Welcome to the next installment of my 2020 Christmas menu. In this post, I will be sharing the sides – the best part of any holiday meal, in my opinion. In this post, you will find three, yes three, recipes. It was a monster of a post to shoot and write and for some reason, I felt compelled to turn it into an Insta reel as well. I don’t say this to make you feel bad, I most definitely did it to myself. I only mention it to illustrate my dedication to the art form of making scene-stealing sides. And I think all the sides chronicled in this post have achieved lofty heights – yes, even the salad. So without further ado, allow me to present Char Siu Squash, Chestnut Fried Rice, and Asian Pear Salad.
Now, if you’re confused by these sides, I would suggest backtracking a post to get the skinny on the theme of this year’s Christmas Dinner. I will give you the cliff notes version, though. These sides are inspired in equal measure by Chinese Takeout and a classic Christmas Dinner. So let’s kick things off with the Char Siu Squash.
Growing up BBQ Pork Fried Rice was my Chinese takeout go-to. As I grew up and shirked some of my North American ignorance, I learned that the “BBQ pork” I loved so well was actually called char siu. It then became my obsession to recreate it at home. And through a lot of trial and error and the sound advice from Chinese food bloggers – shout out to Woks of Life, in particular – I finally got my char siu where I wanted it. But once something is near perfect, it’s time to f*ck with it, naturally. Enter the squash.
Basically, I took a buttercup squash and roasted it with a little olive oil and salt until buttery. I chose a buttercup squash because they tend to be dense in texture and hold their shape well, which was ideal for the next step in this recipe. Once the squash is roasted, you marinate it as you would a piece of pork. Yes, that’s right, I want you to marinate squash as if it is meat. And you’re going to do that for a minimum of four hours before placing the squash once more on a baking sheet. Yep, the squash is going back in the oven slathered with a glaze made from the residual marinade and barley malt syrup. Do you see why it’s important to select a squash with structural integrity?
Next up we have Chestnut Fried Rice. The Christmas reference must be relatively obvious here – Nat King Cole made sure of that. But chestnuts also hold prominence in Chinese cuisine as well. They are frequently consumed fried or roasted as a snack. The rice portion of the fried rice is cooked jasmine rice that has had time to chill in the fridge. This ensures separation of the individual grains in the finished dish – no one wants clumpy rice. The supporting ingredients are shallots, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, mint, and dried cranberries for a little extra festive charm. The lot is seasoned with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, oyster sauce and honey. Simple, straightforward, delicious!
Finally, we have the Asian Pear Salad, which is essentially a fruit salad of pomegranate arils, orange slices, and Asian pear, of course. Complete with a ginger-lime dressing, this salad serves as a refreshing counterpart to the Char Siu Squash and the Chestnut Fried Rice. It’s also incredibly easy to make.
The Asian Pear Salad is this meal’s gimme. I believe that every large, multi-course meal should have a dish that is so easy you can make it after you’ve had the first cocktail but before you’ve moved onto wine. An awful lot of preparation and work goes into any Christmas dinner, there should be one dish that is effortlessly beautiful, and delicious on every table. A total gimme! Seriously, you don’t need to be a hero when it comes to every dish. You’ve already made egg rolls – you’ve done enough.
So, that’s everything you need to know about my Christmas 2020 sides. You can make them all or pick and choose a few to include on your own table. I think they will play nice with most festive mains. So whatever you’re planning on serving on December 25th, I think you’ll find a successful sidekick below.
Char Siu Squash with Red Curry Honey Peanuts
- 1 buttercup squash seeds removed, cut into wedges
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 cloves garlic grated
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- ¼ cup Shaoxing wine
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup oyster sauce
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp gochugaru** optional
- 2 tbsp maltose or barley malt syrup***
Red Curry Honey Peanuts
- 1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp red curry paste
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar divided
- 1 tbsp lime zest
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the squash wedges on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the squash with olive oil and evenly sprinkle with the salt. Roast the squash for 20 minutes or until tender.
- While the squash is roasting, place the garlic, ginger, wine, soy sauce, hoisin, oyster sauce, brown sugar, and gochugaru in a bowl and whisk to combine. Place the squash in a large bowl or roasting dish and pour the mixture over top. Cover and transfer to the fridge. Marinate the squash for four hours, flipping the squash halfway through.
- After the squash has sat for four hours, preheat the oven to 450°F. Transfer the squash to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and set aside.
- Pour the remaining marinade into a saucepan and add the maltose or barley malt syrup. Place the saucepan over medium-low heat and bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Take the glaze off of the heat and brush evenly over the squash.
- Place the squash in the oven and roast for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and roast for 5 minutes more or until the squash is slightly charred on the edges.
For the Peanuts
- Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Place the peanuts, honey, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and red curry paste in a bowl. Toss to combine and coat. Spread the peanuts in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Roast the peanuts for 20-30 minutes, tossing every 10 minutes, until they turn golden. Once the peanuts are done, leave them to cool in the pan for five minutes before transferring them to a bowl.
- Sprinkle the peanuts with the remaining sugar and lime zest and toss to coat. Some peanuts will clump together to form clusters, while others will fly solo. Let cool completely before storing the nuts in an airtight container until ready to serve.
- Arrange the squash slices on a large platter and top with the cooled peanuts. Serve immediately.
Chestnut Fried Rice
- large wok
- 2 tbsp neutral oil I used canola
- 3 shallots halved and sliced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 (1-inch) knob ginger peeled and minced
- 227g (8oz) button mushrooms sliced
- 100g (3.5oz) peeled, roasted chestnuts coarsely chopped
- ½ dried cranberries
- 2 cups cooked jasmine rice chilled
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 3-5 green chilis thinly sliced
- 5 scallions thinly sliced
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh mint finely chopped
- 2 tbsp Thai basil** optional
- In a large wok heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the scallions and saute until just translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, and mushrooms and saute until browned.
- Stir in the chestnuts and dried cranberries and saute until the cranberries begin to plump – about 2-3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the rice
- In a small bowl, whisk to combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce, Shaoxing wine, honey, and lime juice. Pour mixture over the rice and toss to combine. Stir in the scallions and chilis and cook for a minute more.
- Take the rice off of the heat and stir in the mint, cilantro, and Thai basil. Serve immediately.
Asian Pear Salad
- 2 Asian Pears peeled and sliced
- 1 navel orange skin removed and sliced into rounds
- ½ cup pomegranate arils
- 2 tbsp fresh mint finely chopped
- 1 lime juiced
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp honey
- Place the pears, orange, pomegranate, and mint in a large bowl. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk to combine the lime juice, ginger, olive oil, and honey. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.
- Serve immediately or chill in the fridge until ready to serve. The salad is best enjoyed the day it's made.