When SFoodie asked me to write about my favorite Thanksgiving dish, I was honored to be considered one of their “favorite food people of San Francisco.” But it took me awhile to figure out what I wanted to write about. My first inclination was to go with a dessert. After all desserts are what I’m all about – especially on this here bloggity blog. So it was a bit of a surprise (even to myself) to finally settle on the unassuming much maligned green bean casserole. Even more surprising was, through circumstances, I made it vegan and gluten free and ended up liking it even MORE than the dairy version!
I hesitated in writing up a blog post about it, especially since Thanksgiving has already past. But enough people on twitter and in real life (that’s “IRL” if you are a twitteraholic) asked me about my recipe with fresh green beans and pan fried shallots that I felt like I had to write about it, even if it’s not the sort of thing I normally post on (in fact, this green bean casserole isn’t even put in the oven, but made on a stovetop so I can’t even call it a baked good, and clearly the name “casserole” is a misnomer, but oh well).
This Thanksgiving AJ and I ended up spending it down in LA at our friend’s Rita and Damon’s condo. We were invited to a wedding on the Saturday of the Thanksgiving weekend (that’s a story for another post) and so we called up Rita and Damon and asked if they wouldn’t mind if we threw our annual Thanksgiving dinner down in their condo.
AJ and I have a tradition of ALWAYS hosting Thanksgiving dinner. It started a good eight or nine years ago where we had every plan and ever intention of making Thanksgiving dinner. But a friend (who shall remain nameless) called us up to let us know that he was going to be in town. Then we made the mistake of letting him convince us to cancel our Thanksgiving dinner to go to the one that he was planning to go to. Then, due to some misinformation on his end, his dinner was cancelled at the last minute and he was invited to go to a friend of a friend’s dinner. Making us the friend of the friend of the friend. That’s one too many degrees of separation for us. We bowed out but then were left high and dry without a Thanksgiving dinner. Sadness.
We swore never to let that happen again. So every Thanksgiving, on the day of Thanksgiving, we make a giant dinner – regardless of how many people show up. We’ve made dinner for just the two of us, and we’ve made dinner for 11 people. Rita and Damon were gracious enough to let us continue our tradition in their condo, taking over their kitchen and inviting over all our mutual friends.
AJ and I had driven down on Tuesday night with our car packed to the gills with Thanksgiving pots and pans and specialized kitchen tools that were afraid Rita and Damon didn’t have (extra large roaster, roasting rack, potato ricer. pastry blender. Four different thermometers, mortar and pestle and a few other things) and it was a smooth drive down the 5 highway, with little traffic. Shopping on Wednesday was a bit hectic, especially as we got a late start to the farmer’s market in Santa Monica, but when we arrived, the produce was bountiful and our bags were overflowing with awesome looking vegetables and produce by the time the farmers were packing up their stalls.
I had originally planned on baking four desserts but unfortunately I did not bring down any extra pie tins and the pie tins that I had left at Rita and Damon’s from a previous event we co-hosted down there with them were left at a friend of theirs. I told Rita that because we only had three pie tins not four, she had to pick between a sweet potato pie or a chocolate pecan pie, and to my astonishment, Rita (who loves chocolate more than anyone else I know) deliberately and slowly articulated that she thought sweet potato would be a better fit for Thanksgiving. So I skipped the pecan pie.
So that night I bake my three dessert pies. Traditional pumpkin spiced pie with whipped cream (I had make the pumpkin puree up in SF and froze it and brought it down with me), a sweet potato southern comfort infused pie with meringue topping and an apple spiced pie with fall dried fruit with vanilla ice cream (a variant of the apple slab pie that I brought to an event the week before – another post for another time).
Funny thing about the apples, when I bought them at the Farmer’s market, the man next to me was struggling (and I mean really struggling) with which varietal to purchase for a pie, the granny smith or the pink ladies, walking back and forth in a nervous agitated way. To calm him down, I turned to him and told him to buy a bunch of different ones. He looked directly at me and then point blank asked me if I was a baker. And though I normally don’t say that I am, I just didn’t have the energy to explain to him that I baked a lot but wasn’t a professional baker, so I just said confidently without pause “Yes. I am.” He brightened up, bought a bunch of apples of all sorts of types and then turned to me and thanked me by saying “It’s so great to get the opinion of a professional! It’s why I like to come here to the Farmer’s Market!”
With that, he was off. As I bought my apples, the purveyor smiled at me, handed me my change and said in a pleasant Chinese accent “Thank you! See you next week!”
And just like that. I was a native regular who came to the farmer’s market. I love it.
AJ and I spent all of Thursday morning and afternoon making food. Rita and Damon, the rockstars that they are, went to their family obligation dinners. In fact, they had two large dinners to go BEFORE our dinner started at 7pm. I was impressed that they were left standing by the time they made it back to their home. We had invited a slew of people over and about 10 people were able to make it to the Thanksgiving festivities.
*Our fantastic friend Vicky and Frankie brought these over for appetizers! Which is a good thing, as we invited everyone over to eat around 7pm and didn’t finish bringing out the food until 8:30pm.
Looking at the menu, it’s hard to believe that I had fears that we wouldn’t have enough food. This, of course, is an ongoing fear of mine whenever I throw a party and you would think after making Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 10 years, I would be over that fear. But clearly I was not.
The evening was a success, with much eating, laughing, more eating, hilarity, and still more eating throughout the evening. I love that AJ and I were able to bring our Thanksgiving down in LA, with our friends and loved ones, truly sharing the spirit of Thanksgiving. Thank you Rita and Damon for letting us take over your spare bedroom and kitchen!
Ah, but the Thanksgiving festivities weren’t over! AJ and I had told Rita and Damon that we often times casually have people over on the day after Thanksgiving to eat our leftovers. So Rita and Damon sent a mass email out to everyone who couldn’t make it to Thanksgiving and about 30 people responded in the affirmative that they were going to swing by.
30 people! Which, of course, put all of us in a slight panic that there wouldn’t be enough food for all of them. We shooed the last of the guests out of the condo around 2am on Thanksgiving evening and then woke up the next morning, determined to make EVEN MORE food.
To complicate challenge things even more, Rita and Damon had a couple of friends who were vegan coming to our post-Thanksgiving spread… Now I’m fairly adept at making food for vegans, vegetarians, diabetics, gluten free, whatever the food restriction is. But I usually need to plan it out. BUT the vegans were a last minute addition, and almost ALL of the food we had made the night before had butter in it (well, except for the cranberry sauce, but the sugar I used in the sauce wasn’t vegan so there’s that).
But we came up with a few new items that were vegan friendly for our guests. Because EVERYONE should be welcome and included at the dinner table.
All 30 guests were fed to the brim and left happy and satisfied. I love that our friends Rita and Damon were willing to put up with us taking over their condo for the weekend, where we put to good use their five range Bosch stovetop AND two ovens, one of which is convection as well as all their amazing All Clad cookware (I really need good cookware. Someone buy me some please. Thank you). I stare at my little dinky oven that AJ and I affectionately refer to as our “EZ Bake Oven” and just shake my head at what I could accomplish with more than one oven. But I guess this just gives me an excuse to visit and cook down there more often.
In the meanwhile, I know that I’ll be making the vegan version of the green bean casserole for my table from now on. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s vegan. I’m the LAST person to advocate veganism as a food lifestyle, as I liberally use butter, leaf lard and bacon in a lot of my food. But trust me, this version is superior to the non vegan version that I make AND it’s heads and tails better than the cream of mushroom soup version. If you bounce over to the original SFoodie article that I started this post with, you’ll learn that I fell in love with the cream of mushroom soup canned creation (completely with the fried onion in a canister) back in high school while abroad in the Netherlands. You can blame my lack of exposure to it (my parents raised me on fresh green beans, never the canned ones) or the fact that I didn’t really have a highly sophisticated palate, but in the end I full own up to the fact that for years to come my Thanksgiving table wasn’t completely without that creation.
But this version, well let me just say that the vegans (and non vegans) devoured it, finding it better than the one I made the day before. In fact there was NONE left over while there was still some of the cream based green bean casserole version left. The vegan casserole was one of the few dishes completely finished on the table.
Rita and Damon, by the way, went to yet ANOTHER Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday night after we had left. As AJ and I sat on the 5 for about 9 hours trying to get home in stop and go holiday traffic they were gorging themselves yet again. When I finally texted them to tell them we arrived home in one piece, they text back and said “Ate our fifth Thanksgiving dinner. Never eating again.”
But I bet you if I made this for them again, they’d eat it.
While making this, I listened to a hodgepodge of music, though most of it on the playlist included the Glee Soundtrack.
Oh yeah, as an added bonus, I made this gluten free. Just cuz I can. If you aren’t gluten allergic or celiac, or you don’t have rice flour in the house, you can substitute regular AP flour for the rice flour. But if you do have rice flour, use it. It’s makes for a crisper shallot topping.
Inspired by a recipe from The New Best Recipes by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated
One of the great things about this recipe is that you make it on the stovetop, freeing up the oven for other, more important, things like the turkey.
4-5 large shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
3 tablespoon white rice flour
7 tablespoon vegetable oil (split into 3 tablespoons, 2 tablespoons and 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon corn starch
3/4 to 1 1/4 cup vegetable stock (homemade preferably, but a good canned version will do)
10 oz cremini (brown) mushrooms, sliced into 1/4” pieces
1 tablespoon Tamari (wheat/gluten free) soy sauce
1 medium onion, chopped (roughly 1 cup)
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs of fresh green beans, ends trimmed, and cut into 2” pieces
5 springs of thyme
4 bay leaves
3/4 cup of cashew cream (recipe follows)
salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
1. Take the sliced shallots and toss them with the fresh cracked pepper, sea salt and white rice flour until evenly coated. If you don’t have enough rice flour to evenly coat, feel free to add more.
2. Stir the corn starch and 3/4 cup of vegetable stock together.
3. Heat 3 tablespoonof vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat until a fleck of water splatters when flicked into the pan. Gently place the coated shallots into the skillet (taking care not to burn yourself with any oil splashing up) and pan fry the shallots, stirring frequently, until golden brown on all sides. Watch the pan carefully as the rice flour can burn pretty fast. Remove the shallots to a plate lined with two or three paper towels and place aside. Wipe out the skillet of all crumbs
4. Add 2 more tablespoon of vegetable oil in the skillet and heat over medium high. Add the mushrooms and soy sauce and cook until the mushrooms are brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl along with any juices that have accumulated in the skillet.
5. Add the final 2 tablespoon of vegetable oil in the skillet and heat over medium high. Add the onions and cook until the onion edges start to brown a little bit, about two minutes or so.
5. Add the garlic to the skillet and stir for 30 seconds for the garlic to become fragrant. Then add the green beans, thyme and bay leaves. Immediately add the cashew cream and the vegetable stock to the skillet as well.
6. Continue to cook over medium high heat until the beans are slightly tender, but still crisp in the center, four minutes or so. Add the mushrooms and any reserved mushroom juice to the skillet as well and cook for another four minutes or so, until the green beans are tender and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce seems too thick (keep in mind it will thicken as it cools as well) thin it out with the reserved vegetable stock (add a little bit at a time until you are happy with the sauce consistency).
7. Remove from heat, remove the bay leaves and thyme springs and then salt and pepper to taste (I like to use a lot of fresh cracked pepper, but not everyone likes it that peppery). Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the top with the pan fried shallots.
Note 1. Why soy sauce with the mushrooms? The soy sauce not only adds salt seasoning, but also helps boost the umami flavors of the mushrooms. There’s nothing Asian flavored in the final dish at all (you really don’t get more All American than a green bean casserole) but you’ll find that the mushrooms take on a deeper earthier meatier flavor that is a nice foil to the green beans. If you aren’t gluten allergic, feel free to use regular soy sauce.
Note 2. Why the variant in vegetable stock? The cashew cream recipe (which I list below) is super easy but also results in a cream that varies in thickness, depending on how much water you use. Thus the amount of vegetable stock required in the recipe will vary as well.
Note 3. Why cashew cream? Well obviously I developed this recipe with a vegan in mind, but in reality, the cashew cream adds a very slight earthy nuttiness that helps give the dish a subtle depth. You can easily just use heavy cream in place of the cashew cream if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making cashew cream, but trust me, you won’t regret going that extra step. If you do use the heavy cream, increase the corn starch to 1 1/2 tsp and you probably won’t need the extra 1/2 cup vegetable stock in the end.
The recipe above requires the creation of cashew cream. It’s super easy to make, but takes some time for the overnight soaking. The recipe is below.
2 cups of raw cashews (make sure it’s raw, not salted or roasted)
1. Rinse the cashews thoroughly.
2. Put the cashews in a bowl and fill with water until they are completely covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
3. Drain the cashews and again rinse thoroughly.
4. Place cashews in a blender or food processor. Fill with fresh cold water until covered about 1/2 inch over cashews.
5. Pulse and process cashews until super smooth.
Makes about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of cashew cream. You can thin it down a little with more water if the cream seems too thick. You can use this as a vegan replacement for cream in nearly any baking and cooking recipe, though the results may vary.
Note 1. Clearly this recipe makes more than you need for the green bean casserole. You can try to halve the recipe and use 1 cup of raw cashews but some food processors and blenders function better with larger amounts. You can always use the cashew cream in other products or freeze it (if you freeze it, it may separate so be sure to give it a pulse or two in the blender/food processor after you thaw it out and before you use it)