All the Trimmings

An array of seasonal side dishes adds to anyone's holiday entertaining.
Susan Belsinger
November/December 2008
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Mashed potatoes are a hearty side dish any time of year.
Lori Dunn
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There’s nothing like a wintry blast to make people want to move indoors and eat hearty, warming foods. The season is also a time of feasting with friends and family celebrating the holidays. Early to late fall is the time to look for root vegetables, winter squash, pumpkins, brassicas, dark leafy greens, nuts, apples, pears, persimmons and cranberries at your local farmers’ markets and roadside stands – they can be purchased then and if stored in a root cellar or other cool place, you can eat these hardy vegetables, fruits and nuts through the cold weather into spring. I store my winter veggies and fruits in a cold room in my basement; a cool garage or the crisper drawer in the fridge.

Root vegetables, as well as squash and pumpkins, are a part of my winter repertoire for soups, stews, gratins, side dishes, salads and desserts. My favorite way to prepare any of these vegetables is simply to roast them in the oven with a bit of olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper. This method showcases their simple, delectable, earthy sweetness. Once roasted, they can be eaten as is, or added to wonderful soups, purees or salads; not to mention used in bread, biscuit, scone and cake batters, pie fillings, puddings or flans.

Look for freshly dug potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots, beets, rutabagas and celery root, and for fall-harvested winter squash and pumpkins as the season progresses. Vegetables should be firm to the touch with no dark or soft spots. Leafy greens like kale, chard, dandelion, cress, collards, beet or turnip greens and spinach should be crisp and vibrant – not limp or wilted. These should be stored in the fridge and used as soon as possible. Seasonal fruits like pears and apples, if firm and free of blemishes, will keep in cold storage for a few months. Cranberries will hold in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for a few weeks; freeze for longer storage.

Once your bounty is gathered, plan your holiday menu with all the trimmings. The following dishes, otherwise known as the fixings, are tried and true favorites at my family gatherings. Mix and match them as you desire, or make them all! These side dishes are perfect accompaniments to a roast turkey or goose – you can stuff either with the Cornbread Stuffing, or bake it in a dish. Any of these accompaniments would be delicious with baked ham, roast beef or pot roast, or for the vegetarians in your family, I have included a Savory Nut Loaf that can be sliced like a meatloaf and served with the delectable Mushroom Gravy. (Even the most passionate turkey eaters in our family go for the mushroom gravy over the turkey gravy, hands down!)

ROASTED GARLIC AND MASHED POTATOES

Potatoes and garlic have a special affinity; this dish is a simple and delicious variation for mashed potatoes. Roasted garlic is also good as a spread for toasted or grilled bread, added to cheese soufflés, and used as a sauce for roasted or grilled chicken or grilled vegetables. For spreading on bread and adding to a soufflé base, squeeze the roasted cloves into a small bowl, add a little of the flavored oil in which it was roasted, and mash everything together well. For use as a sauce, add a few drops of wine vinegar. 

2 1/2 to 3 pounds Idaho potatoes
1 head garlic, roasted in cloves
Flavored olive oil
About 1/4 cup milk, cream, or half-and-half (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper 

Peel potatoes, cut into chunks, and cook in lightly salted water at simmer until just tender, about 15 minutes. 

Drain potatoes, reserving cooking water. Squeeze garlic cloves from their skins into potatoes. Rice or mash potatoes and garlic together with potato masher or fork. Do not use a food processor. 

Return mashed potatoes to pan off the heat. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of flavored olive oil and about 1/3 cup cooking water. Add milk, cream or more cooking water to reach desired consistency. Season potatoes and heat through. Yields 6 to 8 servings. 

MUSHROOM GRAVY

This recipe also varies as I usually make it without following the recipe and add a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms that are available. I love fresh shiitakes and usually mix them with oyster and/or domestic button-type mushrooms. Only use a few portabellas as they are strong and tend to dominate. You can use all butter instead of the olive oil; I like less cholesterol and the flavor of the oil. I have made this with soy milk for vegans – just don’t let it boil. You can make it without the miso, however, it really does lend a deep rich flavor; if you don’t have it, add a few teaspoons of tamari soy sauce. 

1/2 ounce dried mushrooms such as porcini, shitake (remove stems) or wood ear
3/4 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
About 1 to 1/2 cups diced onion
Generous 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
3 tablespoons unbleached flour
About 2 1/2 cups milk or half-and-half cream, divided
About 2 to 3 teaspoons miso
Scant 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 dashes Angostura bitters (optional)

Tear or cut mushrooms into small pieces. Place in bowl and pour boiling water over top. Stir occasionally and let stand for 20 minutes. Strain mushrooms and reserve liquid.

Heat butter and oil in non-reactive sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté onion for 3 to 4 minutes, add fresh mushrooms, stir and cover for 2 minutes. Stir well and sprinkle flour over onions and mushrooms and stir well. Keep stirring 3 to 4 minutes.

Slowly add about 1/2 cup milk and stir well. Add another 1/2 cup milk, stir, and add rest of milk. Stir and cook, bring sauce to simmer. Remove about 1/2 cup hot liquid and break or cut miso into very small pieces and stir until it dissolves; it will take a few minutes. To milk mixture, add dissolved miso, rehydrated mushrooms and liquid, thyme and cayenne. Cook over medium low heat for 10 minutes. 

Add salt, pepper and bitters and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. The gravy can be made in advance and gently reheated; serve hot. Yields more than 1 quart.

SAURKRAUT WITH ONIONS

This recipe lends character to straightforward sauerkraut. My Irish grandmother always put the turkey neck in the sauerkraut pot and let it cook over low heat on the back of the stove while she prepared the rest of the dinner. Traditionally, our family never had turkey without sauerkraut – I believe it is a regional thing. Look for fresh sauerkraut packed in plastic bags in the meat department of the supermarket, rather than canned. We serve this kraut with mashed potatoes and gravy and look forward to leftovers for Reuben sandwiches. This dish is from The Onion Book by Carolyn Dille and Susan Belsinger, Interweave Press, 1996. 

1 large yellow or white onion
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bag (1/2 to 2 pounds) sauerkraut
1 teaspoon bruised caraway seed
5 or 6 juniper berries
About 1 cup white wine; dry, but a little fruity

Peel and quarter onion lengthwise; slice quarters crosswise into thin slices. Melt butter over medium heat in large non-reactive sauté pan. Sauté onions over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Drain excess liquid from sauerkraut. Add sauerkraut to onions. Add caraway and juniper berries and stir well. Add white wine, stir, cover with lid slightly ajar, and cook over medium low heat for 20 to 30 minutes. Reduce heat if sauerkraut is simmering and the wine is evaporating. Add a little more wine if necessary, stir and taste for seasoning. 

You can keep this over low heat for awhile or reheat it before serving. Remove juniper berries before serving. Serve hot. Yields 10 to 12 servings.

CORNBREAD STUFFING WITH DRIED CHERRIES AND PECANS

This recipe also varies every year – it is very wholesome and flavorful. Follow the directions on the bag or a recipe that you have for cornbread and make an 8- or 9-inch pan of it. Dried cranberries are also good in place of the cherries. Pecans are my favorite in stuffing; however, walnuts or hazelnuts would also be tasty. 

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil or butter, or a combination
About 1 cup chopped onion or leeks
2 large stalks celery
3 to 4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 recipe cornbread
About 4 cups whole-wheat bread crumbs
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage leaves, or 2 to 3 teaspoons dried sage leaves, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cups pecans
1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1 to 2 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 cup white, port or sherry wine, or half-and-half cream (optional)

Heat oven to 350°F. Butter 2- to 2 1/2-quart baking dish; set aside.

Heat oil and/or butter in sauté pan over medium heat. Add onion and celery and stir for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more.

In large bowl, combine cornbread and bread crumbs. Transfer sautéed veggies to bowl. Add sage, season generously with salt and pepper, and add nuts and dried fruit. Toss well. Add 1 cup veggie broth and wine or cream, if you are using it. Toss well. Dressing should be moist. Add part or all of remaining broth, if necessary.

Transfer dressing into prepared baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake 5 to 10 minutes more. Serve hot. You can hold it on the stove for awhile, covered with foil. Yields 8 servings.

WILTED GREENS AND GARLIC

Use any of your favorite greens in this dish – spinach, chard, kale, beet, collards and dandelion, even a bit of arugula. This is good served as a vegetable accompaniment to roast meats or fowl, and I sometimes put it on pasta or pizza. I really like to serve it with sweet potatoes or winter squash and black-eyed peas. 

About 3 pounds greens (a nice combination is equal amounts of chard or spinach, collards and kale)
About 4 tablespoons olive oil
8 cloves garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash and pick over greens and remove tough stems. Put leaves with water that clings to them into large non-reactive pot with tight-fitting lid. Wilt greens over medium high heat, stirring once or twice; add just a bit more water if necessary. This should take about 5 minutes – the leaves should be just wilted.

In large sauté pan, gently heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Crush garlic through a press or finely mince it and add to pan. Gently sauté garlic for 2 or 3 minutes; do not allow to brown.

Drain greens and add to sauté pan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Taste for seasoning and serve hot. Pass hot pepper vinegar or Tabasco with greens, if desired. Yields 8 to 10 servings.

OVEN-ROASTED WINTER SQUASH WITH GARLIC AND SAGE

Use whichever winter squash you have on hand or like the best. Some of my favorites are Sweetie Dumpling, Delicata, Carnivale, acorn and butternut. I usually use two different types for this dish. 

3 pounds winter squash
1/3 cup olive oil
10 to 12 cloves garlic, halved lengthwise
About 12 sage leaves cut into chiffonade (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 400ºF. Cut squash into quarters lengthwise and remove seeds and strings. Using sharp vegetable peeler, peel squash. Dice into ½-inch cubes. Toss squash with olive oil, garlic and sage and generously season with salt and pepper. Transfer prepared squash into large, well-oiled baking dish.

Bake squash, turning occasionally for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350ºF and bake for another 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Squash is done when it has some browned edges and is soft and tender. Serve immediately. Yields 8 servings.

MARGUERITE'S CRANBERRY ORANGE RELISH

My mother-in-law Marguerite Sargent made this relish every single Thanksgiving. It is fresh, tart and sweet – lively on the palate – and a nice counterpoint to all of the other heavy foods. She used to grind it in a meat grinder way back when, but used the food processor in more recent years. Marguerite used an old recipe that she found in a newspaper many years ago. Since I do not have the exact recipe, this is my version of how I think she made it. 

1 naval orange, washed and cut into eighths
1 bag of fresh cranberries, washed and picked over
About 1 cup sugar

Put orange pieces into food processor and pulse until in very small pieces, but not pureed. Add cranberries and pulse until in small pieces, but not pureed. The relish should have texture. Transfer relish to bowl and stir in sugar. Taste for sweetness; it should be tart and tangy, yet sweet enough. Add more sugar if desired (up to another 1/4 to 1/2 cup). Cover and refrigerate for a few hours; it is good to make it a day or so before. Once relish mellows, taste again for sweetness and adjust as necessary. Yields about 4 cups.

SAVORY NUT LOAF

This nut loaf is a loose recipe because I never make it the same way twice. It depends on what I have on hand. If you are vegan, you do not have to use the eggs or cheese, or you could use soy cheese; add a little more veggie stock to make it moist enough. Leftover slices are great in a sandwich the following day. 

About 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
5 or 6 cloves garlic, minced
About 1 cup sliced mushrooms, optional
About 1 cup any leftover chopped vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, squash, etc. (optional)
4 to 5 cups coarsely chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews; use a couple of kinds, perhaps some sunflower or pumpkin seeds, too)
About 2 cups of cooked grains (rice, wheat, bulgur, quinoa, millet)
About 1 cup soft whole-wheat bread crumbs
2 to 3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 to 1/2 cup tomato or V-8 juice
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable broth, divided
2 to 3 teaspoons tamari soy sauce or Braggs’ Aminos
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh minced thyme or marjoram
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oven to 350°F. Line loaf pan with foil and oil or butter it; set aside.

In medium sauté pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add celery and onion and sauté, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Add mushrooms and other vegetables, if you are using them, and sauté for another 2 minutes or so.

In large bowl, combine nuts, grains and bread crumbs. Transfer sautéed vegetables to nut mixture. Add eggs, tomato juice, half the vegetable broth, tamari and herbs, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well to blend. If mixture seems dry, add remaining broth.

Transfer mixture to loaf pan and pat smooth. Bake about 45 minutes, until firm and golden brown. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from pan and place on serving plate. Slice and serve. Yields 1 loaf.

From her home in Brookeville, Maryland, Susan Belsinger keeps a well-stocked pantry and herbal garden to test recipes and ideas for her books like The Creative Herbal Home, written with Tina Marie Wilcox.


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