Thanksgiving is about more than just food. Family, gratitude, fighting over ancient resentments…it all plays a role. When a bunch of people (whether related or not) gather together over a holiday, there will be quirks. And possibly arguments. But, mercifully, there will always be food. Lots of delicious, button-popping food. And while life may be as unpredictable as your Aunt Suzy’s newest hair color, you can always depend on your favorite stuffing.
While I’m a big supporter of experimenting with food and beverages, there are times when tradition reigns supreme. It can be fun to try eccentric twists like apple cider risotto or curried carrots, but ultimately, many of us crave the classic sides that filled our childhood plates this time of year.
That’s why I turned to Kahlil Arnold, the chef of Arnold’s Country Kitchen based in Nashville, Tennessee, for several of his signature creations. Arnold’s is a mainstay of Nashville, known for its meat and three, country-style cooking and warm atmosphere. Patrons range from politicians and lawyers to construction workers, who return again and again for dishes like squash casserole and banana pudding.
Just in time for Thanksgiving, Kahlil shared recipes for several of his most beloved side dishes: southern greens, mac and cheese, and sweet potato casserole. If you prepare these for your gathering, get ready to become the family legend, the keeper of the Thanksgiving flame. Or at the very least, up for consideration of graduating from the kids’ table.
Arnold’s Southern Greens
2 pieces of applewood smoked bacon, chopped
3 tablespoons margarine or rendered bacon fat
1 turnip bulb, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 (8 to 12-ounce) ham hock
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
4 tablespoons ham base
6-10 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 pound collard greens, washed, stemmed and chopped
1 pound turnip greens, washed, stemmed and chopped
In a large, heavy pot over medium heat, add the margarine, onion, bacon and ham hock. Sauté until onions seem translucent, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients with six cups of water, except the greens, and whisk together. Add the greens and cook on medium heat, partially covered until tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes-1 hour. If necessary, add more water. The longer you cook the greens down, the more flavor the greens will have. Taste to see if more salt and pepper is needed. When the greens and turnips are tender, it’s time to eat.
Arnold’s Mac & Cheese
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons margarine
2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups shredded American cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground mustard seed
2 cups of macaroni noodles
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Pinch of salt
8 cups water
In a medium pot, bring 8 cups of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 cups of noodles. Cook for 20 minutes, or until noodles swell and are soft. Drain in colander. Meanwhile in a double broiler, melt 2 tablespoons of margarine. When melted, stir in flour and cook for a few minutes until browned. Slowly add milk, whisking vigorously. Next add 2 cups of shredded cheese and stir until melted. Whisk in black pepper, mustard, and parmesan cheese. Taste, to see if a pinch of salt is needed. In a small casserole dish, add noodles and stir in cheese sauce. Sprinkle ½ cup of shredded cheese in top. Lightly sprinkle paprika on top. Put in preheated oven at 325 degrees. Cook for 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbling around edges.
Arnold’s Sweet Potato Casserole
6 pounds sweet potatoes
2-3 cups sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (4 tablespoons) butter, melted
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
For the pecan topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1 cup chopped or whole pecans
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For the filling: Roast the sweet potatoes on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet for approximately one hour, or until tender. Cut the sweet potatoes in half and cool until able to touch. Peel and mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher. (This should yield approximately 8 cups.)
In a large bowl, combine the mashed sweet potatoes, sugar, cream, butter, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Spoon the sweet potatoes into a lightly greased 2 quart – 4 quart casserole dish.
For the pecan topping: In a medium bowl combine the brown sugar and flour. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut the butter into the brown sugar mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the pecans. Sprinkle the pecan topping over the sweet potato mixture. Bake the casserole until the topping is golden brown and bubbling, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Cook’s Note: The sweet potato casserole can be assembled the day before and kept in the refrigerator until ready to cook.