- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Yes, vegetarians, there is a Thanksgiving. I used to assume that there would necessarily be a yawning hole on the vegetarian plate come Thanksgiving dinner. And as someone who specializes in vegetarian cooking, I have for years written articles about how to make poor deprived veggie lovers happy while everyone else gobbles (sorry) their beloved turkey.

Through the decades, I have come up with umpteen ideas for vegetarian main dishes. Usually these involve a vegetable (cabbage, onions, squash) stuffed with traditional dressing and then roasted and sauced with something mushroom-based.

Yummy, yes, but it started to become same-old, and I also began to notice an interesting occurrence. It dawned on me that even though Thanksgiving dinner centers on the turkey, with that celebrated main dish omitted and no particular official vegetarian entree to replace it, this holiday is actually a great vegetarian feasting opportunity. Why? Because we tend to go all out in our side-dish preparation, not only in quantity but in quality, too.

Here are two of my personal showstoppers. I hope you can fit them in somewhere among your own traditional dishes. Both go well with cranberry sauce. I think the only criterion should be that there is at least one dish of plain dressing that was not baked inside the bird, and vegetarians are in great shape.

Sweet potato surprise

4 pounds sweet potatoes or yams

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon allspice

2 large green apples, cored and thinly sliced (peeling optional)

4 just-ripe bananas, peeled and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon salt, divided

Nonstick cooking spray

1½ cups unfiltered apple juice

½ cup fresh lemon or lime juice

½ cup chopped dried fruit (apricots, peaches and/or pears)

1½ cups chopped pecans or walnuts, optional

Cut sweet potatoes or yams into 1½-inch chunks, and steam them over boiling water until tender. Cool until comfortable to handle, then peel with a paring knife. They should peel easily. Transfer to a large bowl.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add ginger root, cinnamon and allspice, and cook for about 30 seconds to “spike” the butter. Stir in apples and bananas and half the salt. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the apples are very soft.

Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Mash sweet potatoes, gradually adding apple and lemon or lime juices and remaining salt. (You can also puree the sweet potatoes with the fruit juices in a food processor.) Add the cooked fruit, scraping in all the butter. Stir in the dried fruit.

Spread the mixture into prepared pan. (If it doesn’t all fit, spread the extra into a sprayed nonstick pie pan.) Top with nuts, if desired, and bake uncovered in center of preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Wilted spinach salad with garlic, hazelnuts and dried cherries

Pouring hot oil over fresh spinach leaves causes them to cook just slightly right in the salad bowl. They wilt a little and tenderize perfectly. After experiencing this refinement, a raw spinach salad seems cumbersome by comparison.

You can clean the spinach ahead of time and store it wrapped in paper towels in the refrigerator. If you also peel the garlic and chop the nuts in advance, the final preparation will be very simple. Once assembled, this salad doesn’t keep very well, so try to put it together just before serving.

1½ pounds fresh baby spinach leaves

½ cup olive oil

1 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts (filberts)

3 medium-size cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup dried cherries

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


Freshly ground black pepper

Place spinach in a large salad bowl. Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. When it is warm enough to give off fragrance, add the hazelnuts. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring intermittently, then add the garlic. Stir and cook about 3 minutes longer. Add hot mixture directly to the spinach, scraping in as much of the oil as you can. Use tongs to toss until all the spinach is coated and the nuts and garlic are distributed fairly evenly.

Toss in cherries and vinegar, and sprinkle in a small amount of salt and a generous amount of pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.


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