Same vegetables, new flavors

How traditional do you want your Thanksgiving meal to be?

It’s a good question to ask when planning a menu. The original New World Thanksgiving dinner — a several-days-long feast — was lavish, but green vegetables probably weren’t abundant. Gourds, melons, pumpkins and squashes were the vegetables of choice, or carrots and parsnips grown from seed. Dried native corn was ground, and either baked into cakes or cooked for porridge. Berries and other wild fruits such as plums, gooseberries and grapes were much appreciated.

But mostly there was game to eat. Wild turkeys and pheasants, ducks, geese and swans were spit-roasted, as was a vast supply of venison. Cod and lobster were plentiful. Shellfish was abundant, too.

Over centuries, the Thanksgiving menu has changed. Giant turkeys and hams now dominate the meal, and vegetables have more real estate on the sideboard. In many respects, however, the repertoire has remained the same. We put forth mashed potatoes, soggy peas, green-bean casserole, creamed onions, marshmallow-topped canned sweet potatoes and bread stuffing.

I get it. Nostalgia makes us crave these mellow accompaniments. Even so, I monkey around with the bird’s seasoning, and, for the vegetables, I want some bright flavors and colors. I always turn my cranberries into spicy chutney, for instance. This year, I’m playing with basic vegetables.

Mashed carrots may bring baby food to mind, or a fancy French purée, but these “smashed” ones are something else, and they have texture. Add the salty tang of feta cheese and lots of chopped fresh mint, and the carrots’ sweetness becomes a playful partner in a new scheme. Throw a little garlic at them, and a hint of crushed red pepper.

Cauliflower can be boiled, baked or roasted, and seasoned in any number of ways. Going sweet and sour is a good option for Thanksgiving — I like the contrast of big Italianate agrodolce flavors. Raisins, currants, wine, sugar and vinegar, along with onions and sweet spices, transport cauliflower to elegance. I make this a day or two ahead, as it only improves as it steeps. Served hot or cold, the cauliflower becomes a sort of condiment as well as a side dish.

Though they look like tiny cabbages, Brussels sprouts don’t have the same demeanor. They require a more aggressive approach. They pair well with cured pork, so I figured why not chorizo? Spanish chorizo has loads of flavor, but, for good measure, I added a little smoky push from pimentón and a hit of chopped garlic, which made the vegetable especially fetching.

New traditions must begin somewhere. To please your guests this year, try one of these jazzed-up vegetables. If you prefer to stick with family favorites, save them for another Thanksgiving Day — or any day.

Smashed Carrots With Feta and Mint

Yield: 6 servings

Time: 25 minutes


3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 pounds large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons freshly chopped mint leaves

Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)


Step 1: In a large, heavy pot with a lid, warm olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add carrots and stir to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Step 2: Add garlic, stir, and let sizzle just until golden; do not let it brown. Then add 1 cup water and cover pot.

Step 3: Reduce heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove lid, and turn heat to high. Simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Step 4: With a potato masher, crush carrots roughly, right in the pot, leaving mixture a bit chunky. Set aside until ready to serve.

Step 5: To serve, reheat carrots over low heat. Fold most of the feta and mint into the hot carrot mixture, reserving enough for garnish. Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper, if using. Top with remaining feta and mint.

Sweet-and-Sour Cauliflower With Golden Raisins

Yield: 6 servings

Time: 30 minutes


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced

Pinch of saffron or 1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 large or 2 small cauliflowers, trimmed, cut into large florets, florets sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1/4 cup currants

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 to 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, to taste

1 tablespoon snipped chives

2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted


Step 1: In a large, heavy pot, warm olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened and just turning golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Adjust the heat to prevent browning. Add saffron and stir to coat.

Step 2: Add cauliflower, season generously with salt and pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently.

Step 3: Add brown sugar, currants, raisins, lemon zest and juice, cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar. Turn up heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is just tender, about 5 to 8 minutes more.

Step 4: Remove pot from heat, taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and sherry vinegar. Set aside for at least 10 minutes (or up to 2 days, refrigerated) before serving.

Step 5: When ready to serve, transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with chives and pine nuts. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Brussels Sprouts With Chorizo

Yield: 6 servings

Time: 20 minutes


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 ounces fresh, soft Spanish chorizo, chopped in 1/2-inch pieces

1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick

Salt and pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), picante (hot) or dulce (sweet)

2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley


Step 1: In a wide skillet, warm olive oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chorizo and let sizzle for a minute or so, until it releases some of its fat.

Step 2: Mash chorizo with a wooden spoon, encouraging it to crumble. Cook, stirring, until slightly browned, about 2 minutes more. Use a slotted spoon to remove chorizo and set aside. Leave oil bubbling in skillet.

Step 3: Add Brussels sprouts to the skillet, and season generously with salt and pepper. Raise heat to high and cook, stirring, until sprouts are tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat if needed to prevent scorching.

Step 4: Add garlic and pimentón and stir to coat. Return chorizo to pan and cook, stirring, 2 minutes more. Sprinkle with parsley and transfer to a serving dish. Serve hot.

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