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Side dishes for a Thanksgiving meal
I love the sweetness of this time of year for how our hearts and minds open even more to all we have to be thankful for. As the weather gets colder and the days darker, we’re moved to deeper feelings of gratitude for the meaningful things in life. Thanksgiving makes us mindful of our many blessings and increases our compassion for those less fortunate.
The Thanksgiving meal is one of my favorites to prepare, despite how labor intensive it can be. For me, it’s about sticking close to the same dishes I make from year-to-year, the ones my family and friends look forward to. As easy as it is to simply repeat old beloved recipes, this is invariably how it goes down for me when planning the meal: turkey — check; stuffing — check; yams — check; mash potatoes — check; cranberry sauce — check; desserts — check; but salad and vegetable? Sound familiar?
With the warm, traditional dishes served all at once, it’s nice to have a chilled, refreshing salad to help balance things out. To avoid any extra chaos in an already chaotic kitchen during the final countdown to meal time, it’s wonderful to have a salad that can be made completely ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator: another thing to be grateful for.
For awhile now, I’ve been using uncooked kale in a lot of my salads. Kale is packed with antioxidants and is a natural anti-inflammatory. It contains indole-3-carbinol, a chemical reported to increase DNA repair and found to block the growth of cancer cells. And because raw kale is like lettuce on steroids, it’s strong enough to hold its own and not wilt when tossed with its dressing ahead of time.
I often use nuts and seeds in my dishes for their added taste and texture. I especially love using spiced nuts in salads for how they complement other flavors and add a great crunch. Here’s an easy recipe you can make on your own by adding or deleting whatever spices appeal to you. If you don’t have the time, Trader Joe’s has delicious spiced pecans (with a real kick of cayenne).
Yields 2 cups
2 cups raw (not toasted) pecans, almonds or hazelnuts (roughly chopped)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar (packed)
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ - ¾ teaspoon cayenne powder
½ teaspoon salt
Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place the sugars and spices in a medium bowl, and stir to blend well. In a large dry sauté pan on medium heat, toast the nuts until a light golden brown, stirring them often and careful not to burn them. Place the butter in the pan, stirring the nuts to thoroughly coat with melted butter. As soon as the butter has melted, transfer the nuts to the bowl with the sugars and spices; toss well to coat evenly. Spread the nuts on the lined baking sheet to cool, separating any that have stuck together with a fork. Cool and store in an airtight container. I keep mine in the freezer to keep them fresh longer.
Kale Salad with Fresh Pears and Spiced Nuts
Serves 8 to 10
12 very large leaves of kale (any variety)
2 fresh pears (cut into small, bite-sized pieces)
2 avocados (cut into small, bite-sized pieces)
¾ cup spiced nuts
¾ cup shaved Reggiano parmesan (or gorgonzola or goat cheese)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
½ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt (or more if needed, to your preferred taste)
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Wash and dry the kale leaves, then remove the thick center vein and bottom stem with a sharp knife. Stack a few leaves at a time, roll them as best you can, and slice to make thin slivers. Place in a large bowl; add the pear, avocado, nuts and cheese.
To make the dressing, pour the apple cider vinegar in a small bowl; first whisk in the honey, and then the olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad (just a third at a time), toss well, then taste and add more, if needed. You will probably have extra dressing left over.
A vegetable side dish is where I find myself going back and forth trying to decide what to serve. Most of the other dishes in the meal are so heavy that I prefer to keep the vegetable on the lighter side. String beans are fresh in season this time of year, both the larger version we’re so familiar with and the smaller French ones called haricot verts. Keeping this dish simple and easy by adding sautéed mushrooms with a balsamic vinegar glaze enhances the string beans with a depth of flavor without being heavy.
Balsamic Glazed String Beans with Sautéed Mushrooms
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound fresh string beans
12 brown cremini mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup toasted slivered or sliced almonds
Rinse and trim the tops and ends of the string beans. I prefer steaming my vegetables, so I don’t lose valuable nutrients in the discarded water, but you can also boil the beans. Cook them just until they begin to get tender and are still bright green: no more than 2 minutes and 1 ½ minutes for the smaller haricot verts. Remove immediately from the heat and submerge in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process, then drain and set aside.
Rinse and pat the mushrooms dry. Trim the bottom stem and slice into about 5 or 6 slices per mushroom. Heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat; add the sliced mushrooms and cook for approximately 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until nicely browned on both sides. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and allow it to reduce down to a very light glaze, which will happen in less than a minute. Add the string beans and stir to coat evenly; season with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with the toasted almonds. This dish is best when served right away.
Remember that certain vegetables, like string beans, are delicate and can be iffy when reheated: Even seconds too long can rob them of their fresh taste and color.
Enjoy! May your Thanksgiving holiday be delightful and delish.
Cynthia Shifrin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 232-3722.