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Food & Wine

Calling all veggies : Town Crier writers pick holiday greens


Photos courtesy of Joy, Eve Hill-Agnus, and Town Crier File Photo
Vegetable side dishes adapt easily to each feast’s flavor profile, and each cook’s tolerance for time and timing in the kitchen.

This year, latkes and Hanukkah chocolates are sharing space on the table with turkeys and stuffing. With so many dishes defined by tradition, the vegetable on the side offers a place to flex your creativity.

I called up Town Crier food columnists to get their top picks for green-inspired innovation, and claimed my own favorite candidate for November feasting. Whether you like your veggies raw or topped with marshmallows, we’ve got an approach for every palate

Brussels sprouts

Several of us tussled over who got to write an ode to brussels sprouts, which reward even a hectic cook combating a crowded kitchen. I toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper and then temporarily forget them in the oven, which is nearly always shared with some other, more demanding dish. Sprouts are hardy enough to survive the abuse, emerging moist and soft on the inside and crisply browned on the outside, textured like a riff on roast potatoes. Break the rules a bit with your little buds and do something unexpected – halve them and candy them with brown sugar and bacon, or caramelize them with lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. Or eat them cold, shaved into a slaw with bacon, apple or almonds (or all three) and tossed with a vinaigrette. Prefer hazelnuts or pecans? Add them to any of the preparations described above.

Kale

Eve Hill-Agnus, author of the Town Crier’s “The Roots of Everyday Life” column: “Go kale! It is somewhat outrageous. Curly and brushy, the Brillo Pad of greens, it looks like nothing else in the produce aisle. It’s not like buttery, mild-mannered spinach or even arugula. You have to build a relationship – commit to coaxing and taming and domesticating that vegetal goodness. I learned this from a raw-food maven who taught me to make kale salad. Her version is a culinary meditation. To make raw kale pliant not pointy, supple not scratchy, she massages it with her hands – just her hands and a bit of olive oil. It’s grounding and meditative to stand at your counter and feel those feisty, curlicue leaves soften. Give them a rough chop, douse them in lemon juice and add a pinch of salt: an instant salad, vibrant and sturdy. You’ve worked a little magic.

“With kale season in full swing, I’ve been making my own variation of the kale salad. It’s a little more elaborate and a little less raw. and frankly less ruminative, but delicious. I sauté finely chopped kale briefly in olive oil, just until it starts to soften. Then I toss the still-warm kale in a bowl with a great quantity of chopped parsley. The result is a green confetti that’s bold in flavor and deep in color. Sometimes I add shredded zucchini. Always lemon juice, for the acidity (and sometimes pomegranate molasses, for the same reason). Dried cranberries for color. And pumpkin, sunflower or hemp seeds for crunch.”

Squash

“Squash holds the culinary key to fall and winter,” asserted Sarah Manning, who writes the “Nourished” column.

”I’ll admit I jump the gun every year, with my first batch of pumpkin quick bread appearing in September. But with so many varieties of winter squash to choose from – butternut, acorn, spaghetti, kabocha and endless pumpkin varietals – I’ve never known winter baking boredom. Here’s why: With squash, you can easily make a delicious soup, casserole, sauté or puree. You can bake it into any quick-bread recipe. You can dice and stir into fragrant risotto. Squash can swing toward sweet or savory.

“It tastes just as comforting broiled with brown sugar as it does roasted and topped with shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese and balsamic reduction. Plus, squash is friendly to other squash. Stir a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin puree into your next butternut squash soup for a simple change that delights the senses.”

Sweet potatoes

“Around here, it’s not Thanksgiving without a wide, shallow dish (for maximum marshmallow coverage) of candied sweet potatoes,” emailed Town Crier contributor Megan Kempston (formerly Rowe).

“While there are plenty of people who take issue with this holiday staple (for reasons I can’t quite wrap my head around – it’s a vegetable ... with marshmallows. What’s not to love?), there are also dozens of other ways to eat sweet potatoes.

“I particularly like sweet potatoes with spicy sausage, chopped together in a similar concept to corn or fruit salsa. Whether in soup (with sausage, beans, and kale) or a salad (with sausage, farro and kale), little cubes of roasted or boiled sweet potatoes are a perfect creamy, smooth note next to the spice of the sausage. I’ve also put sweet potato on pizza (sliced thin, under mozzarella along with some kale), where they almost turn into a sauce. And then, of course, there are mashed sweet potatoes, sweet potato fries, sweet potato chips, sweet potato biscuits, sweet potato pie ...

“Essentially, if you could use either pumpkin or regular potatoes in any dish, you can probably substitute sweet potatoes. They’re also healthier than regular potatoes and easier than dealing with whole pumpkins. I use them where recipes call for butternut squash when I don’t have the time to take apart a giant squash – with sweet potatoes, you just peel them and chop them.”

Mediterranean medley

Blanche Shaheen, author of the “Feast in the Middle East” column, couldn’t limit herself to just one vegetable, so she tossed out four Mediterranean-inspired options:

“I love eggplant, broiled and topped with tomato sauce and toasted pine nuts. It’s usually made in a casserole, over lamb or chicken sautéed with garlic and onions, but that can be excluded. I also love roasted cauliflower with garlic and Parmesan cheese. Or zucchini “carpaccio” salad, served raw with carrots and Parmesan. Or artichokes roasted in lemon, olive oil, garlic and fresh oregano, basil or thyme.”

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