Take a break from gut-busting holiday decadence with easy veggie dishes
My spinning instructor says we’re squarely in the eating season; she hounds us to pedal faster. She’s right, of course. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, temptations abound — from the sharing tables at the office to dinners with visiting friends and relatives. And let’s not talk about my penchant for eating all the richest items at holiday dinners first.
How to counteract the gravy, buttered rolls, rich stuffings, scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach and candied yams? I arm myself with an arsenal of lighter, delicious and beautiful vegetable preparations that shake up the buffet.
Instead of a typical green salad, I offer a holiday Caesar made with stunning ruby red radicchio and a homemade dressing spiked with lemongrass and fresh thyme. This gorgeous salad, inspired by Cathy Whims’ version at Nostrana in Portland, Oregon, proves worthy of any party. The dressing and other components of the salad can be made several days in advance.
To help eliminate any excuse for not eating salad, I trim, clean and spin-dry a couple of days’ worth of interesting, super-fresh salad greens. Then I put the greens into a plastic container (or zip-close bag) lined with a paper towel. Covered, and refrigerated, the greens will last several days. Sturdy salad greens, such as romaine, frisee and radicchio, will keep nicely even longer.
Homemade croutons will make any salad a standout. For a Caesar salad, I use a cheesy bread, such as the Three Cheese Semolina from La Brea Bakery. Cut into evenly sized cubes and tossed with a little olive oil, the bread crisps in about 10 minutes. Pack them into a container when they are completely cool, and they’ll keep several days.
For the dressing, I employ the microwave to lightly cook the eggs destined to thicken and enrich the Caesar dressing. The blender makes quick work of this creamy classic. Adding just a dash of pureed lemongrass transforms the dressing into holiday fare. I label and date the bottle of dressing to use it within several days.
I think the best salad combination is room-temperature dressing and chilled, crisp greens. Just before serving, place the bottle of dressing in a large mug full of hot water and let it stand until the solidified oils liquefy and the flavors peak. To properly dress a salad, measure out 1 tablespoon of dressing for every 2 loosely packed cups of torn, cleaned salad greens. Use a little bit extra for a more indulgently dressed salad, but refrain from adding too much, or the salad can get unpleasantly soggy. Always serve the salad within a few minutes of dressing it; a chilled salad bowl will buy you a little more time.
Roasting vegetables yields an infinitely more luxurious dish than steaming or blanching them. Adding a full-flavored seasoning gives them extraordinary flavor. My niece swears by a combination of soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar and garlic for her addictive roast broccoli. I keep a bottle of the mixture on hand to use on just about any cut-up vegetable destined for a sheet pan. Sugar might sound odd on vegetables, but here it acts to boost flavors and mellow out bitterness.
For holiday meals, I combine root vegetables, such as zesty turnips, sweet carrots and sturdy parsnips, before coating them with the seasoning sauce. Broccoli and cauliflower likewise look and taste great when roasted and combined. Make a double batch of the seasoning sauce for roasting all season long.
Bring on the eating season. We are ready.
Holiday Thyme Caesar Salad
Use interesting bread for interesting croutons: I like a hearty bread laced with cheese for this Caesar. The large holes on a four-sided grater make attractive shreds from a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This salad is great tossed with bits of roasted turkey or chicken for a main-dish salad.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
2 large heads (8 ounces each) red radicchio
3 to 4 cups (about 8 ounces total) 1-inch cubes of hearty bread, such as three-cheese semolina or whole-grain artisan bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Caesar dressing, recipe follows
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 cup large shreds of Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Several thyme sprigs for garnish
Use a paring knife to remove the core from the heads of radicchio. Tear the radicchio leaves into large pieces and place in a colander. You’ll have about 12 cups. Rinse under cool water, and spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with clean toweling. Place the radicchio in a food-safe plastic bag or container lined with paper toweling. Refrigerate covered for 1 hour or up to several days.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place bread cubes on a large baking sheet. Add olive oil, and toss to coat. Bake, stirring often, until croutons are nicely golden on all sides, 12 to 15 minutes total. Cool completely, and store in a covered container at room temperature for up to several days.
Just before serving, have all the salad components ready. Place the radicchio in a large bowl, and drizzle on the salad dressing. Use tongs to toss the radicchio until it is coated with the dressing. Transfer to a large platter or serving bowl. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves, croutons and cheese. Sprinkle with pepper. Garnish with thyme sprigs and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 224 calories, 14 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 8 g sugar, 7 g protein, 174 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
Caesar Dressing With Lemongrass and Thyme
You can skip the anchovies, but they really make this a well-rounded, delicious dressing. A tablespoon of finely chopped Kalamata olives or oil-cured black olives make a decent vegetarian substitute for both the anchovies and the Worcestershire (which contains fish).
Prep: 10 minutes
Makes: about 1 cup
1 large or 2 small lemons
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 of a 2-ounce can of anchovies, drained of oil
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon refrigerated lemongrass puree
2 large eggs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme leaves
Use a Microplane to grate about 1/2 teaspoon of the yellow part of the lemon rind into a small bowl. Squeeze the lemon(s) into a glass measuring cup until you have about 1/4 cup.
With the blender running, drop the garlic through the feed tube to chop it. Add the lemon juice, anchovies, Worcestershire and lemongrass puree. Blend until smooth.
Coddle the eggs in the microwave: Break eggs into a small bowl, leaving the yolks whole. Microwave on medium power (50 percent) for 30 to 40 seconds; watch closely, or the egg will overcook. The white should be barely opaque, and the yolk still runny.
Add the softly cooked eggs to the blender. Turn the blender on, and stream in the oil by slowing pouring it in through the lid with the blender running. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt; blend, then taste and adjust salt again as needed.
Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add the grated lemon rind and thyme leaves. Close the jar and shake well. Store in the refrigerator up to several days. Use at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 75 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g sugar, 1 g protein, 78 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Root Vegetables
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Makes: 8 servings
5 medium-size turnips, about 11/4 pounds
3 medium parsnips, about 13 ounces
4 large carrots, about 1 pound
Garlic-and-soy vegetable roasting sauce, see recipe
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup mix of chopped chives and parsley, or mix of chopped green onions and parsley
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Have 2 large oiled baking sheets ready.
Peel all the vegetables, and trim off tough ends. Cut the turnips into quarters through the stem end. Cut each quarter into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut the skinny ends of the parsnips and carrots into 1/2-inch-thick coins. Then cut the fatter top section of the parsnips and carrots in half, and cut those halves into 1/2-inch-thick half-moons.
Mix all vegetables in a large bowl; you’ll have about 10 cups. Add the roasting sauce and toss to coat everything well.
Divide the vegetables and sauce between the two baking sheets. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until vegetables are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife and nicely glazed, about 25 minutes.
Sprinkle vegetables with rice vinegar and sesame oil; toss to coat. Serve hot, sprinkled with chives and parsley.
Nutrition information per serving: 165 calories, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 8 g sugar, 3 g protein, 622 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Broccoli
I double the recipe for a holiday meal and use both broccoli and cauliflower.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
2 pounds broccoli crowns (or a large head cauliflower)
1/2 recipe garlic-and-soy vegetable roasting sauce, see recipe
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or green onions
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Use a paring knife to lightly peel the stems of the broccoli. Use the knife to cut the florets into small bite-sized pieces. Cut the stems into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Place on an oiled baking sheet. Add the roasting sauce and toss to coat.
Roast in the middle of the oven, stirring often, until broccoli is tender when a knife is inserted, about 20 minutes.
Put into a serving bowl and add vinegar and sesame oil. Toss to coat. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 167 calories, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 14 g carbohydrates, 5 g sugar, 8 g protein, 606 mg sodium, 5 g fiber
Garlic-and-Soy Vegetable Roasting Sauce
1/3 cup grapeseed or sunflower oil
1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons coconut aminos or Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Mix all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate covered up to a week.