From the Harvest: Bright sides for Thanksgiving

These fresh ideas for Thanksgiving dishes are easy accompaniments to the classic dinner

  • Creamed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon.
Creamed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon. (Photo and styling by John…)
November 13, 2012|By John Houser III, For The Baltimore Sun

Thanksgiving can be an overwhelming holiday. Even the most seasoned cooks can become agitated by the menu planning and trying to get all the details just perfect.

Relax. Area farmers' markets have got you covered. Even as the growing season draws to a close, the markets' bustle increases with shoppers looking for ingredients for their Thanksgiving feast and farmers selling their last big crops of the year.

The weekend before Thanksgiving is traditionally the markets' biggest weekend of the year (though many run until the week before Christmas). Anything you would want to buy for your Thanksgiving spread — fruits, vegetables, spices and even turkeys — is available for reasonable prices. Especially cheap are the ingredients to make the side dishes that escort your turkey to the table.

These three side dishes use local ingredients you'll be able to find at the market. But they are also easy to make, and they are nontraditional options, so they can be made to complement usual favorites like mashed potatoes or green bean casserole.

All three can be made the day before and reheated to make Thanksgiving just a little easier on your nerves — and a little more local.

Roasted turnip soup

Makes: 8 servings

Turnips are not terribly popular; they have a tendency to become bitter and watery if not cooked properly. The key to cooking turnips is to roast them. Like radishes, turnips become sweet and creamy when roasted, and when paired with leeks, garlic and cream, they produce a fantastic winter soup.

2 pounds turnips, cut into large dice

1 tablespoon oil

2 leeks, dark green part cut off, sliced in half lengthwise and thinly sliced

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss turnips in oil, place on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 45 minutes. In a large pot over medium-high heat, brown the butter and toss in leeks garlic and salt. Cook until soft, add the turnips and stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to bring mixture to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the cream and cook for another 5 minutes. Transfer the hot mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Tip: To add a little bit of texture to the pureed soup, you can garnish with toasted walnuts or croutons.

Creamed brussels sprouts with bacon

Brussels sprouts rarely get much love — and they get plenty of hate. This is a dish that will change any Brussels sprout basher. It's a gateway dish into a new world of recipes. Plus, it has bacon in it, so you know it can't be that bad. This is good as leftovers for breakfast spooned over toast.

Makes: 8 servings

2 bunches (or stalks) Brussels sprouts (about 40), cut in half length-wise

8 ounces bacon, cut into 1/4-inch-by-1-inch slices

1/3 cup rendered bacon fat (saved from cooking the bacon)

1/3 cup flour

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 quart milk

2 teaspoons salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

In a large pan over medium heat add the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon from the rendered oil with a slotted spoon, reserve 1/3 cup of the bacon fat and discard the rest. In the same pan over medium heat, place the sprouts cut side down and cook until the bottoms brown (approximately 5 minutes) and turn off heat. Heat the milk (to almost a boil) in the microwave or in a small pot on the stove. In a saucepan over medium heat, mix the bacon fat and the flour. Cook together for about a minute and then slowly whisk in the hot milk, a half-cup at a time, until it is watery and combined. Bring the milk mixture to a boil. The sauce will tighten up and should be taken off of the heat. If it is too thick, thin it out with more milk or water. Pour the sauce onto the sprouts and stir in the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with bacon bits.

Tip: To make this dish lighter without the cream sauce, cook the bacon and brussels sprouts as the recipe directs, but don't save the fat, and when the sprouts are a little brown on the bottom, place the pan (oven-safe) into a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Add the bacon back into the pan and serve.

Roasted curried cauliflower

This is one of my favorite go-to recipes when I don't have a lot of time. The hardest thing you will do in this recipe is whisk together a vinaigrette. The nutty roasted cauliflower is completed by the spiced vinaigrette. You can use any curry powder that you like.

Makes: 8 servings

1 large head of cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets (about 4 pounds)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 red bell pepper, finely minced

1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees. In a large glass or metal bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and curry powder. Place the cauliflower into the bowl and toss to coat evenly with the vinaigrette. Pour the cauliflower onto a sheet tray (you may need two) and place into the oven for 30-45 minutes. Stir it every 10 minutes and take out when the edges are dark brown. Return the hot cauliflower to the glass or metal bowl from earlier and put in the red pepper and cilantro and toss to combine. Serve.

Tip: This dish can be cooled and served to great effect at room temperature. This is a great option when trying to warm up a bunch of different sides.

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