Thanksgiving Vegetable Choices

Thanksgiving dinner is a wonderful meal for sharing winter vegetables from the kitchen garden. The challenge is to figure out how to serve the greatest number of these tasty roots and greens without overwhelming the guests or the turkey.

This year, in an effort to combine lots of root vegetables into one earthy, colorful dish, I’m planning to cut rutabaga, turnip, carrots, parsnips, beets and celery root into bite sized pieces, roast them at about 400 degrees until they are soft, then toss the still-warm roots with an apple cider vinaigrette and serve this dish at room temperature as a salad. I may even arrange the roasted roots on a bed of radicchio or arugula so I can include these favorite hardy greens in the mix. Thanks to my friend Nancy for the inspiration for this salad.

Brussels sprouts are another favorite winter vegetable and Thanksgiving classic that many but not all guests like. A little camouflage goes a long way to creating converts. Rather than simply steaming whole sprouts, I sometimes slice them thinly and sauté them quickly in butter. Or I will halve or quarter them, toss them in olive oil and roast them at 450 degrees until they begin to crisp, usually in five minutes or so. Either way their appearance is unfamiliar enough that people try a few and then try more.

Mashed potatoes are the perfect vehicle for gravy and an essential part of Thanksgiving dinner but winter squash also mashes beautifully and holds gravy just as well as mashed potatoes do. Instead of serving one bowl of potatoes and one of squash, I’m considering a single bowl of Alice Waters’ Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree from Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996), not two but three vegetables in one dish. It’s deliciously rich on its own and gravy would only make it better. Mashed potato purists might resist until they try it, but just to be safe, I may serve a separate bowl of mashed potatoes.

Finally, winter salads are sometimes on my Thanksgiving menu and when they are they often feature our apples or pears mixed with hardy greens, kale, mache, arugula or radicchios, and maybe toasted nuts or even crunchy bits of raw celery root. This year, I have a lovely crop of flavorful, dark green mache thanks to seeds saved and shared by my friend Heike. I could make a simple mache salad with sherry vinegar vinaigrette, but if I decide my roasted roots dish fills the salad slot, I might skip the greens and serve a platter of roasted pears. Their caramelized sweetness would mix well all the other dishes and provide a sweet complement to tart cranberry sauce.

So many vegetables, so many choices: I’ll decide by Thursday morning. And I’ll post photos of the finished dishes then.

Day After Thanksgiving:

With the turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce, we enjoyed roasted roots with apple cider vinaigrette, mache salad, roasted Brussels sprouts and Alice Water’s squash, potato, and celery root puree.

T-day vegetables

T-day diners

Apple Cider Vinaigrette

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup apple cider

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

2 Tbsp. finely shopped shallot

1 Tbsp. whole grain Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp. honey

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover with lid and shake well. Makes 1 ¼ cups

Store vinaigrette, covered, in the fridge. Let stand 10 minutes or until room temperature. Shake well and check seasoning before using.



Happy Thanksgiving!

Last November I wrote a column about vegetables side dishes for the Thanksgiving table and the pleasures of remembering the friends who brought them and the many ways they prepared them.  Here’s the column below.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S.  The Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins are as wonderful as everyone says!

Thanksgiving Reverie

It’s November and people are planning Thanksgiving dinner menus and inviting friends and family. In these weeks and days before the big meal, before trying to remember how to cook a turkey, there’s pleasure in thinking back on past Thanksgiving dinners and remembering who brought what side dishes to this ultimate potluck. The vegetables are familiar: Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, potatoes, onions, kale, winter squash.  Their presentation changes with the guests who bring them.

Take Brussels sprouts, for example.  For years, they were a vegetable I prepared, boiling them whole after cutting an X in each base so they’d cook evenly, watching them carefully and removing them while they were still green and flavorful, hoping they’d convert the skeptics.

Then sometime in the early ‘90s our friend Liz offered to fix them, cutting them in half, steaming them, mixing them with chestnuts, bacon and shallots and tossing all in a mustard cream sauce.  This dish appealed to many, especially bacon lovers, and was the standard for as long as Liz could join us.

Back on my own to fix them, I disguised the mini-cabbage shaped sprouts by slicing them thinly and then sautéing the pile of slivered sprouts in browned butter.  This preparation is now a favorite, though there is the variation of thicker slices tossed in olive oil and roasted on a cookie sheet in a hot oven.  Either appeals to Brussels sprouts skeptics.

Other vegetables have also made the shift from boiling to roasting.  Mashed rutabaga, a favorite at our neighbor’s Thanksgiving and one they shared when they joined us, has been replaced with rutabaga sliced into strips, tossed in olive oil and roasted like French fries.  We all like it better this way, but I still remember the first time I prepared mashed rutabaga with my neighbor’s mom.  She told me to grip the rutabaga with a dishtowel when I cut into it so it wouldn’t slide around.  I still do that, for safety, but also for the pleasure of remembering Sallie.

Roasted vegetables may be healthier but butter and cream aren’t absent from the table.   Making perfect mashed potatoes is really an art, one that my neighbor Laura has mastered.  She claims it’s the butter, lots of it.  Whatever, this is one dish no one wants changed.

And kale, such a health food when simply steamed or braised takes on new dimensions with the addition of heavy cream.  I didn’t know this until my friend Karen described it as one of her family’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes and I tried it.

Onions, on the other hand, have become healthier.  After years of traditional creamed onions, we now bring to the table thick onion slices that have been brushed with a little olive oil, roasted on cookie sheets until soft, then tossed with sherry vinegar and a pinch of cayenne.

Winter squash was always on the Thanksgiving table: sweet, nutty, bright orange fleshed Buttercup, baked like a potato and then, after removal of seeds, scooped into a bowl and served.  Then one year our friend Chris brought “Sweet and Sour Squash with Mint,” quarter inch slices of winter squash fried until tender and slightly blistered in garlic flavored olive oil, sprinkled with chopped mint and marinated in a vinegar and sugar sauce.  It hasn’t replaced Buttercup, but it has freed up some of the Buttercup for more squash pie.

Every Thanksgiving potluck has pies.  In addition to many variations on apple, there are squash and pumpkin pies with squash the slight favorite with us because it is richer and sweeter.  This year though my friend Molly gave me one of her Winter Luxury Pie pumpkins, a gorgeous orange pumpkin distinguished by delicate netting over the entire surface.  Fans claim that it makes the “smoothest and most velvety pumpkin pie” ever.  Who knows, it may replace squash pie as the favorite way to end the feast.

So before the stress of the holiday season kicks in, enjoy this time to savor memories of friends and food.  Visit farm stands, buy local produce, be thankful for the farmers who grow these vegetables and the friends and family who prepare and share them.  Then you can start worrying about the turkey.

First published in the Islands’ Weekly, November 9, 2010.