CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Not every group that gathers for Thanksgiving dinner sits down to a formally set table. Even if they do, the harried cook who sets out the entree and side dishes is unlikely to present them as embellished and worthy of a Bon Appetit photo shoot.
It doesn't take long to gussy up the bird, though, in case someone does want a photo. The word is garnish, and it can be the difference between a bland plate of beige slices of turkey and a platter enticingly enhanced with herb leaves, small colorful fruits or vegetables, nuts or even edible flowers.
Who has time for this, you might ask. That's why we're running these suggestions a week before the big day. You can include some berries or fresh herbs on your Thanksgiving grocery shopping list. Or you might just have some possibilities in your own yard.
I curse when the pollen and catkins falls in the spring, and when the leaves and husks litter our patio in the fall, but a hickory tree in our back yard provides plenty of brown nuts to scatter among sage leaves bordering the bird. I know the newer blooms on the pansies in my garden don't harbor any pesticides, at least from me, so they could be tucked in, also.
If you're zesting a lemon or orange for a cranberry salad, first cut a curl or two with a vegetable peeler to use as a garnish before you zest.
The purpose of garnishing a dish is to make it more visually appealing, so consider adding items that contrast in texture and color. To keep garnishing as simple as possible, use items in their natural form. Look for items like miniature vegetables or small fruits, whole herbs and nuts.
The ingredients in the dish provide inspiration for garnishes. You probably used sage on the turkey and stuffing, so tuck sage leaves on the turkey platter. Many cranberry dishes call for orange, so orange curls are both a culinary and a visual match.
In researching this story, I found some amazing instructions on how to create intricate garnishes such as flowers from carrots, a red pepper chicken from a hard-boiled egg, and butterflies from lemons and limes. Personally, I think carrot curls and chilled butter pats are plenty fancy.
And you can never go wrong with parsley. The curly leaf variety in particular perks up just about any presentation.
Here are simple garnish suggestions for popular Thanksgiving dishes.
The muted green of fresh sage leaves interspersed with small bunches of multicolored grapes are a classic garnish for roasted turkey. Whole, uncracked nuts, cranberries, pearl onions, even Brussel sprouts add interesting texture and color.
Sprigs of sage, parsley and rosemary, alone or combined add a variety of textures.
Dice parsley or chives to sprinkle on top, and tuck sprigs along the outer edge. For more color, dust with paprika.
Sweet potato casserole
Contrast the casserole's orange color with sage or rosemary leaves tucked along the side. For the sweet marshmallow casserole variety, try orange curls on top of the white marshmallow topping.
Green bean casserole
For the classic Durkee onion green bean casserole, thinly slice some mushrooms and arrange in the corner, since the common recipe calls for cream of mushroom soup. For green beans almandine, toast and sprinkle some extra almonds on top.