Dishing on the simplest holiday side

I think more than any other meal, it is the sides of Thanksgiving that get us all excited. Never is more effort put into all the bowls and platters on the holiday table; never is there more variety (outside of a summer potluck). And they bring with them rich flavors exclusive (but, why?) to this time of year — seasonings of sage and thyme; earthy sweet potatoes and hearty squash; stuffing/dressing, that intoxicating meld of crunchy veggies, spices and breads; mashed potatoes and gravy; the rare ruby-red tart of cranberries. And the more the merrier — perhaps you will also have green bean casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts or a side salad featuring fall pears.

So many options, one should never be stuck in a rut, but supposing you are…suppose you’ve been featuring the same sides and want to shake things up, or you are tempted to add a side, but adding to your time and ingredient list is not a desirable proposition.

It should be something that’s worth whatever trouble it is, but how would you like a side dish that is virtually no trouble at all — simple as can be, featuring flavors that are a perfect accent to any of the usual suspect sides on the Thanksgiving or Christmas table?

More than 20 years ago, I was introduced to a hands-down, winning side dish that was another family’s tradition, a so-simple recipe of onions, garlic, butter, canned mushrooms and sour cream. That’s it! So yummy, like a stroganoff, sans meat. It can be made early Thanksgiving day and served room temperature (which is actually preferable). It is light, but sumptuous and an amazing extension and enhancement on the same plate with all the turkey (or fish, pork, beef or chicken), gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes and other veggies for Thanksgiving.

My long-time friend and collaborator’s mom remembers her grandmother on the East Coast making these Sour Cream Mushrooms. The simplicity of the recipe does seem to speak to simpler times. But simple here also means delicious. How can that be wrong. It starts with onions and garlic sautéed in butter, which is a beautiful beginning.

Canned sliced mushrooms are then added. It’s important here to emphasize that it is better to use the canned mushrooms, as fresh ones, if not completely cooked, release too much moisture and the end result will not be the creamy concoction you want. The beauty of canned mushrooms — besides the fact that they are relatively inexpensive and can be found anywhere — is that you can stock up on them in August. Along with using them in this dish, you can toss them into your stuffing or gravy.

Sour cream is the key ingredient that brings this all together. It MUST be brought to room temperature to properly adhere to the onions and mushrooms. Take it out, and sit it on the counter when you put your turkey in the oven.

Once your mushrooms are combined with the sautéed onions and garlic and seasonings, you let them cool. Simple, but crucial, instruction, because if they are too hot, when you add the sour cream, the cream will separate from the onions and mushrooms. Having a recently become a big fan of “faux” sour cream (non-dairy, tofu-based cream), it’s been tested in this dish and wins big. It’s thicker and firmer than traditional sour cream (think more like a soft cream cheese), and it doesn’t seem to break down as easily. SO, if you have true vegans in the crowd, this recipe would win them over, too!

It’s creamy and dreamy, this dish. The onions and mushrooms (they count as a vegetable) are sturdy, still firm and a bit crunchy, but made rich with that sour cream. The dish is rich and sumptuous enough to stand up to all the other sides and the turkey and gravy. It’s substantial without being too filling. Made in the “off-season,” this makes an excellent topping for a baked potato.

Try some on your holiday table. A single batch will serve four, but be prepared to double or triple that batch, once tried. The crowd will be more than pleased.

Great-Grandma’s Sour Cream Mushrooms
Makes 4 servings
1 large onion, chopped
2 13.25- to 14-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, drained
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Pinch of cayenne
Pinch of dried Italian seasoning
8 ounces of sour cream, room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste

Note: Make sure you sit carton of sour cream out a few hours earlier to ensure you have brought it to room temperature.

In a large saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onions until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add mushrooms, pinch of cayenne and pinch of Italian seasoning, and heat through. Turn off heat and allow to cool at least 10 minutes.

Mix in sour cream, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

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