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A Meatless Cornucopia for the Holiday Table

Oct 25, 2016 ● By Heather Lalley

'Tis the season for overindulgence that winds up on January first, when we all resolve to do better next time. There is still time this year to create luxurious, comforting, plant-based side dishes to grace the holiday table.

         “The less-is-more concept is more relevant with vegetables,” says Chicago-based cookbook author Anupy Singla ( Singla’s third cookbook, Indian For Everyone, just came out in paperback.

         A host of fall and winter vegetables are ready to take co-star billing on any holiday table. Think broccoli and cauliflower and kale and okra and so many more. Options for serving abound, from simply bulking up traditional holiday favorites with more vegetables to preparing simple, no-fuss, plant-focused casseroles, braises, gratins and more.

         The humble cauliflower is having its day, from major national chain restaurants to home kitchens. The restaurant California Pizza Kitchen ( recently launched Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower, featuring fried cauliflower florets in buttermilk batter tossed with Sriracha-buffalo sauce. Locally-based Bar Toma Chicago ( serves a hearty, well-seasoned, wood-fired whole head of cauliflower with a side of whipped goat cheese dip.

         Chef Mark Mendez, of Vera (, in Chicago’s West Loop, likes to bake cauliflower with goat cheese and bread crumbs. Once the cauliflower florets are “super-soft and cooked,” he mixes it with golden raisins and pine nuts.

         Singla is a fan of cauliflower mashed potatoes, as well as the traditional Indian dish aloo gobi, a spice-infused mixture of cauliflower and potatoes.

         Brussels sprouts are also gaining new fans as people discover they don’t need to be cooked down to mush. In fact, the tiny little cabbages taste much better when caramelized a bit and left with some bite to them. Mendez roasts them in the oven with an anchovy-spiked vinaigrette for a salty, savory flavor boost.

         Winter squash is another luxurious side offering, and there are so many options for preparation. Singla likes to roast butternut squash with oil and fenugreek seeds, lime or lemon and chiles. She often serves the dish with lamb, or for a fully vegetarian meal, with a simple bowl of dal (a thick lentil stew common in Indian cooking). “It’s so addictive,” she says. “It’s such comfort food.”

         Butternut squash is a classic, but dozens of other squash varieties are available this time of year, Mendez says. Scope out winter farmers’ markets, ethnic markets and even standard grocery stores for unusual varieties of winter squash. His favorite is the red kuri squash. “It’s really bright orange and it’s super-intense,” he says. “It makes a good soup.”

         When preparing healthful vegetable side dishes, don’t worry about adding a little fat. Whether it’s butter or oil or ghee, that flavor boost will make every dish more delicious. This is holiday food, after all. “It’s okay to have a little bit of fat,” Singla says. “Don’t be afraid.”

         Then there are a whole world of winter greens ready to be served on their own or added to favorite seasonal dishes. Toss handfuls of spinach into soup just before serving (a good method is to line the soup bowl with spinach leaves and ladle the hot soup on top to affect a light wilt), and the bright green color will add interest, while the freshness adds a layer of texture.

         Wilt kale and add it to a casserole or stuffing. Mendez serves a kale salad with Manchego cheese, bread crumbs and a squeeze of lemon at his restaurant. He also likes to braise the dark green leaves in tomato sauce, chicken stock, anchovies, garlic and chili flakes. “Put it in a pot and cook it really, really slowly,” he says. “Use more kale than you think is necessary. It’s going to shrink.” Alternatively, kale can also be braised in a heavy pot in the oven at about 300 degrees, or it can be stewed down in a slowcooker for many hours.

         To spice up the holiday table with some vegetables that may be unfamiliar, Singla fills whole, split okra with a chickpea flour mixture. “It’s finger food,” she says. “There’s a whole meal in there.” Or, set the potatoes aside and try a mashed trio of carrots, parsnips and turnips. Take a knobby celery root, slice it thinly and turn it into roasted celery root chips. Perhaps brown it in butter and oil before braising it in broth until soft. Grab a kohlrabi and grate it into a slaw or salad or shred it and mix with an egg, breadcrumbs and spices to turn it into crispy kohlrabi fritters. And don’t forget the less-than-pretty rutabaga. It can be mashed like potatoes or transformed into a hearty winter soup.

Heather Lalley is a Chicago-based freelance writer, culinary school graduate and author of The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook. Follow her on Twitter @Flourgrrrl.



Baked Tandoori Cauliflower


Yields: 6 cups

½ cup plain, unsweetened yogurt

1 Tbsp tandoori masala (recipe below),
     plus more for sprinkling

2 tsp salt

1 1-inch piece ginger,
     peeled and grated

Juice of 1 lemon or lime, divided

1 large head cauliflower, trimmed and
     cut into bite-sized pieces

1 small yellow or red onion,
     finely sliced

1-3 fresh Thai, serrano or cayenne
     chilies, stems removed and
     finely chopped

2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, the tandoori masala, salt, ginger and ½ of the lemon or lime juice. Whisk until combined.

Carefully fold the cauliflower into the mixture, ensuring all the pieces are coated. Refrigerate for 2 hours or (ideally) overnight.

Set the oven rack to the highest position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the cauliflower in a single layer on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning over the pieces once halfway through the cooking time to ensure all pieces are lightly browned on both sides. Remove from oven.

Transfer the cauliflower to a serving bowl or tray. Sprinkle the remaining lemon or lime juice over the dish. Smother the cauliflower with the onion, chiles and cilantro. For added punch, sprinkle on a bit more of the tandoori masala just before serving.

From Indian for Everyone, by Anupy Singla


Tandoori Masala

Yields: 2 cups

1 cup whole dried red chilies

½ cup coriander seeds

½ cup cumin seeds

¼ cup whole black peppercorns

¼ cup whole cloves

2 Tbsp green cardamom pods

1 Tbsp ajwain (carom seeds)

2 tsp fenugreek seeds

3 3-inch sticks cinnamon

1 heaping Tbsp dried ginger powder

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp turmeric powder

½ cup unsmoked paprika

Combine the dried chiles, coriander and cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom pods, ajwain, fenugreek seeds and cinnamon in a shallow, heavy pan over medium heat and dry roast the spices for 4 minutes.

During the entire cooking time, shake the pan every 15 to 20 seconds to prevent the spices from burning. The mixture should be just toasted and aromatic. Remove from the heat, transfer to a plate and set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Place the cooled, roasted spice in a spice grinder or powerful blender and process into a fine powder. Sift after grinding to refine the powder. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Add the ginger, garlic, turmeric and paprika to the mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dry place for up to six months.


Rosemary-Infused Carrots

Yields: 4 servings

1 lb organic carrots, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 Tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

2 rosemary sprigs

1 tsp parsley, chopped

Lay the carrots flat on a cutting board and cut the on the diagonal into
1/8 inch ovals. Gently tap the garlic with the side of a knife, just until the flesh cracks.

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick pan for 1 minute, then add in the carrots and lightly crushed garlic. Let sit without shaking the pan for 3 minutes.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the carrots, place the two rosemary sprigs in the pan and stir, turning the carrots so the uncooked sides become exposed to direct heat.

Cook, undisturbed, for an additional 3 minutes. The carrots should be lightly browned on each side.

Test a carrot for doneness. If it’s too hard, continue cooking for another minute.

Finish by sprinkling with the chopped parsley.

From Bruce Sherman, of North Pond, in The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook, by Heather Lalley


Sweet and Sour Sweet Potatoes

Yields: 4 cups

2 Tbsp oil

½ tsp fenugreek seeds

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed

1-3 Thai, serrano or cayenne chiles,
    stems removed, chopped

1 tsp coarse sea salt

½ tsp red chile powder or cayenne

1 heaping Tbsp jiggery or brown sugar

Juice of ½ lemon

1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

In a wide, heavy pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

Add the fenugreek and cook until the seeds just start to sizzle and turn light

brown. Don’t overcook them, or they will turn bitter.

Add the sweet potato and chiles and cook for 3 minutes until lightly browned, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pan. Cook for 3 to 4 more minutes.

Turn off the heat. Add the salt, red chile powder, jaggery, lemon juice and

cilantro. Replace the lid, covering the pan completely, and allow the dish to sit for 5 minutes.

From Vegan Indian Cooking, by Anupy Singla


Delicious creaminess that is also warming, filling and yet light!


Squash Carrot Sweet Potato Soup with Coconut Cream (Vegan)

Yields: 4 cups

 ½ large butternut squash, diced

1 med. sweet potato, diced

2 med. carrots, diced

½ med. yellow onion, diced

1 Tbsp avocado oil

2 cups vegetable broth
    (make your own by simmering
    different veggies for about
    30 minutes) or just water

¼ tsp ground nutmeg

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp cumin powder

¼ tsp garlic powder

¼ tsp sea salt

¼ can organic coconut cream
    (or make your own by blending
    the water and meat of a young

Love and gratitude

Warm the avocado oil in the pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion and the carrot for about 5 minutes.

Add the squash and sweet potato to the pot and add in the vegetable broth/water.

Add the spices and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20-25 minutes.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender for a smooth consistency.

Mix in the coconut milk or spoon it over the soup when serving.

Garnish with chopped parsley.

Recipe courtesy of Purple Sprout Café and Juice Bar. See ad on page 43.


Cider-Glazed Carnival Squash

2 carnival or acorn squash

Salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cups cider

1 Tbsp sugar

4 Tbsp butter

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease an 8x8 baking dish.

Halve squash and remove pith and seeds. Brush with olive oil.

Season squash with salt and pepper and place cut-side-down in baking dish.

Bake for 40 minutes. While squash cooks, reduce cider in saucepan over medium heat. When cider has reduced to nearly one half cup, taste and add sugar if needed. Stir in butter.

Remove squash after 40 minutes and flip halves so cut side is now up.

Brush cut areas with cider mixture and pour the rest evenly over squash.

Bake additional 20 minutes or until fork tender.


Carrot Ginger Soup

¼ cup butter

1½ cups chopped onion

1 Tbsp finely chopped peeled
     fresh ginger

1½ tsp minced garlic

3 cups medium carrots,
     peeled and chopped

1½ tsp grated lemon peel

3 cups or more chicken or
     vegetable stock

2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

4 Tbsp sour cream

Chopped parsley for garnish

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes.

Add ginger and garlic; sauté 2 minutes.

Add chopped carrots and lemon peel; sauté 1 minute.

Add 3 cups stock and bring to boil.

Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Cool slightly.

Puree soup in batches in blender and return to pot. Mix in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Bring soup to simmer, thinning with more stock, if desired. Ladle into bowls and top each with sour cream and chopped parsley.

Recipes courtesy of Peg Sheaffer, Sandhill Family Farms,