Thanksgiving Sides: Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Rice Stuffing

~ Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans ~

This rice dish is a hearty and flavorful accompaniment to pork, poultry and game. It’s a great addition to the Thanksgiving table, where you might be tempted to call it a stuffing. Dried apricots, cranberries and pecans stud the rice, adding substance, sweetness and festive color. Whether you use it to stuff a bird or simply serve in a bowl as a side, this is a pretty autumn dish. Feel free to mix up the fruit and nuts, substituting raisins, chopped prunes, dried figs, walnuts or hazelnuts. For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable stock or water for the chicken stock.

Wild Rice with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Use all wild rice or a blend of rice. A blend of wild rice, brown rice and red rice is pictured. Serves 6.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 ½ cups wild rice or wild rice blend
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped dried apricots
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
½ cup chopped Italian parsley leaves

Heat the oil in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and saute until they begin to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the chicken stock, thyme, salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until rice is just tender but still firm, about 45 minutes. Add the dried fruit and pecans. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.

Holiday Sides: Root Vegetable Gratin

root vegetable gratin tastefood

~ Root Vegetable Gratin with Sweet Potato, Red Potato and Rutabaga ~

My cheese and potato loving family loves a good gratin. I use a simple method of layering thinly sliced potatoes with a rich garlic infused sour cream and shredded Gruyere cheese. Simple and, yes, decadent. I switched up my go-to recipe recently when I wanted something more flavorful and nutrient-rich than white spuds. Thinly sliced rutabaga (also known as Swede) and sweet potato were included in the mix, and I switched out the white potatoes for red, which tend to hold their shape more while cooking. The result was a colorfully striated gratin, flecked with sage and thyme, adding their earthy fragrance to the sweet and nutty root vegetables. This is a wonderful side dish, and makes a rustic and festive addition to any holiday table.

Root Vegetable Gratin

Feel free to mix up the root vegetables to your taste. In all there should be about 3 pounds of vegetables.

Serves 8

16 ounces full fat sour cream
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 medium-large red potatoes, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 large sweet potato, peeled, about 3/4 pound
1 medium rutabaga, peeled, about 3/4 pound
6 ounces Gruyère cheese, finely grated
1/3 cup heavy cream, or to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Butter an 8 by 10-inch gratin dish.
Whisk the sour cream, garlic, sage, thyme, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a bowl and mix well.
Thinly slice the potatoes and rutabaga, preferably with a mandoline. Arrange half of the red potatoes, overlapping, in the bottom of the gratin dish (there will be about 2 layers). Spread 1/4 of the sour cream over the potatoes and sprinkle with 1/4 of the Gruyere. Cover with the sweet potatoes, overlapping in about 2 layers. Spread with 1/4 of the sour cream and 1/4 of the gruyere. Repeat with the rutabaga, more sour cream and gruyere. Finish with the remaining red potatoes, sour cream and gruyere. Drizzle some of the cream around the edges and in the corners of the gratin without overfilling.
Bake in oven until vegetables are tender and the top of the gratin is brown and bubbling, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. (Loosely cover gratin with buttered foil if browning too fast.) Serve hot.

Holiday Sides: Kale, Quinoa, Pomegranate Salad

kale quinoa salad tastefood

~ Kale, Red Cabbage, Quinoa, Carrots, Pomegranate, Raisins, Almonds ~

Just because there’s a chill in the air doesn’t mean we should skip fresh salads. In fact, at this time of year it’s more important than ever that we boost our immune system with healthy greens and grains – and not just for keeping the doctor away. Hardy cold weather salads are a welcome addition to any holiday table. Deeply flavorful and unabashedly colorful, wintery salads are hefty enough to absorb copious handfuls of nuts, fruit and grains while providing a beautiful addition to a special meal. Even the non-meaters will gobble them up, while the vegetarians will be very pleased with this substantial option.

This is one of my favorite cold weather salads. Brimming with curly kale, red cabbage, and quinoa, it could be a meal in a bowl. The addition of dried raisins, toasted almonds and glistening pomegranate seeds adds all the extra bling necessary to invite this salad to your Thanksgiving dinner. The key to this recipe is to massage the kale. Yes, that’s right. By gently rubbing the leaves in oil, lemon and salt before assembling, the leaves will be coaxed into a softer and milder version of themselves, making for a delicious raw salad.

Kale, Quinoa and Pomegranate Salad

Unlike most salads, this may be entirely prepared up to 1 hour in advance, which is ideal for entertaining. Serves 6 to 8.

Kale:
1 large bunch curly green kale, ribs removed, torn in bite-size pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Dressing:
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salad:
1 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage (or radicchio)
1 to 2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
1/3 cup cooked quinoa (I used red)
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

For the kale: Place the kale in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Using your hands, gently rub the leaves to coat for about 1 minute. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes (or refrigerate for up to 2 hours).

For the dressing: Whisk the garlic, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add the oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly to emulsify.

Assemble the salad: Add the cabbage, carrots, shallot and quinoa to the kale. Add half of the dressing and toss to combine. Scatter the raisins, almonds and pomegranate seeds over. Gently toss with more dressing to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 hour.

Radicchio, Butternut Squash and Arugula Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

Radicchio, Butternut Squash and Arugula Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

~ Butternut Squash, Radicchio, Arugula, Pomegranate, Walnuts, Balsamic,  ~

The final countdown to Thanksgiving has begun. At this time, each year, I have second thoughts about the amount of food that will be served. I think: Surely it won’t be enough. Well, it always is enough (a magical principle of Thanksgiving) – but some hostess preservation instinct kicks in, worrying that there won’t be an abundance of food befitting a Thanksgiving table lined with guests. So I devise a few last minute recipes to round out the menu with little effort. Often that includes a salad.

For all of the traditional Thanksgiving preparations, a bright and robust seasonal salad is often overlooked. Cooked vegetables, stuffings and mashes are the tradition, but do not underestimate a bowl of fresh seasonal greens, nuts and fruit. Not only is it light, fresh and palate cleansing, it’s autumnal hues of ochre, magenta, and forest green, speckled with glistening seeds, nuts and fruit, transforms it into a side dish pretty enough to be a centerpiece.

Radicchio, Butternut Squash and Arugula Salad with Warm Balsamic Vinaigrette

In a bold salad like this, it’s important to have a balance of flavors. Bitter radicchio is matched with salty prosciutto and sweet squash finished with a rich, sweet-sharp balsamic vinaigrette. Feel free to tinker with the ingredients. The prosciutto may be substituted with crisp rendered bacon or pancetta. Dried cranberries or figs may be substituted for the pomegranate seeds. Pecans or almonds may be used in place of the walnuts. Let your pantry decide!

6 slices prosciutto

1 butternut squash neck, about 1 pound
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil (or rendered bacon fat – see below)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled, smashed
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

5 ounces (150 g) baby arugula leaves
1 small radicchio, cored, thinly sliced
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, lightly toasted, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

Heat oven to 350 F. Arrange prosciutto on a baking sheet. Bake in oven until firm and crisp, 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Break into shards and set aside. (Alternatively, pan-fry 6 ounces (170 g) thick sliced bacon, cut in 1/2-inch pieces or pancetta cubes until fat renders and crisp. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel).

Peel the butternut squash. Slice in 1/2-inch planks. Cut each plank in 1 1/2-inch squares. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne (optional). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat (if using bacon or pancetta, discard all but 1 tablespoon rendered fat from skillet). Place squash in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on each side, turning once. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare vinaigrette: Heat oil and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat until warm and garlic begins to turn golden brown. Remove from heat and discard garlic. Carefully add balsamic vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper to the oil. Return to cooktop and warm over low heat, whisking constantly until emulsified.

Assemble salad: Toss arugula and radicchio in a large bowl. Scatter squash, pecans and pomegranate seeds over the salad. Drizzle with half of the dressing. Toss to combine. Add more dressing to taste.

Spicy Butternut Squash (or Pumpkin) Soup

Spicy Butternut Squash (or Pumpkin) Soup

~ Spicy Butternut Squash Soup ~

One of my favorite ways to eat butternut squash is roasted then pureed in a soup. When the squash roasts, its flesh morphs into a squidgy paste, intensifying its nutty flavor and coaxing out its natural sugars. I pair it with fall fruit such as apple, pear or quince and balance the sweetness with a savory stock and a kick of spice and heat. While the soup is thick, it’s light in ingredients with no added cream, relying on the squash for body. This recipe includes apples and chicken stock, and for spice I’ve added a little southwestern flair with cumin, cayenne and cilantro. It’s a vibrant start to any meal, including Thanksgiving dinner. If you are entertaining a crowd, consider small servings in little cups or demi-tasse as an hors d’oeuvre. Pumpkin may be substituted for the squash – I prefer hokkaido pumpkins.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

Roasting the squash coaxes out its natural sugars and gives the best flavor to the soup. Serves 4 to 6.

1 small butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, diced
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup apple cider
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Fresh chopped cilantro or parsley leaves for garnish.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out seeds. Lightly brush the exposed flesh with olive oil. Place, cut-side-down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until squash is fork tender, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add apple, cumin, coriander and cayenne.  Cook, stirring until fragrant, 1 minute. Add squash and chicken stock. (There should be just enough stock to cover the squash and apples. Add additional stock as necessary). Simmer, covered, until apples are very soft, about 20 minutes. Carefully puree soup in batches in a food processor (or with an immersion blender). Return to pot. The soup should be thick. Thin it to desired consistency with apple cider. Stir in brown sugar, salt and pepper. Heat over medium-low heat and taste for seasoning. Serve warm with fresh cilantro leaves.

Thanksgiving Side: Spinach Gratin with Cheesy Breadcrumbs

~ Spinach Gratin with Cheesy Breadcrumbs ~

You might also call this a “fill-in-the-blank gratin.” I had spinach in the fridge, but other sturdy greens such as kale or Swiss chard will work equally well in this recipe. The preparation is simple, consisting of sautéing the greens-of-your-choice, followed by a quick nap of cream. A crunchy topping of breadcrumbs and cheese finishes the gratins in the oven. And I dare say if there is someone in your family who is less inclined to favor these leafy superfoods, this gratin may be just the vehicle to get them munching.

Spinach Gratin

There is no thickener such as egg or flour in this recipe, so the results are akin to creamed spinach in a cup, with a cheesy breadcrumb topping. Because of this, I like to serve the gratin in individual ramekins. Makes enough for 4 individual gratins.

1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
12 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped if large
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 375 F. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper together in a small bowl; set aside. Heat oil in a large pot or deep skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and red chili flakes. Sauté 1 minute. Add spinach, cover pot and cook over medium-low heat until leaves soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and salt. Simmer, uncovered, 1 minute. Divide spinach between 4 (3/4-cup) ramekins. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese. Bake in oven until tops are golden and gratins are bubbly, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

If you like this, you might enjoy these seasonal gratin recipes:
Potato Gratins from TasteFood
Broccoli Blue Cheese Gratin from Leite’s Culinaria
Roasted Yellow Beet and Ricotta Tian from TasteFood
Artichoke Hearst au Gratin from Kalyn’s Kitchen
Cauliflower au Gratin from TasteFood

Cranberry Fig Chutney

~ Cranberry, Fig & Rosemary Chutney ~

Thanksgiving dinner is simply not complete without a cranberry sauce. While I have nothing against the traditional cranberry-sugar combination, I often find missing an extra layer or kick of flavor – so I devised this chutney. Chutneys are concoctions of sweet and savory fruit, spices and herbs, resulting in a well-rounded mouthful that pops in your mouth. This recipe is not heavily weighed down by too many spices, so the humble cranberry shines through – which, of course, is a requisite for Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

This chutney is not just for the Thanksgiving table. Use it as a condiment for roasted pork, duck and chicken. It’s also delicious when served as a condiment on a cheese board, or dabbed on crostini with soft goat cheese. Makes about 2 cups.

18 dried black mission figs, quartered
1/2 cup Port wine
12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger (I use a microplane)
Juice and zest from 1/2 orange
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig

Place the figs in a small bowl. Pour the Port wine over the figs. Set aside for 30 minutes. When the figs are ready, place the cranberries and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add the figs and Port wine, the ginger, orange juice and zest, pepper, salt, and rosemary sprig. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the cranberries burst and the chutney has thickened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Discard the rosemary sprig. (The chutney may be made up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature).

Here are a few more recipes for the Thanksgiving table from TasteFood:

Brussel Sprout Gratin
Sweet Potato Mash
Pumpkin Pecan Roulade
Cranberry Walnut Trifle