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Nontraditional flavors boost one-note Thanksgiving squash, kale and mashed potatoes

It’s tricky to mess with tradition on Thanksgiving, but with a few tweaks, some typically one-note side dishes can become boldly flavored, exciting dishes.
This image released by Milk Street shows a recipe for charred kale with garlic, chilies and lime. (Milk Street via AP)

It’s tricky to mess with tradition on Thanksgiving, but with a few tweaks, some typically one-note side dishes can become boldly flavored, exciting dishes.

Instead of pureeing butternut squash and loading it up with butter, we cut it into chunks and roast it, seasoning it with fresh ginger and Chinese five-spice to complement its natural sweetness.

To enliven sautéed greens, we skip the spinach and turn to kale instead. Charring the hardy green gives it a bittersweet flavor and a nutty edge, reminiscent of oven-roasted kale chips. It then gets a bright squeeze of lime and a bit of heat from sliced chilies.

And for a unique take on mashed potatoes, we got inspiration from stoemp (pronounced STOOMP), a hearty Belgian dish that mixes the spuds with finely cut winter vegetables. Our version includes leeks, carrots and cabbage, with a good dose of bay and garlic for fragrance and flavor.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Ginger and Five-Spice

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 8

You will need two large, heavy rimmed baking sheets for this recipe because crowding one pan will inhibit flavorful browning that is the key to this dish’s success. The squash can be peeled, seeded, cut into chunks and refrigerated in zip-close bags for up to two days before cooking. Many grocery stores sell butternut squash that has already been peeled, seeded and cut into chunks. We found that this variety does not brown as well as squash we prepped ourselves, though it tasted equally good. If you purchase precleaned squash, you will still need about 4 pounds.

4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks

3 tablespoons salted butter, melted

2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)

Heat the oven to 500°F with racks in the upper and lower-middle positions. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil.

In a large bowl, toss the squash with the butter, ginger, five-spice powder, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Divide evenly between the prepared baking sheets and distribute in even layers. Roast, switching and rotating the pans halfway through, until well browned, 25 to 35 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle with the chives and crystallized ginger (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature.

Charred Kale with Garlic, Chilies and Lime

Start to finish: 35 minutes

Servings: 4

The volume of raw kale here may seem overwhelming, but it will cook down. Use the largest bowl you have to toss the leaves with oil, and the largest Dutch oven you own to cook the greens. Beware the vapors when you add the chili and garlic to the hot pot. And make sure not to use olive oil to char the kale, as it has a lower smoke point than neutral oil. Light wisps of smoke are an indication that the oil and pot are ready.

2 large bunches lacinato kale (about 1 1/2 pounds total), stemmed, leaves torn into 2- to 3-inch pieces

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon grapeseed or other neutral oil

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

5 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Fresno OR jalapeño chili, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced

4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal, white and green parts reserved separately

1 teaspoon grated lime zest, plus 1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, toss the kale with 1 tablespoon of neutral oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt, rubbing with your hands to coat each leaf. In a large Dutch oven over high, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon neutral oil until barely smoking. Add the kale, cover and cook, occasionally turning the kale with tongs, until wilted and charred, about 10 minutes.

Push the kale to the sides of the pot and add the garlic, chili and scallion whites. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then stir the mixture into the kale. Quickly add 1/2 cup water to the pot and immediately cover. Cook, without stirring, until the kale is tender and the water has evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Off heat, stir in the scallion greens and lime zest and juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the olive oil.

Belgian Mashed Potatoes with Winter Vegetables (Stoemp)

Start to finish: 1 hour

Servings: 8

For the leeks, make sure to rinse them well; their many layers trap dirt and sand. It’s best to rinse them after slicing so you can get between the layers. For convenience, cook the vegetables, mash them and season with the vinegar and salt, then cool and refrigerate up to a day in advance. Reheat in a large pot over medium with 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth, covered and stirring occasionally, until warmed through, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, then follow the instructions to create a well and finish the dish with the butter and chives.

4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1¼ cups half-and-half

3 medium leeks, white and light green parts thinly sliced, rinsed and dried

5 bay leaves

4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) salted butter, divided

Kosher salt

1/2 medium head savoy cabbage, cored and finely chopped (3 to 4 cups)

2 medium carrots, peeled and shredded on the large holes of a box grater (see note)

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

¼ cup finely chopped fresh chives

In a large pot over high, stir together the potatoes, broth, half-and-half, leeks, bay, garlic, 4 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low, cover and cook, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a rapid simmer, until a skewer inserted into the potatoes meets just a little resistance, 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove and discard the bay, then stir in the cabbage. Cover and cook until the cabbage is almost tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the carrots, cover and cook until the cabbage is fully tender and the carrots are crisp-tender, another 5 minutes.

Off heat, add 4 tablespoons of the remaining butter and mash with a potato masher until almost smooth. Stir in the vinegar, then taste and season with salt. Transfer to a serving bowl. Using the back of a spoon, create a well in the center of the potatoes. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons butter into 2 or 3 pieces and add to the well. Sprinkle with chives.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

Christopher Kimball, The Associated Press