Traditions are the antichange—things we can count on and memories that are relived through, among many things, holiday meals, including the leftovers. I dare you to find a holiday gathering where the conversation doesn’t turn to food memories and their roots. Back in the day when I was an executive chef cooking for casts of thousands, there would invariably be someone who told me my cranberry relish or gravy wasn’t how their mother made it.“I’m not your mother,” I sighed.
Like a movie—there is always the feature player on the holiday dining table (besides Uncle Roy).
Depending on your rituals, meat is usually featured, such as pork roast, pheasant, turkey, ham, lamb, goose; and then there are the side players—starches, vegetables, salads, and breads. The side dishes are what offer a chance to mix it up.Whether you are the guest or the host, adding side dishes that are unexpected might just become a new ritual.The most important thing to remember is that sides should harmonize with the main course, not overshadow it, and be orchestrated to have the right balance of textures and flavors, from smooth to crunchy, earthy to sweet.
The good news, the winter months here in the Northeast have not limited our fresh food options. Bishop Orchards has a commitment to local, and Dudley Farms in Guilford holds a winter market the first Saturday of every month from 9 to 12, as does White Gate Farm in East Lyme on Wednesdays (12 to 7) and Saturdays (9 to 4). If you are time crunched, CT Farm Fresh delivers from every organic farm in the state right to your door. Check them out at www.ctffe.com.
The following recipes take advantage of seasonal vegetables and are designed to add richness and texture to integrate with any main course. Each has ingredients you can get anywhere and is easy to prep ahead of time.
Bon appétit, and remember the words of Miss Piggy this holiday season: “Never eat more than you can lift.”
KALE AND CHICKPEAS WITH BACON
3 slices thick-cut bacon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1⁄4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 pounds fresh kale
2 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
1. To clean kale—Remove center rib from each leaf and discard. Rinse in large bowl of cold water. Drain by removing leaves from water and draining in colander. Cut leaves into 2-inch pieces.
2. In a large pot of boiling water, cook leaves, uncovered, for 3 minutes, then drain.
3. Cut bacon crosswise into 1⁄4-inch pieces. Cook bacon in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until browned. Leaving bacon in skillet, spoon off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Add 2 tablespoons oil, chickpeas, and red pepper flakes; cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Stir in kale and garlic; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Season with pepper and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of oil.
ROOT VEGETABLE MASH WITH HORSERADISH
3⁄4 pounds turnips, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
3⁄4 pounds parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise, woody cores discarded, and cut crosswise into 1⁄2-inch pieces
2 large russet (baking) potatoes (1 pound total)
1⁄4 cup heavy cream
1⁄2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons finely grated, peeled, fresh horseradish or drained, bottled horseradish
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped chives
1. Cook turnips and parsnips in a 4-quart pot of boiling, salted water (2 teaspoons salt) for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, peel potatoes and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces. Add potatoes to pot and boil until all vegetables are tender, 10–12 minutes more.
3. Meanwhile, heat cream, butter, and horseradish in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted and mixture is hot. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
4. Drain vegetables, return to pot, and heat over high heat, shaking pot until any excess liquid has evaporated, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and pour cream mixture over vegetables. Add 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper, and mash vegetables with a potato masher until mostly smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle chives over top before serving.
LENTILS WITH CURRIED BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND WALNUTS
1 small butternut squash (about 2 pounds), halved, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1⁄4 cup sliced shallots
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (about 4 ounces) walnuts, chopped
4 cups water
1 cup small French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 425° F.
2. Toss squash with shallots, oil, curry powder, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl until coated. Spread out on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes. Sprinkle walnuts over squash and bake until walnuts are lightly toasted and squash is tender, about 10 minutes more.
3. Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Add lentils and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, until lentils are tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes. Drain in a sieve and transfer to the same bowl you used to toss the squash.
4. Add squash mixture, cilantro, and lime juice to lentils. Toss well to combine. Add more salt and pepper if desired.