Fresh From the Farm – Katie Malich

T- 10 days and counting. That’s “T” for Thanksgiving.

You may be a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner: tried and true and much-loved family recipes.

Or you might be in a mood to change things up a little: experiment with new, updated sides or even ditch the turkey all together.

Either way, the Culver City Farmers Markets have fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, eggs, poultry, cheese and prepared food items to make your Thanksgiving meal memorable.

My friend Margaret has been complaining that her family wants the same Thanksgiving dinner year after year, down to the green beans with cream of mushroom soup and potato chips on top casserole and canned cranberry sauce in slices. Not only is she tired of those dishes, she doesn’t even like turkey. I’ve suggested that she can keep peace at her Thanksgiving table if she includes a mix of family favorites and some side dishes with more pizzaz and character.

Some of the seasonal vegetables you’ll find at the farmers markets include greens such as collard and kale, and a cornucopia of winter squashes. I recently made southern greens with smoked turkey legs for a friend who was ill. So when I saw Mark Bittman’s suggestion of make-ahead pickled collards as a Thanksgiving side dish, I immediately began adopting his suggestion to fit my friend’s situation. This is a perfect make-ahead dish, since the greens and liquid need to be refrigerated for at least three days before serving.

Stuffed acorn squash is a perfect addition to your Thanksgiving dinner table if there are vegans or vegetarinas present. And it is tasty enough to satisfy omnivores, too. Although it looks lovely when presented in individual half squashes, you can also prepare it in a casserole dish. This makes it easier to serve since you don’t have to worry about the inedible exteriors of the squash, and your guests can choose to take a spoonful or a full serving of the dish.

If you’re tired of sweet potato casserole with marshmallow on top, or if you want to provide a lighter option for some of your guests, try a grated yam, raisin and pepitas salad. A hint of chili provides a flavor contrast for the turkey and mashed potatoes, and the addition of lime juice to the dressing adds an unmistakably southwest touch to the dish. Sliced fennel and celery combine to make another light and refreshing salad festive enough for this special occasion.

Pickled Collard Greens

2 bunches collard greens, rinsed, stemmed and chopped
6 cups water
1/3 c. white vinegar
1 T. sugar
1  t. salt
1/8 t. red chili flakes or to taste

2 quart canning jars with lids, sterilized by boiling in hot water for 10 minutes.

In a medium sauce pan, boil the water and add the vinegar. Add the sugar, salt and red chili flakes. Stir, and bring back to a boil. While the water is boiling, add the chopped collard greens to the canning jars. Pack the greens in, if necessary. Then, cover the greens with the boiling water/vinegar mixture. Cover. When the jars are cool, place them in the refrigerator. Refrigerate at least three days. The pickled collard greens should keep for around three weeks if refrigerated.

Yam, Raisin and Pepitas Salad
(serves 8 )

1 c. raw shelled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 t. chili powder
8 c. yams, peeled and grated
1 c. raisins
1/2 c. olive oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
2 t. lime juice
1 t. honey
pinch of salt
additional chili powder to taste if desired

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread pepitas on a baking sheet and dust with _ t. chili powder. Roast until lightly browned, shaking occasionally. Remove and let cool. While they are cooling, make a vinegrette dressing by whisking together the olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, honey and salt. You may add a pinch of chili powder to the vinagrette if desired. Remember that the chili taste will get stronger as the dressed salad sits. Combine the yams, raisins, pepitas and dressing. This can be refrigerated for 4-6 hours or served immediately. (This recipe was inspired by a grated sweet potato recipe which appeared in The Minimalist column in the New York Times, but I have adopted it for California tastes and tables.)

Fennel and Celery Salad
(serves 4-6)

3 fennel bulbs, trimmed
3 pieces of celery, leafy tops removed and ends trimmed
scant 1/3 c. olive oil
3 T. fresh lemon juice
1/2 t. salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
garnish with madarin orange slices, dried sweetened cranberries or pomegranite seeds

First, trim the bottoms and tops of the fennel bulbs. If the outer layer is tough, discard it too. Cut the bulbs in half from top to bottom, and then cut each piece in half lengthwise. Slice the fennel very thinly. A mandoline works best if you have one. Then, slice the celery so that it is equally thin. Put the sliced vegetables in a large bowl and toss. Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Drizzle over the vegetables and gently toss to ensure the salad dressing is evenly distributed. To add color and taste, you can garnish the salad with your choice of mandarin orange slices, dried cranberries or pomegranite seeds. (The New York Times’ Mark Bittman prepares a similar salad with shaved parmasean cheese, but I prefer to omit the cheese and garnish the salad with fruit. That way, it is vegan and lactose-intolerant friendly.)

Stuffed Acorn Squash Casserole
(serves 6 as entree or 8-10 as side dish)

3 medium acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds each), halved lengthwise and seeds removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon packed dark brown sugar
6 medium shallots, finely chopped (if shallots are unavailable, substitute _ sweet (Walla Walla type) onion
4 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
1 t. thyme leaves
2 cups cooked wild or brown rice mix (1 cup uncooked)
2/3 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped (can substitute 2/3 c. walnut pieces)
1/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
Preheat oven to 450°F. Line baking sheet with a piece of aluminum foil. Place squash cut side up on the baking sheet. Brush 1 tablespoon of the melted butter over the tops and insides of the squash halves, then sprinkle them with brown sugar, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in the oven until fork tender, about 35 to 40 minutes.

While the squash is roasting, place 1 tablespoon of the melted butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the shallots (or onion) and celery, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in the thyme and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat and stir in the rice, nuts, cranberries, 1 t. salt and _ t. freshly ground pepper.

When the squash is tender, remove it from the oven, but do not turn the oven off. Let the squash cool until it can be comfortably handled. Scoop out the squash from the shells and layer the bottom half of a greased casserole with it. Cover the squash layer with a layer of rice filling. Drizzle with the remaining butter. Put casserole back in the oven and continue roasting until the squash is completely fork tender and the filling is heated through, about 20 minutes.

You can cook the rice mix in vegetable broth to give this dish extra flavor. Since the squash and stuffing are served in a casserole dish, you can substitute another winter squash for the acorn squash. You will need approximately 4  pounds of whatever squash you choose. You may have to adjust the initial roasting time, depending upon the thickness of the squash you are using.

The Culver City Farmers Markets are held on Tuesdays from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Boulevards, and on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the corner of Slauson and Hannum in the northeast corner of the Westfield Culver City parking lot.

Katie Malich prefers dark meat over light, with whole, not jellied, cranberry sauce.

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