On my family's Thanksgiving table, a few things are non-negotiable: a roasted turkey, basic bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and turkey gravy. (This year, because of the concurrence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, potato latkes will also join the party.) Beyond that, the side dishes vary depending on who is cooking, and for how many.
One year, after a Thanksgiving eve trip to a local farmers market, a pan of Swiss chard braised with garlic and chicken stock stood in for the green bean casserole; another time, at the home of a particularly diet-conscious family member, heaps of roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts and a sesame-tinged cabbage slaw replaced the usual array of starchy sides. For some fresh inspiration for this year's selection of side dishes, I turned to cookbook author Mollie Katzen.
Katzen, perhaps best known for the classic Moosewood Cookbook, has just published her 12th title, The Heart of the Plate. In it, she makes a gently compelling argument for casting vegetables in the meal's starring role—not the bit players around a piece of animal protein or its vegetarian equivalent.
"On Thanksgiving or any other day of the year, I'm personally not a fan of meat substitutes, where a processed soy product is shaped and flavored to resemble a turkey," says Katzen. "There is often much head-scratching about what to serve vegetarians on Thanksgiving. But if you give it further thought, you'll realize that vegetarians are very well-positioned to have their best feast of the year! Of all the holiday feasts, Thanksgiving offers the largest number of delicious side dishes—so much so that turkey lovers often have trouble fitting that drumstick or sliced breast meat onto their already groaning plates."
Below are two of Katzen's new recipes—one starring beets, the other cauliflower—that will add some interest and variety to the Thanksgiving table. To pour, we have recommended recently rated Chardonnays, whose body and fruit profile make a good foil for the holiday's flavors, and Pinot Noirs, with moderate tannins and notes of spice and fruit to complement a wide variety of Thanksgiving menu items. As befits the historic origins of the holiday, all of the wines are produced in the United States.
Recipes from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Katzen advises, "Prepare the beets at least an hour ahead of time. I like roasting them for maximum flavor. However, you can simmer them in water if you don't feel like turning on the oven. In either case, wait to peel them until after they are cooked and cooled. Prepare the other ingredients while the beets are cooking. If you choose to add zest, remove it before juicing the oranges. This dish keeps well and can be made up to a day ahead if covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator. If you are adding mint leaves or avocado, lay these items on top at the last minute, so they can be at their best."
• 1 pound beets (3–4 medium), any color
• 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
• 1/2 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
• 1/4 heaping teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon agave nectar or light-colored honey
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 oranges, peeled and sectioned, sections removed from membranes
• 1 large ruby grapefruit, peeled and sectioned, sections removed from membranes, sections halved, if large
• Long strands of orange zest (cut with a zester or a sharp knife)
• Thin strips of fresh mint
• Fresh raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or sliced strawberries as garnish
1. Remove the beet greens (save them to cook separately if they're nice) and trim the stems to within an inch of the beet. Cook the beets, whole and unpeeled, either in simmering water until fork-tender (30 to 40 minutes) or by roasting. To roast them, preheat the oven to 400° F, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with foil. Lay the beets on the foil, add a splash of water (a tablespoon or two), and press the edges of the foil together to form a packet. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender. (Be careful to avoid the steam when opening the packet.)
2. Cool the beets completely, then peel them with a sharp paring knife and cut into bite-sized chunks or elegant half-circles.
3. Combine the vinegar, garlic, salt and agave or honey in a medium bowl and whisk until the sweetener is dissolved. Drizzle in the olive oil, continuing to whisk until it is incorporated.
4. Add the beets to the dressing and stir gently until coated. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour before adding the fruit. (Cover and refrigerate if it's going to sit for longer—up to a day is fine—and/or if your kitchen is hot and you like things cold.)
5. Add the orange and grapefruit sections and stir gently until coated. Serve cold or at cool room temperature, plain or topped with any or all of the optional enhancements. Makes 4 modest main-dish servings.
"Cauliflower offers the broadest textural range of just about any vegetable," says Katzen. "When spanking fresh, it's delightful raw: Its crunchy white puffballs make satisfying crudités. And at the other extreme, cauliflower is also brilliant when boiled to oblivion and mashed. In this recipe, the high-temperature roasting process allows the cauliflower to become simultaneously fork-tender and chewy, with delicately crisp surface points (helped along greatly by the cheese) surprising you at random."
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed and broken or cut into 3/4-inch pieces
• 2 cups minced onion (1 large)
• 1/4 cup grated Italian Fontina, sharp cheddar or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or more to taste
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• Black pepper
• Roast a sliced carrot along with the cauliflower; try this same process using broccoli instead of, or in addition to, the cauliflower.
• Sprinkle some toasted bread crumbs over the cauliflower after it comes out of the oven.
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F, with a rack in the center position. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil and slick it with the olive oil. (You can use a chunk of cauliflower to spread it around.)
2. Arrange the cauliflower pieces on the sheet and sprinkle them with the minced onion. Roast for 15 minutes, then shake the baking sheet and/or use tongs to loosen and redistribute the pieces—gently, so they won’t pop off the baking sheet.
3. Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is becoming uniformly golden. Then, push everything together in the center of the baking sheet, keeping it a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese.
4. Roast for 10 or so minutes longer, or until the cheese is thoroughly melted, forming an irresistible golden crust. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and season with the salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.
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