Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal (or a holiday party-size platter) from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
Any meal with multiple side dishes can get expensive. Thanksgiving, with its large-format bird and many accoutrements, is especially pricey. Between inflation and the national turkey shortage, this year in particular is shaping up to be the most costly in ages. But there’s no reason to fret. “Making budget-conscious food exciting” is a fun challenge.
When it comes to Thanksgiving, I say skip the pricier vegetables (green beans, brussels sprouts) and tag in creative renditions of cheaper produce, like sweet potatoes—just about $2 per pound. When topped with an herby dressing of preserved lemon and toasted sesame seeds, simple roasted sweet potatoes feel more than worthy of their place on the holiday table.
Preserved lemons*, or lemons that have been packed in salt and left to pickle, form the base of this dressing. While preserved lemons are a smidge more expensive than fresh, they bring more than floral, sour notes to a recipe; their additional saltiness and a touch of umami renders them a powerful ingredient that does the work of many in one.
Here, very finely chopped preserved lemon is mixed with grated raw garlic, parsley, apple cider vinegar and freshly toasted sesame seeds for a vibrant, complex dressing that instantly upgrades the humble roasted sweet potato. Think something between a chimichurri and a vinaigrette. If making this for Thanksgiving, consider doubling the dressing; I have a hunch you’re going to want extra to top the sliced turkey on your plate.
A cheap-but-festive dish like this calls for a cheap-but-festive wine: To me, that means Lambrusco. While the flavors of inexpensive Champagne and Prosecco can leave something to be desired, you rarely need to go above $20 for a great bottle of the juicy-fruity, frizzante Italian red. For example, Cleto Chiarli e Figli Secco Lambrusco di Sorbara del Fondatore (90 points for the 2020 vintage) typically sells for $19 or less.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Preserved Lemon Dressing
Pair this Thanksgiving side with a lightly sparkling red wine that can stand on its own for a pre-dinner toast, but also transition to the table for the duration of the meal. Recent vintages of Cleto Chiarli e Figli Secco Lambrusco di Sorbara del Fondatore (90 points, $19), or another similar sparkling Italian red, are juicy and bright, but not too sweet.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Approximate food costs: $10
Serves: 8 to 10
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 8 small (about 2 pounds) sweet potatoes, scrubbed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small preserved lemon (if your local grocer doesn’t carry it, look online)*
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) very finely chopped parsley leaves and stems
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
*NOTE: If you can’t find preserved lemon (but I bet you can!), I’m going to assume you don’t have time to make your own (unless you’d like to wait a month before making this recipe). Instead, thickly slice 1 small fresh lemon and remove the seeds. Finely chop the entire lemon—yes, skin, pith and flesh—and place in a small bowl with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Let that sit for at least 20 minutes before making the dressing. Keep in mind: Fresh lemons are juicier and more sharply acidic than preserved, which are sticky-soft, saltier and tangier. If using fresh, taste the dressing before adding apple cider vinegar—it may be plenty punchy already!
1. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Place the sesame seeds on a dry, unlined sheet pan and bake until fragrant and slightly darkened, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate to cool completely and keep the sheet pan for the next step.
2. Increase the oven heat to 425ºF. Halve the sweet potatoes and place on the sheet pan. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and lots of black pepper. Arrange the potatoes cut-side down and roast until very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. While the potatoes roast, thickly slice the preserved lemon and remove any seeds. Finely chop the lemon (skin, pith and flesh) and place in a small bowl. Place the garlic cloves on the cutting board and use the flat of your knife to smash the garlic cloves, removing and discarding skins. Sprinkle garlic with a pinch of salt. Alternating between chopping and smashing with your knife, crush the garlic into a paste. Place in the bowl with preserved lemon. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and parsley. Slowly whisk in 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Season with salt to taste.
4. When you’re ready to serve, stir the toasted sesame seeds into the dressing. Place the sweet potatoes (they can be warm or room temperature) on a serving plate. Spoon over the dressing and serve. Serves 8–10.