Fennel, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
SOUTHERNISM OF THE WEEK
Dry it Up: (Nothing to do with rainy weather… ) Quit yer caterwauling and and let’s move on. Tears and hissy fits won’t solve this situation. Think Tom Brady fussing about the no-touchdown pass thrown AFTER the clock ran out in Monday’s game between the Patriots and the Panthers. “Tsk tsk, Tom. Dry it up! Game over.”
ALL SOUTHERN PLATES MUST HAVE A TOUCH OF GREEN
Our biggest food day of the year is approaching fast, and FAST is what we all ought to do in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Personally, it’s my favorite holiday because it’s a celebration of food and family (of choice) and football and no gift-giving. It’s a dangerous holiday, though, laden with culinary pitfalls.
We all know why. Turkey may be a dieter’s favorite protein, but that tasty lean white meat is offset on Turkey Day by some of the fattiest, sugariest side dishes known to man (and Southern women). Face it, Thanksgiving can be an ode to gluttony if not planned properly.
More importantly for us artsy folks, our traditional Southern Thanksgiving dishes tend to drift into that brown-beige-orange section of the color wheel that we all know does not look so beautiful in the Technicolor of real life. Remember the rule: It must look beautiful.
That’s why we’re focusing today on the old Southern lady requirement that every dinner plate must contain a touch of green. And let me clarify for folks with precocious children like mine: I don’t mean green Jell-o.
NON-SOUP GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
Frankly, ever since learning how to steam and sauté fresh green beans, The Old Bride has not been a fan of green bean casserole containing canned soup and fried onion rings. But my brothers love it. So I’ve taken to making a healthier version.
1 large white onion, chopped
1 stick unsalted butter (or 1/4 c extra light olive oil)
1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
3/4 c whole milk
3/4 c plain Greek yogurt
3 c Cheddar cheese, grated
Dash of cayenne pepper
3 (14.5-oz) cans of cut green beans, drained (OR 2 lb fresh green beans, steamed and cut)
4 oz sliced canned or sautéed mushrooms, drained and chopped
(better to have fewer than too many mushrooms)
8-oz can of sliced water chestnuts, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
3/4 c sliced almonds, crushed
Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Melt butter in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent. Slowly stir in flour, soy sauce, milk or yogurt, and cheese until cheese has melted. Add dash of cayenne. Remove from heat. Fold in the drained green beans, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Crush sliced almonds in a baggie with a rolling pin. Sprinkle almonds evenly across top of casserole. Bake approximately 50 minutes until bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to rest to set up before serving. YIELD: 10-12 servings.
Fennel is a plant in which all parts are edible — from the white, onion-like bulb, to the green stalks that resemble celery, to the wispy, dill-like leaves at the top. Its natural season occurs from fall through early spring. Depending on which part of the plant one consumes, fennel tastes like a cross between celery, cabbage, and licorice. When chopped and served raw, the fennel bulb is crisp and bracing in flavor, but when sautéed or slow-roasted, the bulb caramelizes into a savory sweetness that complements the richness of starches and proteins. Although long used as an herbal seasoning for fish, meats, and soups, fennel consumed as a veggie only recently joined the Southern food party.
NOTE: Look for bright white, unblemished fennel, whose bulbs feel heavy for their size. Cut bottom of the bulb should not have more than a trace of browning, and cut ends of stalks should look fresh and not dried-out. Store in veggie bin of fridge, loosely wrapped in a plastic bag until ready to use. Will last up to 10 days after harvesting.
Two fennel bulbs, stalks cut off and fronds reserved for other use
Kosher salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line baking dish with parchment paper. Trim off bottom of bulbs and trim away any brown spots. Slice bulbs in half, lengthwise, then cut again lengthwise into 1-inch-thick slices. Place in pan and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat. Toss with hands to coat all sides. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar to coat, also turning with hands to cover all sides. Spread out in the parchment-lined pan and sprinkle with kosher salt. Roast uncovered in oven about 30 to 40 minutes, until cooked-through and beginning to caramelize to a golden brown. Serve as a condiment accompanying protein and starch dishes. YIELD: About 4 to 6 servings.
SKILLET-KISSED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
I love steamed Brussels sprouts drizzled with melted butter and a bit of kosher salt. Try this version if you hanker for a dressed-up variation.
1/2 c slivered almonds
2 T butter
4 large garlic cloves, slivered
30 oz of Brussels sprouts, trimmed; each cut lengthwise into quarters
1/3 c water
Salt to taste
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 c white wine or 2 T lemon juice
3 to 4 T crumbled crisp-cooked bacon
Toast the almonds in nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium heat 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently until lightly browned. Transfer almonds to a cup; set aside. In same skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in garlic, sprouts, and 1 tsp salt. Add the water and cover. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once after 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the white wine or lemon juice and simmer until liquid reduces. Add crumbled bacon before removing from heat. Transfer sprouts to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with skillet-toasted almonds and serve immediately. YIELD: 5 cups.
SAUTEED KALE AND GREENS
Everybody loves spinach sautéed with garlic. Why not substitute baby kale and other baby greens? We Southerners don’t HAVE to consume all our local leafy greens with ham hock in order to cook up some good pot likker.
1 (5-oz) package of fresh baby kale leaves
1 (5-oz) package of organic baby beet greens, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
3 T extra light olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh shaved Parmesan cheese
Gently rinse and drain a mess of fresh spinach. Heat olive oil in skillet and add the kale and other leaves. Cover briefly, then remove lid and toss leaves to coat in oil. Mix in garlic, toss until spinach wilts. Add salt and pepper. Serve with fresh shaved Parmesan cheese. YIELD: 4 half-cup servings.
Laurie Triplette is a writer, historian, and accredited appraiser of fine arts, dedicated to preserving Southern culture and foodways. Author of the award-winning community family cookbook GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’, and editor of ZEBRA TALES (Tailgating Recipes from the Ladies of the NFLRA), Triplette is a member of the Association of Food Journalists (AFJ),Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA) and the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). Check out the GIMME SOME SUGAR, DARLIN’ web site: www.tripleheartpress.com and follow Laurie’s food adventures on Facebook and Twitter (@LaurieTriplette).