What’s your go-to Thanksgiving dish? Does it lean traditional, or do you venture beyond what most would consider holiday fare?
When I was a child growing up in Mount Airy, my grandmother Hattie Hall would gather chestnuts from her neighbor’s yard and roast them in the wood-burning stove to use for her dressing. I’ll never forget the popping noises they made, which my cousins told me were worms bursting inside the chestnut. (They were not.)
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Xpress reached out to local residents — both professional and amateur chefs — for their favorite recipes and the stories behind them.
Bring on the green beans
Chef J Chong grew up in Toronto but spent most of her adult life in Mississippi and Louisiana before moving to Asheville in 2016. For holidays, she enjoys incorporating her Chinese-Canadian background into dishes, including Sichuan green beans.
“This dish is most commonly made during Lunar New Year celebrations, but because green beans are an easy cultural crossover dish, I love to serve it at Thanksgiving and other holiday feasts‚” she says. “I have witnessed a wide variety of food traditions, and my food is a unique expression of my experiences. I’m not a traditional holiday person. I like my vegetables to be clean and fresh tasting with a bite, while still showcasing their cross-cultural versatility.”
Sichuan green beans
1 pound haricot verts (you can substitute with green beans or Asian long beans)
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of preserved mustard greens (sui mi ya cai)
3 dried red chilies, deseeded and chopped
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (you can substitute with sherry)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste
Wash haricot verts; if using green beans or long beans trim the tough ends and cut long beans in thirds. Pat dry haricot verts before cooking. Heat ¼ cup of oil in a wok over medium-high heat and shallow-fry the green beans in two batches. Once they appear wrinkled and slightly scorched, they are ready to remove from the wok. When the green beans are nicely blistered, remove remaining oil except for 1 tablespoon. Turn heat down to low and add ginger, garlic, dried chilies, preserved mustard greens and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir fry for one minute, until fragrant. Turn the heat back up to high, add haricot verts. After three minutes add Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Toss or flip to incorporate it all. Season with salt to taste.
Dress it up
Local musician Jenny Bradley is a mother of two and a music instructor. When her career initially took her to New York City, Bradley didn’t leave her upstate South Carolina roots behind. Now in Asheville, she still keeps her grandmother’s recipes close by.
“When I first moved to NYC, I’d call my grandma Doris Bradley every Thanksgiving and ask her to remind me how to make her delicious dressing,” she says. “My New York friends who are used to stuffing loved this Southern dressing. It’s an ‘eyeball’ recipe, so it always turns out a little different. But it’s perfect every time, whether it slices like moist cornbread or dollops out like dressing. I make this just before dinner is served.”
Doris and Jenny Bradley’s Thanksgiving dressing
Two-day-old buttermilk biscuits
Hot turkey drippings
Hen fat (or chicken stock)
1 1/2 sticks of butter
Celery stalk, finely chopped
Vidalia onion, finely chopped
Fresh sage to garnish
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a large glass casserole dish. Crumble several buttermilk biscuits and more cornbread than biscuits in large mixing bowl until fine. Add salt and pepper. In a large cast iron skillet, melt 1/2 a stick of butter or more and saute celery and onions. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. Add eggs to bread mixture and stir. Add celery and onions and stir. Add large amount of turkey drippings until bread mixture is somewhat soupy. If more liquid is needed, use chicken stock. Once the mixture is a thick soupy texture, add dried sage to taste and stir again. Pour the mixture into the buttered casserole dish. Drizzle half a stick of melted butter over the top. Bake in oven for 30 minutes. Broil for three minutes to crisp the top. Garnish with one leaf of fresh sage in the center.
Passed down through generations
Marcie “Ducky” Molton‘s family goes back several generations in Western North Carolina. A mother of six — and grandmother and great-grandmother to many more — Molton has fed her family with the following Thanksgiving side dishes for over 70 years. The recipes have been passed down through family members and were taught to Molton by her mother.
Ducky’s delicious creamed onions
2-3 small onions per person
1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of all-purpose flour
1/2 stick (or more) of butter
Pinch of sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the onions and boil slowly to maintain layers until tender (don’t overcook), set aside. In a separate pan combine milk, butter, flour, salt and pepper. Add the optional pinch of sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly to prevent sauce from scorching. Continue cooking until sauce thickens. Then carefully add onions, gently stirring to coat onions. Add additional salt and pepper if desired.
Ducky’s amazing mashed rutabagas
3 small or 2 large rutabagas
5 slices of bacon
Salt and pepper
Pinch of sugar
Peel and chop rutabagas into small cubes. In a large saucepan, fry bacon until drippings form. Add two cups of water and boil five minutes. Add rutabagas and additional water, just enough to cover rutabagas. Boil an additional five to 10 minutes until tender. Drain broth and sit aside. Do not discard. Remove bacon and mash rutabagas leaving some lumps. Add salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Crisp bacon in the microwave, crumble and use for garnish (optional).
Deep roots and a sweet ending
Joseph McElroy and his wife, Simone, own the Meadowlark Motel in Maggie Valley. McElroy’s family has lived in the Smoky Mountains for nearly two centuries. He says he has woven the threads of his heritage into the fabric of HomeCraft, the motel’s on-site restaurant, and its bar, the Speakeasy.
“The motel stands as a vibrant intersection of past and present, where family legacy and culinary traditions come together to create unforgettable experiences,” he says. “Here, guests are treated to dishes that tell a story — a story of resilience, love and the power of food to preserve memories and foster connections.”
One of the recipes that takes center stage during the McElroys holiday gatherings is the cast iron pineapple upside-down cake. “This dessert is not just a treat — it’s a living memory of my grandmother and aunts, who would prepare it with love and care for Thanksgiving celebrations,” he says. “The use of a cast iron skillet pays homage to the traditional cooking methods of the Scots Irish settlers in the Appalachians, grounding the dish in the history of the region and the McElroy family.”
The culinary journey doesn’t end there. Sautéed hominy, a dish rooted in both Native American and African American culinary traditions, is also part of the McElroy family holiday spread. This simple dish is a nod to McElroy’s late wife, Donna‘s, African American roots. Simone’s Trinidadian background has strong culinary influences in many dishes as well — on the family table, as well as the restaurant’s menu.
2 cups canned hominy, drained
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 bell pepper, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and bell pepper, saute until softened. Stir in the hominy, cooking until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Cast iron pineapple upside-down cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 20-ounce can of sliced pineapple, drained and juice preserved
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup preserved pineapple juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, melt 1/2 cup butter over medium heat. Stir in the brown sugar until well combined and spread evenly across the skillet. Arrange the pineapple slices in a single layer over the brown sugar mixture, placing a maraschino cherry in the center of each slice. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate large bowl, cream together 1/2 cup softened butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla extract. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients, alternating with the milk and pineapple juice, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Pour the batter over the pineapple slices in the skillet, spreading evenly. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the skillet for 10 minutes, then carefully invert it onto a serving plate. Serve warm or at room temperature.