Sometimes we fuss so much trying to create innovative vegetable side dishes, we forget how good they taste when their natural flavours are coaxed out of hiding.
If you’re thinking about what to serve for Thanksgiving dinner, maybe you can throw one of these ideas into the pot. After all, who couldn’t do without less stress?
The big boiler
The easiest answer to unadorned vegetable sides is probably the most traditional in this province. We like to throw them in the boiler with (or without) a hunk of salt meat and serve them up, as is, with turkey and gravy. I am delighted to offer just such a plate to my guests, as long as nothing gets away from me and overcooks, because I can’t abide mushy veg, especially cabbage.
I know this isn’t a recipe, and I gave you the details just last year, but I get asked often how to time boiled vegetables, so just remember, turnip first, cabbage 10 minutes later, then potatoes and carrots for another 30. Done.
You can’t boil beets with everything else, anyway, so why not bring out their truest, sweetest nature by roasting? I would allow a whole medium beet per person. Many people say they don’t like them until they try them like this.
If you have leftovers, bring a cup of vinegar to a boil with 1/3 cup of sugar and a couple of whole cloves. Slice the beets into a clean bottle and cover with the vinegar mixture, refrigerate and they’ll be delicious in a day or so, and will last at least a couple of weeks.
6 medium-sized beets
grated zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 tsp. each coarse salt and freshly
ground black pepper
Trim the tops to about 1 inch and scrub the beets clean. Dry well and place in a roasting pan. Add zest and orange juice, cover and roast at 375 F for about 1 hour, or until a fork pierces them easily.
As soon as you can handle them — I wear clean rubber gloves so I can do this more quickly and without the purple-stained fingers — slide off the skin and place beets in a clean bowl.
Toss with butter, salt and pepper and serve right away.
Oven-fried sweet potatoes
I wouldn’t mess with those of you who equate holiday dinner with mashed potatoes, but if you are open to a change, sweet potatoes are a perfect accompaniment to turkey. This amount will serve a crowd, especially if it’s just one of several side dishes this Thanksgiving.
I know this is the second recipe in a row that calls for coarse salt. With all the delicious finishing salts available on the market these days, fresh roasted vegetables need little more in the way of garnish.
6 medium sweet potatoes
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. paprika (smoked or sweet —
1/2 tsp. coarse salt and freshly
ground black pepper to taste
Peel potatoes and cut into french fry shapes. Toss with oil and paprika and lay in a single layer on two baking sheets. Roast at 450 F about 10 minutes — watch carefully, because they scorch easily. Flip to brown evenly and bake another 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper and serve.
I can’t abide mushy veg, especially cabbage.
Baked vegetable medley with herbs
This time of year our root vegetables are the best in the world. It’s a shame not to put them front and centre, with a mildly herby hit to accentuate their natural sweetness.
The beauty of serving them this way is you can do them hours ahead of time, put them in the refrigerator, then pop them back into a hot oven while the turkey or roast is resting. Allow one or two pieces per person, but really make as much or as little as you want, as long as the amounts are roughly equal and they don’t overcrowd the pan. Roasted garlic and onion lose their sharpness and meld sweetly with everything else.
Carrots, turnip slices, small red
potatoes, and parsnips
2 large yellow onions, cut into
3 or 4 sprigs each fresh rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1 whole head garlic, cloves peeled but left whole
Toss together carrots, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, onions, rosemary, thyme, oil, salt and pepper and tumble into a large roasting pan. Bake at 400 F about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add garlic to pan and roast another 40 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender and golden on the edges.
Steamed green beans
I saved the greenery for last. Everybody likes a hunk of cabbage with a cooked holiday dinner, but sometimes you want something a little crisper, a little fresher tasting. My choice would be green beans.
Of course they are fabulous with bacon and balsamic dressing and sliced almonds and fried onions and lots of other things, but steaming brings out their very freshest flavour.
For a small quantity, use one of those little steamers; for this amount, try your steel colander.
2 lbs. fresh green beans
1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 tsp. each coarse salt and freshly
ground black pepper
Wash beans thoroughly. Cut off their tips and tails and place in a large steamer or colander. Position over vigorously boiling water and cover for 6 or 7 minutes — you want them tender, but they should still offer a little resistance. There is nothing ickier than overcooked green beans, so keep a weather eye open.
Squeeze lemon juice on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper and these are good to go.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.