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GOOD COOKING

An Ethnic Take on Classic Sides

November 21, 1996|ABBY MANDEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mandel's latest book is "Celebrating the Midwestern Table" (Doubleday & Co., 1996)

In my many years of teaching cooking, I have learned that certain aspects of the Thanksgiving feast are never to be tampered with. Everybody wants turkey and stuffing and perhaps a particular vegetable dish.

Aside from this sacred trio, side dishes lend themselves to some variation and creativity. This year I've drawn on ethnic inspirations: pearl onions baked with garlic and Parmesan and a Mexican Waldorf salad. Of course, even here the key ingredients are dictated by tradition: pearl onions and apples.

PEARL ONIONS BAKED WITH THYME, GARLIC AND PARMESAN

Pearl onions were always a must on my mother's list; now they are on mine. Here, they are cloaked in a full-flavored bechamel sauce, but the effect is still mild and soothing. If you have limited oven space, they can be pre-baked and reheated in the microwave oven.

1 (18-ounce) package pearl onions, about 3 1/4 cups

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/4 cups milk

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

Scant 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano- Reggiano

Blanch onions in rapidly boiling water until papery skin begins to come free, about 3 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold running water to stop cooking. Using sharp paring knife, peel onions, leaving root end intact. Pat dry and set aside.

Heat butter in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, stir in flour. Cook until bubbling and smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in milk and cook until smooth. Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Stir until sauce is thickened.

Add blanched onions. Mix well. Transfer mixture to greased shallow 4-cup baking dish. Spread smooth. Can be made 2 days ahead to this point and refrigerated, covered airtight. Uncover and bring to room temperature before using.

Sprinkle with cheese and bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, until lightly browned and bubbling, about 50 minutes. Can be baked 2 days ahead, cooled and refrigerated, covered airtight. Reheat, lightly covered with plastic in microwave oven on high power (100%) until sizzling, about 5 minutes.

Makes 6 servings

Each serving contains about:

112 calories; 400 mg sodium; 16 mg cholesterol; 6 grams fat; 12 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.55 gram fiber.

MEXICAN WALDORF SALAD

2 large red-skinned tart apples, such as Jonathan, cored, cut into 1/2-inch dice, about 3 cups

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup diced radishes

1/2 jalapen~o, seeded and minced

3 green onions, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 1/2 teaspoons minced cilantro

1 teaspoon oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons pine nuts

1 bunch watercress, washed, crisped

Combine apples, bell pepper, radishes, jalapen~o, green onions, lime juice, honey, cilantro, oil and salt in 2-quart mixing bowl. Toss until well mixed. Chill salad for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.

Spread pine nuts in single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes, watching carefully so they do not burn.

To serve, arrange watercress leaves attractively in circle on round serving platter. Stir salad. Drain off excess juices. Mound salad in center. Sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve chilled.

Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

78 calories; 106 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 0.60 gram fiber.

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