Thanksgiving Sides: Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes with Walnuts and Farro

If one vegetable symbolizes Fall and Thanksgiving, it’s the Brussels sprout. When these little crucifers appear in the market, it means it’s time to pull on our sweaters and plan our holiday menus. Yet, if one vegetable symbolizes dinner challenges, it’s also the Brussels sprout, because when these mini-cabbages appear on the table you can be sure they will elicit strong reactions from those who love them – and those who hate them. Hence the eternal question: in the spirit of holiday togetherness, how can we serve these hardy sprouts for everyone to enjoy?

This recipe might be the answer. Like all traditions that bear repeating, it’s worth sharing once again. It has a few simple techniques that may, just may, win over any steadfast sprout-hater. The trick is to roast the Brussels sprouts, which softens their assertive and firm cabbagey properties and accentuates their natural sweetness. Grapes are roasted along with the sprouts, so they coat the sprouts with their winey juices and lend more sweetness. A good shellacking of pomegranate balsamic vinegar towards the end of the roasting provides a lip smacking caramelized finish. Finally, the sprouts, grapes, and juices are tossed with farro and toasted walnuts, creating a rustic and satisfying dish, which is nutty, sweet, and not too dense with sprouts – but with just enough to satisfy the lovers and appease the haters at your dinner table. So give it a try and let me know.

Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes with Farro

Pomegranate balsamic vinegar is available in specialty stores and well-stocked supermarkets. You can make your own by whisking together 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses.

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved (or quartered if large)
3/4 pound seedless red grapes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pomegranate balsamic vinegar
1 cup cooked farro, warm or at room temperature
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C. Toss the Brussels sprouts, grapes, thyme sprigs, oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, drizzle the pomegranate balsamic vinegar over and stir to coat. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast until the sprouts are tender and the grapes have begun to shrivel, about 15 more minutes. Remove from the oven, discard the thyme sprigs, and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the farro and walnuts and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Easy Grilled Broccoli and Carrots

broccoli carrots

In a matter of a few weeks our farmers market has transformed into the vegetarian equivalent of a candy store. New leaves, baby shoots and spring bulbs are on display in miniature form as their growing season is in full force. In general, I like my veggies cooked simply, and at this time of year their freshness demands it. All that’s needed is a quick steam, saute, or a turn on the grill and you will have a simple and delicious side to any meal.

Broccoli and carrots pretty much sum up the ingredient list for this veggie side I made recently – plus a pinch salt and splash of olive oil for good measure. Everything converged on the grill, which in itself is another ingredient to the dish, adding char to complete the flavor profile. On the grill? Yes, if you are careful and lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grates to prevent them from slipping through. Better yet, if you have a cast iron skillet (which you should), preheat the skillet (or a griddle) on the grill, then sear the vegetables until they wilt and char, and you are good to go. Vegetables simply never tasted so good.

Grilled Broccolini and Carrots
Serves 4 to 6 as a simple side dish

1 pound baby broccoli (broccolini), ends trimmed
1 pound baby carrots, trimmed, halved lengthwise if thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat. If using a skillet or griddle, preheat on the grill for 10 minutes.
2. Place the vegetables in a large bowl. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons oil – just enough to coat without soaking – and lightly season with salt, then turn to coat.
3. Lay the vegetables perpendicular to the grill grates (or spread in the skillet) and cook until bright in color, crisp-tender, and lightly charred, turning as needed, about 5 minutes, depending on thickness of the stalks.
4. Transfer to a serving bowl and season with additional salt and black pepper, if desired.  Serve warm.
5. Other options: sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes over for a nice bite and drizzle with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving.

Warm Wild Rice Salad with Dried Fruit and Nuts

Rice Stuffing

I am just going to come out and say it: I am not a fan of turkey stuffing (or dressing), and neither is my family. Whenever I make stuffing, it sits uneaten at the Thanksgiving table, before banishment to the refrigerator, labeled “leftover,” where it continues to sit for days, forlorn, neglected, and, frankly, wasteful. So, now I don’t make a stuffing for our turkey. Instead, I jam bunches of fresh herbs, such as parsley, thyme, and sage, as well as wedges of lemon or orange in the cavity to provide aroma and moisture while the turkey roasts. For serving, I provide potatoes and a grain dish to balance and fill out the feast. This rice salad is always a hit. It’s a great gluten-free starch substitute for stuffing, and the dried fruit and nuts stud the rice like festive jewelry, providing a pretty addition to the holiday table. 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

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 the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the rice is tender but not mushy, about 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the  dried fruit and pecans while fluffing the rice with a fork. Let stand, partially covered,  for 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm.

Autumn Chopped Salad with Cauliflower, Kale, and Carrots

kale-chopped-salad-tastefood

It’s getting chilly outside, and while warm comforting food is high on the crave-list, it’s more important than ever to keep eating salads, brimming with healthy nutrient-rich vegetables and grains. The good news is that the cooler weather gives us an excuse to fortify our salad bowls, transforming the light and wispy summer salad into a healthy hearty autumn bowl.

A key ingredient in this cold-weather salad is nutrient-rich kale. Raw kale can be bitter and difficult to digest in large quantities, so it’s important to tame the tough and sturdy leaves to deter picky eating. This can be easily accomplished by massaging them. Yep, that’s right: Drizzle the kale leaves with a little lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of salt, and then rub them for a minute or so to coat the leaves. You will be rewarded with a slightly softened version of the hearty leaf, that’s not only easier to munch on, its earthy flavor will be softened by the lemon and salt.

Treat this salad just like your fall wardrobe, and pile on the layers – it can handle it. I’ve added finely chopped cauliflower and dried cranberries, along with a shower of quinoa and seeds. Because these salads are so sturdy, they hold up well and don’t mind a little standing once they are fully dressed – which is great for do-ahead assembly.

Chopped Autumn Salad

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Serves 4

1 bunch curly green kale, tough ribs removed, leaves coarsely chopped
1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of sea salt
2 scallions, white and green parts sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1/2 head small cauliflower, florets finely chopped
1/4 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries

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

2 tablespoons pepitas for garnish

1. In a large bowl, rub the kale leaves with the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt until thoroughly coated, about 1 minute. Let stand for 15 minutes.
2. Add the scallions, carrot, cauliflower, quinoa, parsley, and cranberries and toss to combine.
3. Make the dressing: Whisk the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle over the salad and toss well to thoroughly combine. Garnish with the pepitas. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Easter Brunch: Asparagus, Prosciutto, Egg Mimosa Salad

Asparagus salad tastefood

Have you been tasked with bringing a spring-y platter of food to feed a crowd for Easter brunch this weekend? I made this sunny salad for an Easter brunch last year. It’s a lovely way to serve asparagus; and prosciutto; and egg. There is not much else you need to add to this trio except a few squirts of fresh lemon and a splash of olive oil to coat and glisten. If you can get your hands on a bunch of baby greens, then use them as a bed for the asparagus to absorb the oil and lemony goodness. And if you have a few baby herbs unfurling their leaves in your garden, by all means, add them to the plate.

Roasted Asparagus Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and Egg
Serves 6 to 8

1 pound asparagus, woody ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 ounces prosciutto
2 hard cooked eggs
4 ounces mixed baby greens (such as kale, arugula, mizuna, spinach)

Heat the oven to 375°F. Spread the asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil over the asparagus and turn to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the asparagus are bright green and crisp tender, 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. They should be crisp tender and not too floppy (unless you like them that way; then cook a bit longer). Remove from the oven and transfer to a plate to cool. Keep the oven on.

Arrange the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake in the oven until shriveled and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to the touch. The prosciutto will continue to harden as it cools. When cool enough to handle, break into shards.

Spread the greens on a serving platter. Arrange the asparagus over the greens. Squeeze the juice of the lemon over the asparagus and greens and drizzle with a little oil. Grate the eggs over the asparagus, then sprinkle the prosciutto shards over the salad. Garnish with fresh black pepper. If you have any fresh herbs in the garden, such as parsley, chervil or mint, feel free to tear a few leaves and scatter over the salad as well.

Simple Roasted Potatoes with Thyme and Sea Salt

Potatoes Sea Salt Thyme TasteFood

Sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious. These roasted potatoes are a standard accompaniment to meat and fish. They may be predictable, but they are also a classy reflection of simplicity. The ingredients are minimal (it’s all about the potato) and the method is easy (toss and roast). The results are, well, obvious: delicious crispy, salt-tinged potatoes. That’s the kind of predictability I will rely on any day of the week.

Roasted Potatoes with Sea Salt and Thyme

Salt the potatoes just before roasting to prevent them from exuding water.
Serves 4 as a side dish.

1 1/2 pounds small or new organic potatoes, with skin
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 thyme sprigs
Sea salt flakes for garnish
Fresh thyme leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Quarter the potatoes (or halve if very small) and place in a large bowl with the garlic. Drizzle the oil over the potatoes and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Dump the potatoes onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread evenly. Scatter the thyme sprigs around the potatoes. Place the baking tray on the lowest rack in the oven and bake 30 minutes without disturbing. Move the baking tray to the top half of the oven and continue to bake until tender and golden, 20 to 30 minutes more. Remove and transfer the potatoes to a bowl. Pour in an extra glugg of oil and stir to coat. Garnish with additional sea salt and fresh snipped thyme leaves.

Smashing Roots

smashed roots tastefoodMashed Sweet Potato, Rutabaga, Celery Root

Root vegetables are sadly underrated. The lowly unsung root is, in fact, a storehouse of nutrients, natural sugars, and starch, and a very healthy and flavorful substitute for the ubiquitous russet potato. It’s also a delicious and simple way to get your daily dose of vitamins during the cold weather season. A peel of the skin reveals a rainbow of anti-oxidant-rich colors ranging from magenta to ochre to buttery yellow, guaranteed to brighten a gray day – and your holiday table. I used sweet potato, celery root and rutabaga for this mash. You can add other roots, such as parsnip, carrot, and the handy russet potato to the mix as well. Be sure to choose a variety for a balance of  sweetness and nutty creamy flavor.

Smashed Roots

I use a combo of sour cream and Greek yogurt in this mash, which creates a little naughty richness and a little tangy lightness. So long as you use a combined amount of 1 cup, you can opt for all of one or the other.

3 pounds mixed roots (such as 1 pound each of sweet potato, celery root, and rutabaga)
Salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the root vegetables and cut into 1-inch chunks. Place the vegetables in a large pot with 2 teaspoons salt and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the vegetables are very tender. Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot; cool 5 minutes. Add the garlic, butter, sour cream, and yogurt. Smash with a potato masher until the ingredients are blended and the the mash is your desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky). Add salt to your taste and a generous amount of pepper. Spoon into a serving bowl and serve warm.

Prepare ahead:
The mash may be prepared up to 1 day in advance of serving. Cool completely and transfer to a buttered, deep gratin dish. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from them refrigerator 1 hour before serving. To reheat, heat the oven to 325°F. Dot the top of the mash with about 1 tablespoon of diced butter and cover with foil. Bake in the oven until heated through, 30 to 40 minutes.