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Thanksgiving : Everything But the Bird

November 17, 1994|MARION CUNNINGHAM

Amid all the preparations for a holiday meal, it's easy to lose sight of the basic reason for the celebration. The appeal of Thanksgiving is in the simplicity of the day--being with people we care about and sharing good food. For those of us who like to cook, there is the extra pleasure of arising early Thanksgiving morning, rolling up our sleeves and starting to cook.

To make things easier, the table will have been set the night before, some of the small preparations will have been completed and the pie crusts will be ready and waiting to be filled and baked. Once the pies are in the oven, it will be time to prepare the vegetable side dishes.

I find that I am increasingly attracted to simple foods, and that over the years I've slowly changed my vegetable side dishes accordingly. For example, I have dropped fresh coconut or bits of orange sections from the carrots. These days I simply cook young carrots and finish them with butter and parsley.

Beets, which are naturally sweet, are mixed with capers and vinegar for a little contrast and snap. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner is enhanced by a compote of winter fruits, whose full flavor is tinged with a pleasant sourness. Baked squash with maple syrup is a real American dish that can be a pleasant change from sweet potatoes or yams, and cabbage with pine nuts will surprise anyone who has never given that kingly vegetable its due (it is also one of the quickest dishes to make).

And then there are pearl onions, without which many feel Thanksgiving is incomplete. In this version, they are baked in a creamy onion sauce with a crisp topping of bread crumbs.

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Today, more than ever, most of us have nearby farmers markets or greengrocers that take pride in offering an abundance of very fresh produce. And when you're using such basically good ingredients, you don't have to worry about fussing with them too much. In these recipes, Mother Nature has done most of the work for us, providing us with another blessing for which we gather to give thanks.

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Since it cooks for less than half a minute, this cabbage retains its lovely green color and crisp texture. Toasted pine nuts look pretty on top and add a little crunch.

CABBAGE WITH PINE NUTS

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 large head green cabbage, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Salt

Spread pine nuts on baking sheet. Toast at 350 degrees 10 to 12 minutes, until golden and fragrant.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil. Plunge cabbage into water and return to boil. Cook 20 seconds. Drain well in colander and transfer to warmed bowl. Stir in butter and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt. Toss well to combine. Sprinkle roasted pine nuts on top. Toss lightly again before serving. Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

130 calories; 58 mg sodium; 15 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.99 gram fiber.

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For simple perfection try this combination of carrots, butter and parsley makes a very complete unit.

PARSLEYED CARROTS

2 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut on diagonal into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 cup unsalted butter

Salt

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Bring large saucepan of salted water to boil. Add carrots and cook over moderate heat until just tender, about 10 minutes.

Drain off water. Add butter to saucepan and toss to coat carrots. Season to taste with salt. Add parsley and mix well. Transfer to bowl and serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

105 calories; 82 mg sodium; 15 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 1.33 grams fiber.

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A tasty complement to the dark meat of a turkey, this dish comes directly from the Northeast, the cradle of the Thanksgiving celebration. The maple syrup lends a distinct sweetness and seems to heighten the buttered squash flavor. For special effect, serve in scooped-out and baked acorn squash halves.

BAKED SQUASH WITH BUTTER AND MAPLE SYRUP

6 pounds acorn or butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1/4 cup maple syrup

Place squash cut side down on baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until squash is easily pierced with fork. Scoop flesh into bowl. Mash squash with potato masher or fork until fairly smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

In small saucepan, combine butter and maple syrup and cook over low heat, stirring until butter is melted and blended with syrup, about 2 minutes.

Stir 1/2 of syrup mixture into squash. Transfer squash to shallow serving dish. Pour rest of syrup mixture over top. Serve hot. Recipe can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat in 350-degree oven until hot, about 20 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Each serving contains about:

254 calories; 63 mg sodium; 21 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 48 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 5.36 grams fiber.

PEARL ONIONS IN CREAMY ONION SAUCE

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup dry bread crumbs

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