Green Beans. Brussel Sprouts. Creamed Corn.
If you’ve read some of my other articles, you may have gotten the hint that I enjoy Asian flavors. At home, I very rarely make traditional American meals. No steak and asparagus, no mashed potatoes and grilled chicken. Not that I don’t enjoy those dishes from time to time, I just really enjoy the flavors of many Asian cuisines. I love sauces, spiciness, and strong flavors. So it’s not surprising that my Thanksgiving swaps for veggie side dishes are all subtly Asian inspired. But not so much that our families will say “oh great, another weird Asian recipe from [insert your name].” I swear. But yes, it is a secret mission to get our pickier family members to try more flavorful dishes.
I first discovered that I could pull off introducing Asian flavors to a very American Thanksgiving two years ago, when my in-laws asked my husband and I to bring a side dish to his aunt’s Thanksgiving lunch. I wasn’t cooking much then and I only had two ideas in mind: my broccoli salad (which is very, very good but more for summer potlucks) and my favorite Asian veggie side, dry fried green beans. I’m not quite sure why I decided this was a perfectly acceptable dish to bring to Thanksgiving, but everyone really enjoyed it and I got tons of compliments. And no one really seemed to pinpoint that it was actually an Asian dish. So I decided to try out some other toned down Asian veggie recipes that you could try around the holiday season. Check ’em out.
Dry Fried Green Beans, but make it Thanksgiving-y
This is one of my favorite dishes of all times, period. It’s something I fell in love with when I was studying abroad and I make it throughout the year. It’s also one of my husband’s favorite dishes I make and he keeps pretty solid tabs on his list of favorites. It comes from the Sichuan region of China. The more traditional green beans can be fairly spicy (especially if you use Szechuan peppercorns). For the sake of overall family approval, I’ve toned down both the spice and the soy sauce in my Thanksgiving version. There is one main thing you want to accomplish to pull off this recipe: cook the heck out of both the ground pork and green beans. Fresh, bright green beans are great, but this dish wants to be soft and faded green. However, I strongly encourage you to not use canned green beans, as the moisture level doesn’t allow these to fry like you’ll want and personally, I think the canned taste is hard to hide. The ground pork is not only there for fat and flavor but also a mild crunch, so don’t rush the process of cooking either one of these. The coarse salt and pepper are also meant to add texture, so try to avoid using iodized salt or fine ground pepper. (But this isn’t a big part of the dish, so don’t worry too much if you don’t have these.) I also wouldn’t recommend subbing ground pork for other ground meat. The same way green beans and bacon work well together, the pork fat makes these green beans that much better.
Ingredients, serves 4 people as a side:
- 1 lb of ground pork
- 2 tablespoon of soy sauce, separated
- 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes. This isn’t enough to make the dish truly spicy, but it’s okay to leave out or adjust as desired.
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar. White sugar is also fine.
- Neutral oil
- 2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed if needed
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. More if you’re into flavor. If you don’t have coarse salt, just stick to soy sauce. Coarse salt is there to add crunch.
- Black pepper, coarsely ground
- French’s crispy fried onions, optional
In a pan with tall sides, cook pork over medium heat until no longer pink, about 7-10 minutes. Break pork into fine pieces (that would be good for sprinkling). Turn heat to medium high and add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Cook for another 5-8 minutes until the pork is dark in color and starting to crisp. Add sugar and red pepper flakes, cook for another few minutes then put in a bowl and set aside.
In the same pan with whatever pork fat is left, add a couple tablespoons of neutral oil to coat the bottom of the pan thoroughly and turn heat to medium. Wait a minute or so for oil to heat then add green beans. You want them to sizzle. If the pan isn’t big enough for all green beans to set at the bottom, rotate every few minutes until almost all the green beans have some char on at least one side. Don’t turn too often where the beans don’t get enough time in direct contact with the pan. Add garlic and cook for one minute until fragrant. Then add 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and enough water to cover about a 1/4 inch of the pan and cover. Cook for 15-20 minutes, flipping green beans occasionally and keeping a small amount of water at the bottom to speed the cooking process. (You aren’t looking to create a sauce though, so keep the water to a minimum). Green beans should be faded in color and limp when you pick them up to taste test. Once cooked, add pork back into dish and slightly heat. Taste before adding coarse salt, then sprinkle fried onions, salt, and pepper as desired.
Bang Bang Brussels Sprouts
I thought this would be another good Asian riff for Thanksgiving. One, because usually when I get bang bang shrimp, it’s not at an Asian restaurant. Although the sauce is typically filled with Asian ingredients, we tend to not associate it with Asian cuisine. Next, the goal is to have extra crispy brussels sprouts to mimic the fry on the fried shrimp. If you have an air fryer, definitely cook them in there. Lastly, this sauce can easily get spicy with the srichacha. Taste it before coating the brussels sprouts. If it’s too spicy, add more honey. Tip for this dish: if the brussels sprouts come in a steamable bag, cook them in the microwave for a couple minutes to speed up the whole process.
Ingredients, serves 6 people as a side:
- 2 lbs of brussels sprouts
- Neutral oil
- 1 tablespoon of srichacha or sweet chili sauce
- Juice of a lime
- 1/4 cup of mayo or Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon of honey. Maple syrup will also work. Use less if using sweet chili sauce.
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
Preheat oven to 450F and line baking sheet with parchment paper. If brussels sprouts are in steamable bag, cook in microwave for 2 minutes. If not, just add about 5-10 minutes to baking process. After the quick steam, cut small brussels sprouts in half and large pieces into quarters. Place brussels sprouts on baking sheet with some neutral oil and bake for 10 minutes then remove (15 minutes if you didn’t steam beforehand). Turn heat up to 500F. Mix sauce ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour slightly cooked brussels sprouts in bowl and stir. Let set for a couple minutes to better absorb mixture. Add sauced brussels sprouts back on baking sheet and cook until brussels sprouts start to crisp and sauce turns a slightly darker color, 5-15 more minutes.
Korean Cheesy Corn
I have a couple dozen cookbooks, but the one I use most is Lucky Peach’s “101 Easy Asian Recipes.” It is the epitome of a good cookbook. Lots of ingredient explanations, enough info to help you riff off a recipe as needed, and just as importantly what the heck to eat the dish with. It has several authentic recipes, but also has dishes like ‘mall chicken’ and the dish I’m making below. Well technically it’s borderline traditional: an American dish turned Korean party snack turned back to American Thanksgiving side. Globalization at its finest. I’ve altered the dish slightly to make it more Thanksgiving friendly, but think of it as a glam version of creamed corn. I like to add the bacon into the corn, but feel free to sprinkle it as a topping with the mozzarella cheese for visual effect. The addition of miso is fantastic but subtle, keeping with the theme of ‘it’s Asian but your family doesn’t notice.’
Notes: Learn all about miso in my post here. I promise it’s worth the buy and it lasts for months and months. You can find at most health food grocery stores or in Asian markets. If I still haven’t convinced you to buy your own, substitute the miso with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce.
Ingredients, serves 4-6 people as a side or starter:
- 6 strips of bacon
- 1 tablespoon of butter, more if you don’t get much bacon fat
- 3 cups of frozen corn
- 1 small can of diced green chiles
- 4 oz container of cream cheese, getting to room temp if you prep well
- 1 tablespoon of white miso
- 2 tablespoons of mayo or Greek yogurt
- 1-2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
- Toppings: fresh or dried chives, green onions, or cilantro
Preheat oven to 450F. Cook bacon, however you like, until crispy. Set aside on paper towel to cool and dry. Reserve a tablespoon of bacon fat and add to large pan with butter. (You can also use an oven-safe pan or cask iron skillet so not to transfer to a baking dish later on.) Heat to medium and add corn and green chile. Cook and stir for a few minutes. Add miso and cream cheese and stir until mix together fully. Add mayo and cooked bacon and stir a little more. Place mixture into baking dish, top with cheese, and sprinkle generously with garlic powder. Bake until cheese slightly browns, about 7-10 minutes. Top with some fresh or dried herbs if desired. May be served just like creamed corn as a side or it also works well with tortilla chips or fritos (double the corn flavor, y’all).
Which recipe do you want to try? Do you have any riffs on other Thanksgiving veggie side dishes? This week we are talking about other fun alternatives to spruce up Thanksgiving while keeping the basic ingredients intact.