These Thanksgiving recipes aren’t just side dishes. They’re my memories. – The Denver Post

By Yewande Komolafe, The New York Times

Roast turkey is not and has never been my passion, but I have come to love Thanksgiving.

Adjusting to life in the United States as a young immigrant from Nigeria, I felt compelled to master spoken and unspoken ceremonies surrounding American holidays. But Thanksgiving is perhaps the one American cultural tradition that felt perfectly familiar to me. In Nigeria, a country with multiple growing seasons, regional harvest festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Historically, whatever was ripe and ready was hailed in many forms: in soups and stews such as afang soup, and in porridges such as asaro and ubek, to name just a few.

My embrace of Thanksgiving is really an embrace of the people who I’ve celebrated it with. I’ve lived on a separate continent from my parents for more than two decades, so my friends and my chosen family have really helped shape my idea of the holiday.

In my first years in the United States, I spent Thanksgiving at my friend Charlene’s Baltimore home, where I would work beside her in the kitchen, preparing for the evening’s elaborate meal. On the surface, these first few dinners seemed to embody a straightforward set of customs. The food varied only slightly year to year, and the timing was roughly the same. But, over time, I began to see the deeply open and adaptive nature of the holiday.

The dinners have offered an opportunity to share time with loved ones, but also to learn from them. At Thanksgivings in Maryland, Georgia, Alabama and New York, I have often asked my hosts to share what makes their traditions special, and collected the recipes that resonated with me. Those dishes have made their way into my own celebrations, so that my holiday is one of enthusiastic food memories.

I have since made memories with my own small family: my husband and daughter. Two years ago, we spent Thanksgiving on a ranch in West Texas. We had tamales, chilaquiles, Christmas lima beans, a smoked turkey we bought at a supermarket, and a pork shoulder we smoked ourselves. We also had a heaping platter of jollof rice infused with Hatch green chiles.

In a way, I’m like a lot of Americans who have moved around, incorporating a Louisiana specialty or a New Mexican delicacy into their traditions. For me, I love a good skillet cornbread, with the flavor of toasted corn and a firm texture. It’s perfect with just a slathering of soft butter or used as a base for a dressing — with sausage, celery and lots of herbs, like the one first served to me in Charlene’s Baltimore home.

Or my mother-in-law Sue’s citrus-glazed sweet potatoes, which she has refined endlessly in her upstate New York kitchen. They add a tangy sweetness to the holiday meals we share.

These are such stellar sides that they fall into perhaps my favorite category of traditional Thanksgiving dishes: those that are memorable and delicious every other day of the year.

Cornbread

By Yewande Komolafe

This easy skillet cornbread comes together with just a handful of ingredients, many of which you probably already have on hand. It’s a firm-crumbed but light quick bread that can hold its own as a side slathered with salted butter, or it can be used as a base for cornbread dressing. The buttermilk gives the toasted corn flavor a pleasant tartness — full-fat buttermilk is preferred, but low-fat will do in a pinch.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons/115 grams unsalted butter, melted, plus more for brushing the pan
  • 1 1/2 cups/250 grams medium-coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup/114 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup/55 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups/470 milliliters buttermilk, preferably full-fat
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch skillet or cast-iron pan and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk and eggs. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir until incorporated. Fold in the melted butter. Pour the batter into the prepared skillet and smooth the top.

3. Bake until the top is lightly browned and the sides pull away cleanly from the skillet, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely and serve warm or room temperature, or reserve to make cornbread dressing.

Cornbread Dressing

By Yewande Komolafe

This crisp, rich and buttery dressing is excellent as a side dish for dinner on Thanksgiving and as leftovers the next day. Aromatics and a mix of fresh and dried herbs give it a deep savoriness. The sausage brings a flavor of its own, but you can leave it out for a vegetarian-friendly alternative. The accompanying cornbread recipe yields a result firm enough to soak up the stock and buttermilk without it turning to a pudding, but you can also use store-bought cornbread or a boxed mix. If you do, just crumble the baked cornbread and spread it out on a sheet pan in an even layer to dry for at least 4 hours and up to 12 hours before mixing it with the rest of the dressing ingredients.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Total time: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the pan
  • 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, plus more if needed
  • 1 pound loose pork sausage
  • 1 large yellow onion, very finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 4 celery ribs, very finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (from 10 large leaves)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 recipe cornbread for dressing, broken into 1-inch pieces, or 10 cups loosely packed cornbread
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken, turkey or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup buttermilk, preferably full-fat

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium and pour in the oil. Add the sausage and cook, using a wooden spoon to break it into small pieces, until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink, about 8 minutes. Transfer the cooked sausage to a plate, keeping any fat in the skillet. Add a few additional tablespoons oil if needed to evenly coat the bottom.

3. Add the onion and celery to the skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, oregano, fennel seeds and sage, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Return the cooked sausage to the skillet and stir to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, add the cornbread pieces and toss to combine. Pour in the stock and buttermilk, and stir until well mixed. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.

4. Transfer the cornbread mixture to your prepared dish and spread evenly. Drizzle the melted butter over the top. Cover the dish with foil and bake until heated through, 30 to 35 minutes. Raise the oven temperature to 400 degrees, remove the foil and bake until the surface is golden brown in spots, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving warm.

Citrus-Glazed Sweet Potatoes

By Yewande Komolafe

These candied sweet potatoes work as a side dish for any dinner or holiday celebration by balancing citrusy sweet and savory flavors — and they also produce top-notch leftovers. Right out of the oven or the fridge, they are sure to add a pleasantly tart note to any meal. The braising liquid thickens as the tubers cook, resulting in a tangy glaze that coats every bite. Its acidity also helps the sweet potatoes stay intact with a slight bite even as they soften. The thinly sliced orange zest becomes tender and develops a marmalade-like taste. The shiny strips make for a beautiful garnish, along with the syrupy pan sauce.

Yield: 6 servings

Total time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

  • 3 medium oranges
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 limes
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 9 small)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

Preparation

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees (see Tip). Use a vegetable peeler to peel strips of zest off 2 oranges. Cut the strips into thin matchsticks using a sharp knife and transfer to a large bowl. Juice all the oranges, the lemon and limes into the bowl for 1 1/4 cups juice. Whisk in the brown sugar, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper until the sugar dissolves.

2. Generously peel the sweet potatoes, removing the skin and the tougher layer of flesh just beneath. If your sweet potatoes are larger than 2 inches in diameter, halve or quarter lengthwise. Cut into 1-inch-thick rounds or pieces, add to the citrus mixture and toss to coat.

3. Transfer the sweet potatoes and juice mixture to a 9-by-13-inch shallow glass or ceramic baking dish. Dot the top with the butter. Bake, stirring every 20 to 30 minutes to cook and coat evenly, until the sweet potatoes are tender and glazed, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. A paring knife should slide through the potatoes easily and the glaze should be the consistency of syrup.

4. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The dish can be made ahead and cooled, then wrapped tightly and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat in a 350-degree oven, covered with foil, or in a microwave, covered with a microwave-safe cover or plastic wrap.

Tips: You can bake these at 350 degrees as well, particularly if you have other Thanksgiving dishes in the oven at that temperature. They will take 15 to 45 minutes longer.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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