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I Deeply Care About What You Drink For Thanksgiving Dinner
Just kidding. I really don't care that much. Drink whatever you want. But cook this awesome sweet potato dish.
Ah, yes, my least favorite time of year as a drinks writer. That season when the air turns crisp and every corner of media trots out its annual What To Pair With Thanksgiving Dinner segments and articles. Wine and spirits media has been working for decades to solve the “dilemma” of what to pair with a 4,500-calorie meal that leaps from turkey to cranberry to mashed potatoes to green bean casserole to yams to mac-and-cheese to cornbread to pumpkin pie.
Listen. Literally anything pairs with some aspect of this meal, except maybe a wine that’s super oaky and high in alcohol. But even as I say this, you know it doesn’t matter. Because your Boomer uncle is going to pour some expensive, over-oaked Napa Cab that’s pushing 16 percent abv (“This got 91 points from Wine Spectator, you know?”) and you’re going to be polite and drink that too.
Over the years, I have played my part in this Thanksgiving Pairing Industrial Complex. I have recommended all of the following as solutions to the holiday meal dilemma: gewürztraminer, nebbiolo, viognier, cabernet franc, cider, Negroni variations.
You know what? In 2011, I even recommended pairing a Negroni Sbagliato for Thanksgiving (if you want to know how far ahead of the trend curve I am).
Of course, at this stage of our media dystopia, the only thing less surprising than the What To Pair With Thanksgiving Dinner article is the annual grumpy, waggish response from writers like me.
Given all that, what am I recommending this year for Thanksgiving? Rather than any specific taste profile, I figured I would lean instead toward a theme—a very simple one. Thanksgiving is an American holiday. So why not drink American wine?
I realize I don’t recommend a lot of domestic wine in this newsletter, but one place that I love is New York’s Finger Lakes. When it comes to European regions, people often talk about “honest wines,” well-made everyday bottles that are fairly priced. I believe one place in the United States that delivers this sort “honest wine” is the Finger Lakes. In the $25-$30 range, you can find so much value, especially among the cabernet franc and riesling.
I intend do a much wider tasting report from the Finger Lakes in early 2023, but for now I’m recommending six bottles below, three whites and three reds. Bring one of them along with the amazing (and amazingly simple) sweet potato recipe below.
Bring This Side Dish To Thanksgiving
Okay, so your relatives have asked you to bring along a side dish for Thanksgiving dinner, and for whatever reason—laziness? you forgot until the last minute?—it all feels like a heavy lift. Relax. Just make this simple dish of maple-laced sweet potatoes roasted to a near-burnt sweetness and topped with spicy pepper, crisp scallions, and a lime-yogurt sauce.
This recipe comes from the gorgeous 2015 Gjelina cookbook. In the early 2010s, Gjelina’s Venice Beach vibe — simplicity at a sun-drenched-yet-moody communal table — was where so many of us wanted to live, and possibly still do if only we could afford it. It has become a go-to of mine not just for Thanksgiving, but all year round.
I have made this recipe so many times that I don’t really follow the recipe anymore. The Gjelina version calls for yams. I never understand the difference between yams and sweet potatoes and so what I use is sweet potatoes. The Gjelina recipe calls for the sweet potatoes to be tossed in honey. I usually have Very Dark, Strong Taste maple syrup (what used to be called “Grade C”) in my fridge and have found that gives the dish a slightly smoky element that I like. Gjelina calls for Espelette pepper — which I’ve been meaning to buy since 2015 and never have. So I use standard red pepper flakes, which work just fine. I also end up using a little more oil and maple syrup and a little less lime in the yogurt.
What I do follow religiously is having a very heated oven and being patient to let the sweet potatoes (or yams) caramelize deeply. Tossed with the yogurt sauce and chopped scallions, it’s a beautiful mix of spicy, sweet, creamy, and acidic and can be either a side dish or a main dish. The leftovers can even be used in a taco the following day.
My Sort-of Version of Gjelina’s ‘Yams’
Makes: 8 servings
Time: Slightly less than an hour
8-10 sweet potatoes, cut lengthwise into wedges
½ cup olive oil
6 tablespoons dark maple syrup (preferably Very Dark, Strong Taste)
2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (or maybe a little more)
Salt and pepper
½ cup Greek-style yogurt
Juice of 2 limes
4 scallions, thinly sliced (both green and white parts)
Heat oven to 425°F. In a bowl, toss sweet potatoes with 3 tablespoons oil, the syrup, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, tossing a couple more times. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a baking sheet and roast for at least 35 minutes. The edges should be really caramelized and the thickest parts should be soft when pierced with a fork.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, lime juice, and salt, and set aside.
Once the sweet potatoes are finished cooking, transfer them to a serving dish, add more pepper flakes and salt to taste, then drizzle with the yogurt sauce and top with sliced scallions.
— Adapted from Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California