There may be something traditional missing from your holiday table. Not turkey. It wasn’t even served at that first Thanksgiving meal back in 1621. Neither was Tofurky.
I’m talking local greens.
Long before they were foodie buzzwords, we ate what was seasonal and local. We had to. The Pilgrims couldn’t run out to the store, they made do with what they could get in New England in November.
Our few records indicate that for that historic Thanksgiving meal, they served eel, venison, plums, cranberries, pumpkin, leeks and watercress. The salad greens added a welcome pop of freshness to an otherwise brown and heavy meal.
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We’ve kept Thanksgiving brown and heavy and added a superabundance of side dishes, but we’ve lost the greens.
Ixnay the eels, but embrace tradition. Brighten your Thanksgiving with a fresh green salad. It’ll be the easiest, quickest, healthiest holiday dish you make, not to mention local, seasonal and refreshing.
Thanks to modern miracles like refrigeration, transportation and supermarkets, we can get watercress year-’round, but do as the Pilgrims did — go local and seasonal.
In South Florida, fresh, tender lettuces and arugula are in season now, as well as sturdier mustard greens, kale and chard.
We also have local pumpkin. Seminole pumpkin is smaller and sweeter than your basic jack o’lantern variety. Once a prized staple crop among our local Native American tribes, you can sometimes find it at farmers markets and on my Thanksgiving table, where it appears roasted over arugula from my garden, generously supplemented with Redland lettuce.
It’s a salad the Pilgrims probably wouldn’t recognize though. Oven roasting, which coaxes such sweetness from pumpkin and other vegetables, wasn’t possible back in their day. They had no ovens, no electricity. They had fire. The Thanksgiving venison was no doubt spit-roasted. Everything else was thrown in a pot and cooked over an unregulatable flame or wasn’t cooked at all. Hence watercress.
Now we have apps, food processors, sous vide and pasta machines, not to mention the refrigerators and ovens standard in any home kitchen. With all the gadgetry at our fingertips and all the grabs for our attention, the food that binds us to our past is the simplest.
The happy wake-up impact of fresh greens still deserves a place at the Thanksgiving table. So does a healthy serving of gratitude.
Ellen Kanner is the author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner.”
Roasted Pumpkin, Local Greens and Maple-Chile Vinaigrette Salad
They served fresh local greens at that first Thanksgiving. Keep up the tradition with this pretty green and golden salad. The pumpkin seeds add a nice buttery crunch, the touch of maple in the dressing accents pumpkin’s natural mellow sweetness.
6 tablespoons walnut, pumpkin-seed or olive oil
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons cumin
1 good pinch chipotle, cayenne or other chile powder with a kick
1 teaspoon coriander
2 teaspoons maple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
2 pounds pumpkin, peeled and chopped into 1-1/2-inch cubes
1 handful of sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
8 cups fresh local salad greens, like arugula, lettuce, spinach or kale or any combination
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing: oil, mustard, cumin, chipotle powder, coriander, maple syrup and lime juice. Spread chopped pumpkin onto a rimmed baking sheet, without crowding the pumpkin. Brush the pumpkin with about half the dressing.
Roast for about 25 minutes, or until pumpkin is just becoming tender and done at the edges. Flip pumpkin gently, scatter pumpkin seeds and sage on the baking sheet and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the pumpkin seeds are toasty and sage leaves are a little crispy at the edges. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Pile greens on a platter. Arrange pumpkin, sage and pumpkin seeds on top. Season with a pinch of sea salt and fresh ground pepper and drizzle the remaining dressing over all. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Source: Ellen Kanner for Edgy Veggie.