Thanksgiving is all about family, good friends and food traditions. As you’re preparing for this year’s Thanksgiving, try digging deep and getting in touch with your Thanksgiving roots. There’s still time to ask your siblings, parents and (if you’re lucky) grandparents what vegetable accompanied the turkey on their childhood Thanksgiving tables.
You won’t dig too far before you find root vegetables, and lots of them. Carrots, parsnips, beets, turnips, rutabaga and, of course, the beloved potato. In days of yore, and in many gardening households today, stores of root vegetables were carefully laid away in root cellars, promising winter sustenance for months to come. If you’re not a gardener, find one of the area’s pre-holiday farmers markets and stock up.
Root vegetables have a long and venerable history. We can thank them for the birth of agriculture, since it was in the searching for wild roots that early gatherers used their hands and, later, sticks and bones to unearth wild bounty. Before long, the first farmers were cultivating the soil.
It’s no accident that root vegetables are relied on by so many cultures. They are nutritious and, thanks to their starch content, deeply satisfying. For cost-conscious cooks, it’s an extra bonus that root vegetables are inexpensive.
Use your imagination. Grated golden beets, combined with apple slices, toasted walnuts, goat cheese and a simple apple cider vinegar dressing make a deliciously nutritious salad. Or slice some parsnips (a member of the carrot family) into your green salad. Not sure how to handle a rutabaga? Try a mash of boiled rutabaga and carrots, topped with butter and simply seasoned with salt and pepper. It’ll light up your table with its almost fluorescent orange color.
No matter how many roots you uncover this year, don’t forget the potatoes. Potatoes are actually tubers: swollen stems that grow underground, where they store starch, vitamins and minerals from the soil. Finding locally grown potatoes is easy right now, and potato flavor is at its peak. They’re rich in vitamin C and, unless fried, are relatively low in calories. Potatoes offer a variety of minerals, all of which are found in the skin. So, scrub them up with a stiff vegetable brush and leave the peeler in the drawer.
Putting on a beautiful Thanksgiving meal need not involve fancy recipes. Simple foods, simply prepared, honor the traditions of this holiday and take the worry out of preparing a feast. Go for the classics and consider giving them your personal twist.
Here’s an easy recipe that combines roughly mashed potatoes, garlic, onion and kale. It’s a bit of a nod to my own Irish roots (called “colcannon” in Ireland), although not a dish of my childhood Thanksgivings. By introducing some hearty greens into roughly mashed potatoes, we’re sneaking a power punch of nutrients into a classic Thanksgiving dish.
Don’t be afraid to use a lot of garlic. Boiling it with the potatoes gives it a mellow, gentle flavor. Any kind of greens will work. Make it your own by trying beet greens, Swiss chard, spinach or even cabbage. It’s a great way to bring the nutrition and flavor of winter greens to the Thanksgiving table.
Rustic Garlicky Mashed Potatoes with Kale
- 6 medium-sized potatoes, cut into chunks, skins on
- 4 or 5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cups chopped kale
- ½ cup milk or cream
- olive oil
- salt and freshly-ground pepper
Cover the potato chunks and whole, peeled garlic with salted water and boil until tender, probably about 20 minutes. If you have a steamer, even better, since steaming will ensure that nutrients aren’t lost in the water.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the chopped kale and onion. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often for about 5 minutes, until the kale is wilted. Add a couple of tablespoons of water (or tasty broth, if you have it) and season lightly with salt. Cover and and cook for another 10 or 15 minutes over medium heat.
Drain the water from the pot of cooked potatoes and garlic. Mash very roughly, and push it all to the side of the pan, exposing at least half of the bottom of the pan. Over medium heat, pour in the milk or cream. Stir it all together when the milk is hot. Mix in the cooked kale and onions and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper and serve.
This recipe serves 8 to 10 people, depending, of course, on how many other delicious dishes are on the table. Whatever your own Thanksgiving roots and traditions, I hope you enjoy the day, the food and good company. I hope you find yourself creating a few of your own traditions along the way.