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  • Writer's pictureMona Shah

Add A Desi Kick To Traditional Thanksgiving Sides

With the traditional turkey off my vegetarian plate, I load up on spiced-up, flavorful Thanksgiving sides

As Thanksgiving approaches, American households prepare to gather with loved ones and indulge in a feast that celebrates gratitude and abundance. While the classic turkeytakes center stage on the dining table, the essence of Thanksgiving lies in the diverse array of side dishes that accompany it. While I have always loved the holiday, being vegetarian, I looked to the sides to load up on. Frankly, they were rather starch forward and usually lacked spice.

When I started celebrating Thanksgiving at my house, our desi table was laden with dishes that reflected a unique and flavorful twist. Rather than worrying about cooking a traditional meal, we celebrate the way dishes organically evolve in the diaspora communities. The vegetarian sides that I have come up with this year include many of my favorite dishes Indianized to add a nice kick. They are easy, breezy recipes that can be made ahead of time and used throughout the holidays.

Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps

Meat-free Lettuce Wraps (Photo: Mona Shah)


  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce

  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

  • 2 teaspoons canola oil

  • 1 package extra-firm tofu (12 to 14 ounces)

  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms finely chopped

  • 1 can water chestnuts (8 ounces), drained and finely chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic minced

  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (omit if sensitive to spice)

  • 4 green onions thinly sliced, divided

  • 8 large inner leaves romaine lettuce from a romaine heart or butter lettuce leaves


  1. In a small bowl, stir together the hoisin, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Set aside.

  2. Press the tofu between paper towels to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Refresh the paper towels and press again. Heat the 2 teaspoons canola oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Once the oil is hot, crumble in the tofu, breaking it into very small pieces as it cooks. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, then add the diced mushrooms. Continue cooking until any remaining tofu liquid cooks off and the tofu starts to turn golden, about 3 minutes more. Stir in the water chestnuts, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and half of the green onions and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more.

  3. Pour the sauce over the top of the tofu mixture and stir to coat. Cook just until you hear bubbling and the sauce is warmed through, 30 to 60 seconds.

  4. Spoon the tofu mixture into individual lettuce leaves

  5. Alternatively, you can keep the sauce in a separate bowl and spoon over the wraps as needed.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

Crispy Smashed Potatoes (Photo: Mona Shah)


  • 12 to 14 small-to-medium red or yellow potatoes

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, chives or the green part of spring onions

  • Optional: thin sev


  1. To prepare the potatoes, rinse and remove any nubby sprouts. Place the potatoes in a large pot.

  2. Fill the pot with salted water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook till potatoes can be easily pierced with a knife, approx. 20 mins. Do not overcook.

  3. While the potatoes cook, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a large, rimmed baking sheet. Brush the oil so it’s evenly distributed over the sheet.

  4. When the potatoes are done, drain them in a large colander and let them cool for about 5 minutes, until they can be handled safely.

  5. Evenly distribute the potatoes over the prepared baking sheet, and use a potato masher or fork to gently smash each potato. (Thinner potatoes are crisper.)

  6. Add garlic powder, onion powder and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle over the smashed potatoes. Finally, sprinkle them lightly with freshly ground black pepper.

  7. Bake until the potatoes are nice and golden on the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes.

  8. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, sev and serve hot.

Oat Bars with Nuts and Chocolate Chips

Nutty, chocolaty oatmeal bars. (Photo: Mona Shah)


  • 1 ½ cups Dark chocolate chips

  • 1 cup rolled oats (uncooked)

  • 1/4 cup flour (substitute with almond or GF blend flour)

  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

  • 1/4 tsp baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

  • 1/4 tsp salt

  • 2 tbsp coconut oil

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/4 cup maple syrup

  • 1/4 cup almond, peanut or cashew butter

  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

  • 1/3 cup chocolate chip

  • 1 ½ cup a mix of walnuts and pecans, chopped (or any nut of your choice)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the oats, flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, walnut-pecan mix and chocolate chips. Set aside.

  3. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the coconut oil and microwave for 15-20 seconds. Slowly beat in the eggs. Add in the maple syrup, nut butter and vanilla. Mix until combined.

  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until well combined.

  5. Spray a 9×13 baking pan with baking spray or line with parchment paper. Spread dough evenly across the pan.

  6. Bake for 25-28 minutes.

  7. Allow bars to cool for at least 30 mins before cutting.


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