Erin, visit theforestfeast.com.


Jamie Schler writes about food, culture and life in France—when she isn’t making lots and lots of jam from her home in the medieval French city of Chinon. She and her husband also own Hotel Diderot. She writes two blogs: Life’s a Feast and the award-winning Plated Stories.

“These wonderful, warm, wine-poached prunes are a stunning addition to your Thanksgiving table alongside the more traditional cranberry relish—and beautiful when served with roasted meat,” says Jamie. “Feel free to up the ratio of wine-to-water in the recipe; quantities may be doubled.”

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Wine-Poached Prunes with Orange and Cinnamon

35 to 40 (250 g) whole prunes, pitted (weighed without pits)
¼ cup granulated white sugar
2 cups total liquid: water plus intense, full-bodied red dessert wine (or a fruity red wine or port wine)
pinch of ground cinnamon (or use a cinnamon stick; remove before serving)
½ inch whole orange round, sliced thick, unpeeled

Place the prunes, sugar, water, red wine, cinnamon and orange slice in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer 10 to 15 minutes until the prunes are plump and tender but have not exploded. Carefully remove the prunes from the liquid to a bowl and continue to boil the liquid with the orange slice until slightly thickened.

For more on Jamie, visit jamieschler.com.


Mia Wasilevich and Pascal Baudar, who run Transitional Gastronomy and Urban Outdoor Skills, are two powerful creative forces in and out of the kitchen. They are educators, foragers, photographers and explorers.

Mia brings her talent as a chef, event creator and food stylist, while Pascal is a master food preserver and was recently named one of the 25 most influential tastemakers in LA by Los Angeles magazine. His book, The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, will be out in 2016. Both have been featured consultants on MasterChef and Top Chef and were featured in Los Angeles magazine’s “2015 Best of LA: Favorite Things” list.

With trends in foraging just ramping up, we couldn’t resist the unique flavor combinations and wild edible recipes from Mia and Pascal that would truly be a unique addition to any Thanksgiving meal. The following recipes provide a wonderful taste of the outdoor winter harvest—likely more reminiscent of a true, traditional Thanksgiving meal. We almost imagine a Pilgrim asking to pass the thistle shoots and some mugwort brew.

“This brine would be wonderful with turkey, duck and even a roast chicken … and save the aromatics to flavor your vegetables,” shares Mia. “There’s no hard and fast recipe, and you can add more readily available herbs and spices.”

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Forest Brine for Roasted Poultry and Vegetables

½ cup sea salt
¼ cup crushed fresh juniper berries
2 pieces smoked oak bark (2×2 inches)
1 teaspoon crushed manzanita berries
5–6 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon California sagebrush
2 cloves smashed garlic
1 small onion
1 teaspoon peppercorns
5 to 6 quails or 1 medium-sized whole turkey or duck

Dissolve salt in 2 gallons of warm water. Add remaining ingredients except poultry and let cool completely. Add quail and brine for 8 to 12 hours—no longer. Rinse the birds thoroughly and pat dry before cooking. The remaining aromatics can be rinsed, drained and placed under vegetables to add flavor while cooking.

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Pears Cooked in Forest Floor

A nice blend of sugary, bitter aromatics gives this dish a wonderful richness of California terroir and fall forest flavors.

1–2 lemons, sliced into ¼-thick rounds
4 pears, Bosc or Anjou
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3–4 large handfuls of Forest Floor Mix (mugwort, black sage, fresh sweet clover, willow leaf, forest grass, rabbit tobacco, manzanita berries)

Line a Dutch oven with lemon slices. Place whole washed pears on top of lemon slices. Sprinkle with sugar. Add Forest Floor Mix to cover. The aromatic mix will create an infused liquid with a slightly bitter and sweet woodsy aroma. Cook covered at 300º for one hour or until the pears are fork tender.

Wild Edible Substitution List & Source Guide:

Mugwort – fresh tarragon
Forest Grass – wheatgrass, parsley or sweetgrass
Smoked Oak Bark – alderwood, mesquite or applewood chips; flavored wood smoked salts also add a nice finish to the dish
Manzanita Berries – dried apple or dried cherries, diced
Black Sage/Sagebrush – dried sage leaves or fresh sage (less potent than dried; use 2 to 1 ratio of fresh to dry)
Sweet Clover – tarragon
Willow Leaves –widely available in California landscapes; be sure source is pesticide-free and has no bugs or visible signs of mold

Where to find the ingredients:
mountainroseherbs.com
wildpantry.com
wildedible.com
ediblewildfood.com

Note: Many wild edibles are not regulated by the FDA. Research your sources and consider a foraging class. Avoid willow if you have a known hypersensitivity to aspirin. When adding new ingredients to your diet, first consult your doctor and take care if you are pregnant or have known allergies, asthma or an impaired immune system.

For more on Chef Mia, visit transitionalgastronomy.com. For more on Pascal, visit urbanoutdoorskills.com.

Written by Kara Mickelson