By Marsha Fottler –
American meat-centric fall and winter holidays generally set cooks to worrying about the plight of vegetarians who gather at the big table. I don’t know why, holiday meals at Thanksgiving, Christmas and even Easter are nothing but good news for vegetarian eaters. Why? The side dishes, of courses. Once a vegetarian looks past that huge platter of carnivore pleasure in the center of the buffet table, the rest of the menu is nothing but veggie bliss – dressings and stuffings, roasted root vegetables, salads of fruits and vegetables of the season, fragrant oven-baked casseroles, grilled vegetables, the list goes one.
Meat is the very least of a great holiday meal, although it could easily be the most expensive component. If you’re the chief cook and organizer of a family-friends holiday gathering, you can assure that everyone partakes in the pleasures of your table by making sure you have great vegetable sides. If, a recipe calls for chicken or beef stock, just substitute vegetable broth. If the recipe says to sauté in bacon fat, use equal amounts of olive oil and butter. And, of course, ask some of your vegetarian friends to bring a favorite side dish to share. Those dishes could be the stars of the meal. Here are a few winning vegetarian sides to consider for your holiday menus.
Butternut Squash with Cranberries and Maple Syrup
(Becky Epstein, The American Lighthouse Cookbook. Serves six)
4 cups cubed butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup dried cranberries
4 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Peel, seed and cut squash into 1-inch cubes. Place in a pot, cover with water, and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Preheat over to 400. Carefully remove the squash from the water with a slotted spoon and put into a bowl. Fold in the cranberries, butter, maple syrup and remaining salt and pepper. Mix gently. Put mixture into an ovenproof dish and bake for 20 minutes.
Baked Potatoes, Apulian Style
2 pounds potatoes
2 cups onions sliced thin
1 pound fresh, ripe firm tomatoes skinned, seeded and cut into small pieces
1 cup fresh grated Romano cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 400. Peel potatoes and wash in cold water. But into slices about ¼-inch thick. Put the potatoes in a bowl together with the onion, tomato, cheese, oregano, salt, pepper and ½ cup water. Toss several times to mix. Using about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to smear a 13×9-inch baking dish. Pour in the potato mixture. Pour in the remaining olive oil. Place the dish on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven and bake about 1 hour, turning every 20 minutes of so. Once out of the oven, let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before bringing to the table. Potatoes should be served warm, not hot.
Sticky Saucepan Carrots
(Chef Jamie Oliver, Cook With Jamie. Serves four)
“There is something about this dish that is really brave and brash, I love the way the carrots are packed into the pan all stood up like little soldiers. And I love the fact that by the time the water has reduced down, the carrots will just be cooked and then the bottoms will have started to caramelize – absolutely fantastic.”
2 pounds carrots, peeled
a large knob of butter (about 3 tablespoons)
a few bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
Cut the carrots into 2 inch pieces, then find yourself an appropriately sized pan in which the carrots will fit snuggle when they stand up side by side. Once your carrots are snugly packed in, spread your knob of butter on top of the carrots, tuck the bay leaves between them and season well with salt and pepper. Then add enough water to come halfway up the carrots and put them on the heat. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the carrots are cooked. Take the lid off and let the liquid reduce until there isn’t any left. This will take about a half hour. Let the carrots sizzle gently in the butter for about five minutes until the bottoms of the carrots are sticky-brown. Turn them out on to a place and serve.
Roasted Cauliflower with Spices
(Chef Jamie Oliver, Cook With Jamie. Serves four)
“Cauliflower is absolutely fantastic when lightly roasted with herbs, spices, cheeses or breadcrumbs. It develops a really incredible flavor. Here’s a recipe I made up that is Indian in style”.
1 head cauliflower, outer green leaves removed, broken into florets
a knob of butter (about 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
2 dried red chillies
a handful of blanched almonds, smashed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 400. Blanch the cauliflower in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes, then drain in a colander allowing it to steam dry (you don’t want any water in the cauliflower). Toss in a glug of olive oil and the butter. In a pestle and mortar, bash your spices and chillies with a pinch of salt and then mix them with your almonds and put in a hot, dry overproof pan over medium heat on the stove to slowly toast them. After a couple of minutes, add the cauliflower. When it gets a nice bit of color on it, add the lemon zest and juice and mix well. Fry for about a minute longer and then pop the pan into the preheated over for about 15 minutes to crisp up.
(Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa at Home. Serves 6)
“Serving onions as a vegetable is a little unusual. Roasted onions are surprisingly delicious and a very inexpensive side dish.”
4 red onions
3 yellow onions
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minded garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400. Remove the stem end of each onion and carefully slice off the brown part of the root end, leaving the root intact. Peel the onions. Stand each onion root end up on a cutting board and cut the onions in edges through the root. Place the wedges in a large bowl. Combine the lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Pour the dressing over the onions and toss well. With a slotted spoon, transfer the onions to a sheet pan, reserving the vinaigrette that remains in the bowl. Bake the onions for 30-45 minutes, until tender and browned. Toss the onions once during cooking. Remove from the oven and drizzle with the reserved dressing. Sprinkle with parsley, season to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.