An herbal Thanksgiving

Thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley. We members of the Western Pennsylvania Unit of The Herb Society of America thank our lucky herbs that the upcoming national holiday gives us a chance to strut our knowledge and cooking skills. We can show off that we know the difference between fennel and fenugreek and Greek oregano besides. We can say loud and clear that savories are more than tasty tidbits.

Lots of cooks toss a handful of chopped fresh or crumbled dried sage leaves into the turkey stuffing. But we don’t stop there. We go herbal from the first sip to the luscious ending. Thanksgiving dinner may seem to you to have too many courses, too many choices; to be too rich, too sweet. But surely you won’t complain about too many herbs.

The best of them are picked as needed and grown in our own gardens or by a farmer in the neighborhood. Those in the supermarket, marked “fresh,” are next best and available now, thankfully. For our herb gardens have been tucked in for a long nap unless there’s a snug corner, out of the wind, where the sage or winter savory, possibly even the thyme and various mints can stand up to oncoming blasts of cold and snow.

This winter, I’m trying something new. Since I don’t have a congenial growing area indoors, I’ve put thyme, parsley and chives in pots that are snuggled into a large rubber trug with a bed of dirt. This container is nestled between the compost pail and birdseed bin on the back porch, where it gets plenty of sunlight and fresh air. After last winter’s kill, I’m reluctant to leave anything planted in the garden. We’ll see …

Now, back to Thanksgiving. Members of the herb society share recipes here for dishes they’ll be serving. In addition to the ones that have been on their tables every year for many years, there are a few that recently caught the discerning eyes of cooks who can’t get enough herbs. At our last meeting, we tasted them to confirm their yumminess.


To get the festivities going, a single martini from a favorite website.

-- Nancy Hanst

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

1-inch piece of gingerroot, peeled and thinly sliced

6 sage leaves with stems, bruised

1½ ounces vodka

1/4 ounce ginger-sage simple syrup

1 ounce pear juice

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

2 dashes orange bitters

To make the simple syrup in advance, combine water, sugar, ginger and sage in a small pan over medium-low heat. Simmer until sugar dissolves, cool completely, strain, chill.

To make the cocktail, combine vodka, syrup, pear and lemon juices and bitters in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, strain into a coupe and raise your glass.



Here’s a classic combination of refreshing flavors.

2 medium fennel bulbs

2 oranges

1/2 red onion

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons finely chopped chervil, arugula or parsley leaves

Make this half an hour before serving.

Trim fennel, remove stalks and discolored parts. Cut into 1/4-inch slices.

Peel and section oranges; keep 6 sections whole and cut others in half.

Thinly slice onion.

Juice the whole orange sections and combine with oil, vinegar and herbs.

Toss all the ingredients with the dressing and stir occasionally.

Serve as is or on a bed of butter lettuce.

Severs 4 to 6. 

-- “The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook” (Chronicle, 1997)


“We always had two types of stuffing at our Thanksgiving table -- inside the turkey stuffing and stuffing balls,” Jean Daniels writes. “I preferred the crunchy balls.” She intends to adapt this 2009 recipe from The New York Times,” which should make enough for a 12- to 14-pound turkey and 12 balls.

1 large loaf Pullman or other firm white bread (about 16 cups)

1 pound chanterelle mushrooms [or the equal in dried form or white button mushrooms]

1/3 pound pancetta, diced small [or thick-cut bacon, simmered in water for 10 minutes]

10 tablespoons butter, divided, plus more to grease muffin tins

1 large chopped onion

1/4 cup minced shallots (about 3)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup white wine

3½ cups diced ripe pears (4 or 5 firm Bartlett or Anjou) plus 1 whole pear

1 teaspoon sugar

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1-1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)

1/4 cup minced chives

1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 cups turkey stock

Tear bread into small pieces in a bowl, cover with paper towels and dry overnight. Or place batches on a baking sheet and lightly toast.

Wipe mushrooms with a damp towel, trim and slice thickly or chop.

In large skillet cook pancetta over medium heat, about 7 minutes; remove to large bowl..

Add 2 tablespoons butter to skillet, turn heat to medium high, add onions and shallots, salt and pepper to cook and stir until just soft, not brown; add to reserved pancetta.

Next add 2 tablespoons butter, mushrooms, salt, pepper; saute quickly; add to mixture.

Then add the wine; cook until reduced by half; pour any liquid left over the mixture.

Wipe skillet, add last butter, diced pears, sugar, salt, pepper; saute until fruit begins to brown. Add bread to sauteed ingredients and toss lightly. Add herbs and toss again with 1 cup of stock or enough to make very moist stuffing. Adjust salt and pepper, remembering that if you’ve brined the bird, it’s already salty.

Just before cooking, lightly pack room-temperature stuffing inside the prepared turkey. Place the whole pear in the opening of the cavity to keep stuffing in place. Roast away!

For stuffing balls: In a preheated 375 degree oven, place a 12-muffin tin, generously buttered and packed with stuffing, adding 1 tablespoon stock to each cup. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden bottom crusts form. Remove balls with a butter knife.

-- adapted from The New York Times


Peggy Trevanion follows the recipe on the box but only for the first step of her perennial stuffing. The cornbread can be made a day or two before Thanksgiving.

1 loaf cornbread from a boxed mix, minus all added sugar or with only 1 tablespoon of sugar,

to produce 6 cups of coarse crumbs

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons olive oil or oil of your choice

1 cup finely chopped onions

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1 pound well-seasoned turkey sausage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/4 cup milk or cream

1/4 cup sherry, apple juice or cider

Melt butter and oil in a large skillet, add onions and celery and stir over moderate heat for 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned, then scrape into a large bowl.

Add sausage to skillet and break up the meat until lightly browned; then add to the bowl.

Add the cornbread crumbs, salt, pepper, parsley and thyme, and with a large spoon gently mix everything while slowly adding the remaining liquids. Adjust the seasonings.

-- Peggy Trevanion

P.S. Debbie Clark’s variation on cornbread stuffing is made with bulk pork sausage and the addition of sage. Her cornbread is cubed and lightly toasted. The recipe from Marlene Sorosky’s “Season’s Greetings” cookbook (Chronicle, 1997) includes directions for baking the stuffing in a greased casserole: First, moisten the mixture with a little more broth , then bake in a covered dish in a 325 to 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes before uncovering for 30 more minutes if you want a crisp top. Adding some turkey drippings boosts the flavor.


Barbara Mendicino copied this recipe from the “Better Homes & Gardens” website and held onto it for years. Now’s the time! It serves 8 to 10.

4 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 10 cups)

1/2 cup frozen orange-juice concentrate, thawed

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

1½ teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried sage

1/2 teaspoon crushed dried thyme

2 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes

4 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled

Place potatoes in a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. In a bowl, mix orange juice, sugar, salt, sage, thyme; pour over potatoes and toss to coat. Dot with butter.

Cover and cook on low heat for 5 to 6 hours or on high heat for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Before serving, stir to redistribute the orange syrup, then sprinkle with crumbled bacon.

-- Better Homes & Gardens


Alyce Amery-Spencer prefers another orange vegetable.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, thinly sliced

1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

3/4 cup grated Comte cheese

A few fresh chives, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch baking dish.

In a large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, 4 minutes. Add squash slices and nutmeg and cook until slightly tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer mixture to the baking dish, pour on the cream, sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese on top, dot with remaining 1 tablespoons butter.

Bake until golden and bubbly, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve at once, sprinkled with chives.


MUSHROOMS WITH HERBS (Champignons Fines Herbes au Gratin)

Cynthia-Grace Devine-Kepner struck gold when she dug out a dollar for William I. Kaufman’s “La Cuisine dans un Chateau” (“Cooking in the Castle”), at the Mt. Lebanon resale book store.

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons grated onion

1 tablespoon each minced fresh parsley, chives, chervil

1/8 teaspoon each dried tarragon, pepper, thyme

1 mashed garlic clove

3/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons tarragon vinegar

1/3 cup butter (5-1/3 tablespoons)

1 cup buttered bread crumbs

Put all ingredients except butter and bread crumbs in a deep bowl and let marinate for two hours, stirring occasionally. Drain. Melt butter in a skillet and add mushrooms to cook, stirring occasionally, until tender. Turn into a shallow, buttered dish and sprinkle with buttered crumbs. Place under the broiler until lightly browned.

-- “La Cuisine dans un Chateau” by William I. Kaufman (Bonanza, 1965)


When using as many varieties as available, this tousle of vegetables is subtly colorful and outspokenly delicious. It’s the Food52 version of Jerry Traunfeld’s recipe in “The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor” (Morrow, 2005) and serves 6.

2 pounds medium-sized assorted carrots, parsnips, burdock, rutabagas, yams, parsley

root, salsify or golden beets (avoid red beets that would bleed all over the place)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup coarsely chopped sage

1¼ teaspoons kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon maple syrup

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Wash and peel roots and discard peelings. Continue to peel with a sharp hand tool or mandoline, the full length of the root from top to tip, rotating a quarter turn after each swipe, until you reach the core that’s too small to work with. (Save scraps for stock.)

Next, melt butter with sage in large skillet over medium heat and stir-fry for a minute.

Add vegetables and all the rest, with 3/4 cup water.

Continue cooking over medium heat, turning with tongs every minute of so, until liquid boils away and ribbons are glazed and tender, about 10 minutes total.

Serve right away or cool and reheat in a skillet when ready to eat.



All desserts after an overloading feast aren’t pumpkin pies. With a variation suggested by Food52, these become herbal treats. They’re good for just popping in your mouth, adding to brunch or dessert buffets, garnishing cakes or sundaes (or how about a baked ham?).

-- Nancy Hanst

1 cup water

2 teaspoons rose water

1/2 teaspoon green cardamom seeds (from about 2 tablespoons of pods)

2½ cups granulated sugar, divided

1 cup fresh cranberries

Bring water, rose water, cardamom seeds and 1 cup sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Stir until sugar dissolves, then remove from heat.

Cool syrup for 10 minutes, then add cranberries and cool completely.

Stow in an air-tight jar and refrigerate from 8 to 24 hours. Drain very well but before the syrup dries.

Spread remaining 1-1/2 cups sugar on a plate and, working slowly by the small handfuls, toss cranberries in the sugar and coat all the way around. Transfer to a baking sheet and dry for at least an hour. Candies keep in an air-tight jar for 2 to 3 days before softening.



Half warm salad-half vegetable dish, as Danny Meyer and Michael Romano suggest in “Union Square Café Cookbook.” 

-- Nancy Hanst

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed, halved lengthwise and sliced very thin

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 minced garlic clove

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1/4 cup dry white wine

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine sprouts with lemon juice.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the oil. When it’s hot, stir in the sprouts, garlic and poppy seeds and cook. Add wine and continue stirring until the sprouts are bright green and just tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6.

-- “Union Square Cafe Cookbook” by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano (HarperCollins, 1994)


Make a couple of hours ahead so the flavors have time to meld. This works as a spread on pitas, bread or wraps, too. Or for fresh Jerusalem artichokes. If you have rosemary pesto (made with half parsley, half rosemary and olive oil), use in place of the rosemary.

1 can cannellini beans (or any white beans)

Olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

I tablespoon lemon zest

Salt to taste

Drain and mash beans with a fork to make a rough paste, or use a food processor or blender for smoother texture. Add the rest.

-- Peggy Trevanion

SPICY CHICKPEAS (Garbanzo Beans)

Silloo Kapadia writes: “This is my Indian-style recipe.” Serve as a side dish or, Indian or not, as an addition to a big salad bowlful of massaged kale.

2 large onions,sliced

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon coarse black pepper (optional)

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/ teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon chili powder (optional)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce

15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and liquid saved

Brown onions, seeds and salt in oil on low-medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes.

Add pepper, all powders and cilantro and stir for 5 minutes.

Add Worchestershire sauce and cook for 3 minutes.

Add beans and cook for 5 minutes, using liquid from the can if the mix seems too dry.


Susan Parker forwards this news from “The Washington Post”: “The Obamas’ Thanksgiving menu this year includes this salad with ingredients from the famous White House vegetable garden.” 

For the dressing:

1 medium shallot, minced

6 tablespoons lemon juice (about 2 medium lemons)

1/4 cup red-wine vinegar

1 cup olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the salad:

2 bunches young kale

1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced

4 radishes, thinly sliced

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

1 scallion, white and light green parts, thinly sliced

4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved or slivered

1 cup marcona almonds (1 cup)

In a medium bowl, gradually whisk oil into the other ingredients for the dressing.

Wash and spin-dry the kale, then stack and cut into thin slices. Place in a large bowl.

About 10 minutes before serving, add the amount of dressing that tastes right to you (some may be left over). Then toss to coat evenly.

Add everything else and toss again. Then serve.

Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Slide onto a platter and serve.

Serves 6.

-- Washington Post


Here’s another sweet nibble that stretches the definition of herb to include pumpkin seeds. Make a week ahead and store in an air-tight container.

-- Nancy Hanst

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup raw shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Using a wooden spoon, stir sugar, syrup and water in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar melts, about 3 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low and continue stirring until sugar becomes light golden-brown, about 12 to 14 minutes. Add butter and allow to melt, then add seeds. Cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown,about 3 minutes. Add soda, table salt, cinnamon, cayenne, and stir for 1 minute.

Pour mixture onto a parchment paper-lined sheet treated with nonstick spray. Using a rubber spatula, spread brittle into an even layer, then sprinkle with sea salt. Allow to cool and harden at room temperature, about 1 hour. Once cooled, break into bite-size pieces.



Nancy Hanst:


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