Spotlight-Stealing Side Dishes

At this point, we’ve all been inundated with Holiday Hoopla – especially when it comes to Thanksgiving recipes and cooking tips (and sales starting at 4am, but that’s another story!)

So is the idea of adding fuel to the overstimulated information highway’s fires going to stop me from posting a few more?  Well, no – but the thought of all that’s out there has made me carefully consider what dishes to offer.  I mean…I want to throw a few fireworks into the flame, not just another log!

At my house, I try to shuffle in a new side dish or two each year, give another a holiday off.  This year, I’m skipping the bacon-braised Brussels sprouts (oh, don’t worry – the bacon will have a happy home simmering with the collard greens!) and instead giving Jim Dixon’s recipe for Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Mustard a whirl.  It posted on the Good Stuff NW blog last week.

Now I know that this sort of thing does ruffle a few turkey feathers with those who have set menus as their Thanksgiving tradition – my grandmother made the exact same Thanksgiving dinner every year of my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  Then we had it again –  a deja vu dinner for Christmas.  There was a bit of a shock wave when, after graduating culinary school, I wanted to serve a couple of my own side dishes.  But the tumultuous waves were soothed by happy, sated eaters and a few glasses of wine, and in the end, there was an appreciation for something new, and deep thanks for delicious traditions.

So, without further ado, here are a handful of my personal favorites.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Side List

Fried Marinated Winter Squash

Turnips Braised with Butter and Dates

Red Cabbage Agrodolce with Juniper Berries

Root Vegetable Mash

Creamed Cipollini Onions with Fresh Rosemary

Cranberry Habanero Relish

Fried Marinated Winter Squash
serves 6 or more

This preparation seems to both brighten and deepen the flavor of winter squash.  It is a wonderful and unique side vegetable, and a welcome addition to a vegetarian menu.  Fried marinated squash makes a fine antipasto – try it dotted with creamy goat cheese, or add freshly shelled walnut meats to the onions as they cook.

2 ½ pound winter squash, such as butternut or pumpkin, peeled,
halved and seeded
kosher salt for salting squash, plus ¾ tsp. kosher or fine sea salt for seasoning
olive oil for frying
1 cup thinly sliced onion
1 ¼ tsp. granulated sugar
5 Tbsp. mild white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
freshly ground pepper
6 sprigs fresh, aromatic mint plus additional mint leaves for garnish

Cut the squash into ¼ inch thick slices.  The slices should be small enough so that you can fry and turn them easily, but not so small that they don’t stand up to the frying.  A guide to the size would be 2 inch by 3 inch by ¼ inch thick.  If using a butternut squash, you can halve the long neck, or slice it into rounds.

Place the sliced squash in a large bowl and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Toss the squash to coat it with the salt and let the slices stand several minutes.  Gently blot the moisture that forms on the surface of the slices with paper towels, taking care not to squeeze the squash.

Coat the bottom of a wide skillet with olive oil and heat over a medium flame.  When the oil is hot (shimmering, but not smoking), carefully add the squash slices.  Work in batches (cook the squash in a single layer – do not crowd, and add more oil if needed as you make your way through the squash), and fry until golden brown on both sides.  Remove the fried squash to drain on paper towels or on a paper bag.

Once all the squash is fried, pour off all but 4 tablespoons of the oil.  Add the onions to the skillet.  Sprinkle with sugar and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and golden (about 15 minutes).  Add the vinegar and 1/3 cup of water.  Increase the heat to high and cook the mixture, stirring up any browned bits, until the liquid has reduced by half.

Arrange half the fried squash on a platter.  Pour half the onions over the top.  Sprinkle with torn mint leaves.  Assemble the rest of the squash, onions, and torn mint leaves over the first layer.  Cover and refrigerate.  This recipe can be prepared to this point up to 1 day in advance.  Let the squash come up to room temperature before serving.  Garnish with additional fresh mint.
Turnips Braised with Butter and Dates
serves 4

The turnip is far from a poor, hapless vegetable provided you treat it with dignity. One unlikely but remarkable combination is common turnips and regal dates – opposites melding together each in an effort bring forth the others best qualities. The sugary candy-like fruit lures out the root’s pleasant flavor. Meanwhile, the earthy turnip grounds the rich sweetness of the date. The result is a luxurious serving of humble turnips…or is it an earthy dish of exalted dates? Either way, they are a wonderful accompaniment to roasts, such as turkey.

1 bunch of small white turnips (alternatively, use 2 medium or 1 large white turnip
2-3 Tbsp. butter
1 Medjool date for each small turnip or 6-10 dates if using larger turnips
salt and freshly ground pepper

Trim the turnips, removing their leaves and roots. Save the leaves to use as a vegetable.  If using the larger turnips or if the smaller turnips have thick skins, peel them.  Slice the turnips into ½ inch thick rounds.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a skillet large enough to accommodate the turnips no more than 2 slices deep. Add the turnip rounds and toss in the butter to coat.  Season with salt and pepper and turn the heat to low. Put a lid on the skillet, and cook, turning now and again, until the turnips are about halfway done.
Remove the lid and add the dates. Carefully turn the turnips and dates and check the amount of moisture in the skillet. The turnips should release a fair amount of liquid, but this will evaporate as the turnips cook. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if needed to keep the turnips from sticking.

Return the lid to the pan and cook the turnips and dates together until the turnips are done (when easily pierced with a fork – soft, but not mushy). Some of the dates will fall apart into the turnips, some will remain whole.  Check the seasonings. Serve hot.

Red Cabbage Agrodolce with Juniper Berries
serves 6

Sweet & sour (agrodolce) red cabbage is perfect either alongside your turkey dinner, or on a sandwich accompanying leftover roast.  Neither too sweet nor too sour, the cabbage is instead transformed into a rich, meltingly tender, striking purple savory side dish, particularly festive with the addition of juniper berries.

1 medium head red cabbage (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. whole juniper berries
2 Tbsp. sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Quarter and core the cabbage.  Cut the leaves into ½ inch wide ribbons.

Add the olive oil to a wide skillet.  Heat the skillet over a medium-high flame.  When the oil is hot (shimmering, but not smoking), add the onion and the juniper berries.  Cook, stirring, until the onion has softened, about 3 minutes.

Add the cabbage to the pan, tossing the ingredients together, then stir in the sugar and vinegar.  Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook until the cabbage is tender and the flavors have mellowed and melded (about 20 minutes).  Stir the cabbage occasionally as it cooks, adding water, a couple of tablespoons at a time, if the pan becomes dry.  Reduce the heat if the cabbage starts to brown.  Once the cabbage has cooked to your liking, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve hot, warm, room temperature, or cold.

Root Vegetable Mash
Adapted from Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
serves 4

What I like about Mario Batali’s vegetable mash is that it is made without the ubiquitous butter and cream that flavors the majority of holiday mashes.  There are a lot of nuances and textures here, all gathered together in a festive feast of autumn vegetables.

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into ½ inch thick rounds
1 russet potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium turnip, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 medium parsnip, cut into ¼ inch thick rounds
1 medium sweet potato, cut into ½ inch cubes
a pinch of ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
grated zest of 1 orange
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all of the vegetables in a 4-quart saucepan and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook until all the vegetables are soft (about 15 minutes).

Drain the vegetables and pass through a food mill into a large bowl.  Stir in the cinnamon, olive oil, and orange zest and season with salt and pepper.  Serve hot.

Creamed Cipollini Onions with Fresh Rosemary

serves 6

A sophisticated take on creamed onions using sweet, flavorful, flat Italian onions (the name means “little onion”).  I found this recipe in a cookbook at a restaurant where I worked, and started making them to serve with roasted meats.  Now, some time later, I can’t recall the source, or the exact recipe.  Here’s how I remember them.  And if anyone recognizes this recipe, and can tell me from where it came, I’d be…thankful!

6 medium sized cipollini onions or 12 small ones
2 Tbsp. butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small sprig of rosemary
1 1/2 cups rich poultry broth
1/2 cup heavy cream

Trim the onions of their skins.  Heat the butter in a heavy skillet over a medium flame.  When the butter is hot, slip the onions into the pan.  Brown them thoroughly on both sides until deep caramel colored (this will take some time, but is well worth the effort for the flavor the caramelization process lends – you can attend to other dishes while you brown the onions).

Season the browned onions with salt and pepper.  Pluck the leaves of rosemary from the stem and add them to the pan, followed by the broth.  Simmer the onions, turning them now and then, until tender when pierced with a skewer or roasting fork.  Add the cream and turn the heat up a bit.  Cook for several minutes longer, letting the sauce reduce to the thickness you desire for your creamed onions.  Serve hot.

Cranberry Habanero Relish

It appeared on the table.  I was a guest.  I was enamored.  Now, it is my guest at every holiday dinner when a roast is invited.  Delicious with meats, or even right off the spoon, this relish is as hot, sweet, sour as you desire.

Combine in a food processor (approximate amounts – adjust as needed to your taste):

1 pound raw cranberries
1 whole orange, unpeeled, seeds removed if it’s not
too much trouble, cut in chunks
1/3 cup sugar
good pinch of salt
a sliver of habanero

Process until ground, but not liquified.  It should be rather finely chopped, but still have a lot of texture.
Adjust heat and sweet to your liking.


About Kathryn LaSusa Yeomans

By offering Sage Culinary Advice, The Farmer's Feast assists Farmers' Market shoppers in making the most of their purchases, and helps vendors realize the culinary possibilities of their products. We create culinary education programs at Farmers' Markets. Through food preparation and cooking demonstrations, recipes focusing on technique, samples, stories and free advice, we're encouraging people to cook more often, from scratch, with market-fresh ingredients. Our goal? To cultivate domestic culinary arts. Once you've tasted the Farmer's Feast - glistening local produce, pastured meats, artisan cheese, wild seafood, rich nuts, grains and legumes - and see how easy cooking this bounty can be, you'll be hungry for fresh. Visit The Farmer's Feast on Facebook / E-mail
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2 Responses to Spotlight-Stealing Side Dishes

  1. Pingback: A Weakness for Winter Squash | The Farmer's Feast

  2. GoodStuffNW says:

    Thanks so much for the kind words and the link…and thanks, too, for sharing those great recipes. They’ll definitely be making an appearance around here soon!

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