Super sides Let these tempting dishes be the real stars of your holiday feast this Thanksgiving Day.

November 19, 1997|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

Coming soon to a dinner table near you: Thanksgiving Day! Starring: Stuffing, Potatoes, Vegetables and Bread. And featuring: Tom Turkey.

Turkey in a supporting role? It's true. They've always been stars in the making, those Thanksgiving side dishes, and now their time has come to shine.

Nutritionists and other health experts have been telling us for years to move those all-important fruits and vegetables to the center of the plate. Now, with restaurant chefs, cookbook authors and home cooks paying more attention, those unheralded sides have been polished up, spiced up and given all the glamour they need to take center stage.

"The emphasis on vegetables has really changed in the last 10 years -- even the last 5 years," said Becky Foulk, regional chef for Fresh Fields Whole Foods Market, based in Rockville. "I've been in this business for 15 years, and back then, the emphasis was definitely on the entree."

But now, she said, emphasis has really turned to the accompaniments, and she, for one, is glad. Every vegetable has a unique flavor, she said. "Each has its certain style."

A glance in the prepared foods case at Fresh Fields this Thanksgiving season (there are stores in Annapolis and Mount Washington) will reveal such stellar sides as broccoli and toasted hazelnuts drizzled with lemon-flavored oil, carrots with honey-roasted peanuts in a maple glaze, a corn saute with adzuki and white beans in garlic oil with tomatoes, green onions, rosemary and thyme, and roasted squash with fresh sage.

"The sage just acts as a very nice accent," Foulk said. "When people think of sage they think of stuffing, but I think it really works well with a lot of vegetables."

Foulk noted that in most cases she is adding fairly simple flavor notes to a standard dish to perk it up.

This is the modern answer to the old-fashioned sauces that used to cover vegetables. "Remember broccoli and cheese sauce?"

Instead of a heavy sauce, she uses a bit of flavored oil, or some roasted nuts, a touch of sherry, balsamic or raspberry vinegar and fresh herbs. "It really brings out more of the natural flavors," she said.

Cookbook author Marcia Adams, who specializes in country-type cooking, credits the health profession's emphasis on reducing blood cholesterol and the fact that there are increasing numbers of vegetarians among the population for some of the new interest in vegetables.

Her latest cookbook, "New Recipes from Quilt Country" (Clarkson Potter, 1997, $30) features "food and folkways of the Amish and Mennonites."

"Of course, the Amish eat a lot of vegetables, because they grow a lot of vegetables," she said. But the hearty style of the dishes makes them perfect for a cold-weather, food-centered holiday.

She likes brussels sprouts with bacon -- "Bacon is a great seasoning agent for any almost any vegetable" -- and carrots with ginger, honey and raisins, and onions and apples sauted together with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Williams-Sonoma has just issued a cookbook solely about the holiday, called "Thanksgiving" (Time-Life Books, 1997, $14.95), with 16 pages of recipes for side dishes and stuffing.

Spokeswoman Donata Maggipinto agreed that there is new emphasis on the side dishes. "Particularly for people who've got the turkey down," she said. "They know there's a lot of information out there about roasting times and so on, but they want to know, 'How can I put my own personal style on this meal?' And that's with the side dishes."

The recipes in the book, Maggipinto said, are "pretty traditional with a few little twists to make them more modern." Take sweet potatoes, for instance. "I think younger people remember their mother making them with marshmallows, and they're saying, 'I hated that!' " So Williams-Sonoma matched steamed sweet potatoes with browned butter, sage and Parmesan cheese. Ham and shallots make green beans more piquant.

And brussels sprouts are perked up with orange butter and roasted hazelnuts.

"When you think about it, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a meal of starches and sugar," she said. "Vegetables are a way to balance that."

Here are some recipes that give a new twist to some old favorites.

The first one, offering a variation on traditional stuffing, is from "The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook," by David Rosengarten with Joel Dean and Giorgio DeLuca (Random House, 1996, $35).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer advises cooking the stuffing inside the bird.

Sausage and pecan stuffing with raisins

Serves 12 to 16

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings

1 stick ( 1/2 cup) butter

3 cups minced yellow onions

2 cups diced celery

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 cups stale corn bread, cubed

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 cup raisins

1 cup chopped pecans

6 tablespoons butter

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

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