My Thanksgiving table will feature green and red this year, harbingers of the holiday ahead, as I add fruits and vegetables at the last minute. Most will take no more than 15 minutes to cook. They all can be made ahead and reheated or served at room temperature or cold.
For years, I have served yummy food at Thanksgiving to those dearest to me. I fix one favorite dish for each person because the familiar is what is wanted. But it is all brown and yellow in color, and there is not the feeling of freshness that comes from green and red. (When my mother passed on, I was able to give up green bean casserole.) Along with the turkey are sweet potato casserole, a creamy and cheesy vegetable gratin, sausage dressing, cream gravy, yellow squash casserole and mashed potatoes with butter and cream.
I also always serve ambrosia with oranges, bananas and coconut to lighten up the table with fruit. But it seems more like a dessert, and with pies and pumpkin cheesecake to follow, it often is passed over until it accompanies other leftovers later in the week or late at night.
The red-and-green theme includes quartered Brussels sprouts sauteed with apples and pecans, sauteed fresh spinach and tomatoes, frozen butter beans or White Acre peas with tomato conserve, and apples and/or pears added to a sausage dressing.
For each beguiling dish I add, my eaters will eat less of the more fattening things -- or at least they won't go back for seconds or thirds. It's called diet by displacement. I like it. And so will they!
Brussels Sprouts, Apples and Pecans
Poor Brussels sprouts, delicious and ever-so-healthy, but so maligned when their secret is keeping them slightly crunchy. Mixed with apples and pecans, they are a feast. The trick to cooking them is to cut an "X" in the base, or cut them in quarters or halves, so the hard core is cooked at the same speed as the leaves.
3 cups Brussels sprouts
1 tart red apple such as Cameo
2 cups apple cider or juice (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/2 cup pecan halves, raw or toasted
Remove any tough or battered outer leaves and cut the Brussels sprouts into quarters. Cut the unpeeled apple into chunks. Bring 2 cups apple cider or water to a boil with a bit of salt. Add the Brussels sprouts, then the apples, and cook 5-6 minutes, depending on size, keeping them still green. Drain. (If the liquid is particularly tasty, add to a soup or other dish; otherwise, discard.)
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This may be made up to a day in advance. When ready to serve, heat the butter or olive oil, add the sprouts and apples, and toss just until warmed through. Sprinkle with the pecans.
Gingered Tomatoes and Spinach
For many years, I served the gingered tomatoes solo. Then I started adding vegetables, winding up with spinach and turnip greens as my favorite additions.
4 ripe tomatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 slice fresh ginger, chopped
3 to 4 cups of washed spinach or turnip greens
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the tomatoes into 6 wedges, or more if particularly large. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan.
Add the chopped ginger, followed by the tomatoes, and toss over heat until tomatoes are heated through, but not mushy, 2 or 3 minutes.
Remove any tough veins and tear the spinach into bite-size pieces before adding to the pan. Cook until spinach is wilted and hot, 2 or 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Butter Beans or Butter Peas With Tomato Conserve
Serves 4 to 6
Pale green in color, the size of an index fingernail, butter beans are a delicate, moist, tender and flavorful relative of lima beans. They are stars of the Southern table. We see butter beans in our farmers markets for sale in small sandwich-size plastic bags, already shelled and ready to use or freeze as they are. Where I come from, butter beans are small and pale green, but in some parts of the country, the frozen vegetable sold as a butter bean is large and brownish-tan, more like what I think of as a broad bean. Commercially frozen butter beans and butter peas as well as White Acre peas are all very good. If you can't find small green butter beans, cook one of the other ones.
I love serving them with tomato conserve, which is available in the grocery store in jars, or easy to make at home.
4 cups shelled fresh butter beans or butter peas
1/4 cup butter or bacon fat
1/2 small onion, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Tomato Conserve (recipe follows)
Bring enough water to cover the peas to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat slightly and add the beans or peas, the butter or bacon fat and the onion. Return to a boil. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Test to see if tender before draining. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with the liquid and a dollop of tomato conserve.
Tomato Conserve or Preserve
Makes 1 quart
My dear mother-in-law, Celeste Dupree, always made sure to have this on hand. Although this probable forerunner of ketchup also may be purchased store-bought, the homemade version is so much more delicious that I had to start making my own and think you will, too. It is served to go atop vegetables of all sorts -- beans and peas, greens, zucchini, eggplant and others -- as well as added to sauces. Its deep, earthy red color adds dimension wherever it goes. It may be treated as any preserve, although the instructions do not include the canning or bottling process.
8 pounds fresh tomatoes, skinned, quartered and seeded or 8 (1-pound) cans of tomatoes with juice (see cook's note)
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
Cook's note: Fresh vegetables do not come out of the ground in a uniform manner, although the grocery store varieties may look like they do. Never make conserve with those pale pink tomatoes. They are tasteless and not worth the effort. Instead, use fresh, ripe heirloom ones when possible. They will require a little more effort to make them relatively uniform in size before commencing to cook, but will certainly make a difference in the resulting taste. If using canned tomatoes, use the finest ones you can purchase.
Cook the tomatoes, vinegar, 1 cup of the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the mixture is thick enough to cling to a spoon, about 1 1/2 hours, taking care it does not burn and stirring as necessary. Taste and, if desired, add some of the remaining sugar to make it sweeter. This will keep in the refrigerator a couple of weeks. It also can be frozen.
Sausage, Fennel and Apple or Pear Dressing
Sausage and apple are naturally good together; mixed with biscuit crumbs, they make a wonderful, flavorful, near-healthy dressing. A real plus is turkey stock. I make mine ahead of time, using browned turkey wings, but turkey stock also is available in most grocery stores.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 pound sweet Italian pork or turkey sausage
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 to 2 fennel bulbs, finely chopped
1 to 2 red or other cooking apple or pear
1/4 cup apple juice
1 cup chopped pecans
1 to 2 cups turkey or chicken stock
4 cups biscuit or white bread chunks
3 tablespoons chopped thyme, marjoram or oregano
1 tablespoon fennel frond
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt a couple of tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Crumble the sausage and add to the hot pan. Brown and remove from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chopped onion to the pan and cook until soft. Add the chopped garlic and fennel. Chop one apple, leaving skin on, add to the pan, and cook a few minutes until the fennel and apple are slightly soft as well. Add the rest of the butter in pieces, making sure it melts. Cool slightly.
Return the chopped cooked sausage, juice, pecans, 1 cup of the stock, crumbled biscuits or bread, 1/2 of the herbs and toss everything together until the bread is well-moistened, adding stock if needed. Set aside the other apple, the remaining herbs and the stock.
Move the mixture to an 11x13-inch baking dish and bake 20-30 minutes until the bread is lightly browned. This may be served hot or may be cooled, wrapped and frozen. Defrost in microwave or refrigerator and reheat in 350-degree oven for 20 minutes. Add the remaining apple and herbs, pushing the apple in for color. Add any stock as needed all along.
Thanksgiving how-to’s: See and learn how to do easy, delicious Thanksgiving dishes from Nathalie Dupree.
Her featured video this week is Cranberry Relish.
Check out her other Thanksgiving videos on the Web site:
How to Roast a Turkey
How to Carve a Turkey
Nathalie Dupree, who lives in Charleston, is the former director of Rich's Cooking School in Atlanta and the author of eight cookbooks, including "Nathalie Dupree's Comfortable Entertaining." She may be reached at www.nathalie.com.