Vegetarian Thanksgiving special treat

Focusing on presence of vegetables allows produce to shine

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A funny thing happens when you host a vegetarian Thanksgiving: The whole shebang gets a heck of a lot easier.

Consider all the questions you no longer have to answer: Did I order the turkey in time? Is it fresh, or frozen? If frozen, do I have time to thaw it? Do I have space? Should I brine? Wet or dry? Do I have a bag or bucket big enough? Space in the fridge?

And that's before the oven even gets preheated.

I've long said that vegetarianism too often focuses on the absence of the meat rather than the presence of the vegetables, that the produce itself gets short shrift when the dishes are defined that way. (Hence, I wish we had a day of the week that starts with the letter V so we could have Vegetable V-days rather than Meatless Mondays.)

Still, I have to admit that the best thing about cooking my first all-vegetarian Thanksgiving last year might have been

the fact that there was so much more room — in the oven, on the table, on the to-do list and, finally, in our stomachs -- because we had declared the whole event to be fowl-free. In its place, thankfully, were all the vegetables we wanted to celebrate.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for cooking because its roots, so to speak, are those of a harvest festival, which is one of the reasons I've loved spending it for the past 10 years or so at my sister and brother-in-law's Maine homestead. Last year, when I participated so intensively in the planting, manure-shoveling, weeding and bug-killing that successful small-scale organic vegetable growing requires, the harvest celebration was all the sweeter.

As always, we did most of the cooking in the wood-fired brick bread oven that my brother-in-law, Peter, built several years ago. It's a thing of beauty, but it requires planning — and negotiation. The first year I cooked Thanksgiving dinner there, we roasted a 20-pound turkey so quickly (in what I think must have been around 800-degree heat) that I had to tent it with foil after a mere 20 minutes because it was already so browned. Another 20, and the thing was pretty much done.

Sometimes it's the opposite problem. Last year, the afternoon before the holiday, Peter called up to my third-floor bedroom with the notification I had requested: that the oven was at 500 degrees. I had planned to put several pies in shortly thereafter, but I foolishly waited another hour, and then by the time the crusts were defrosted and the fillings put together, the oven temperature was in the low 300s -- and falling fast. We built another fire, let it burn out and swabbed down the interior, and then the temperature was at … 600. Such is the trade-off when cooking with fire.

And then, of course, there were the savory vegetables. On Thanksgiving Day, we grated freshly harvested beets and carrots into a raw salad, tossed Brussels sprouts in tamari for roasting and ran pans of freshly foraged oyster mushrooms, cubes of butternut squash and freshly dug sunchokes and celery root through the wood oven. The Brussels sprouts stood on their own, the sunchokes and celery root went into a pureed soup. The mushrooms and squash were stuffed between layers of polenta for a casserole.

I baked the latter in a huge Spanish cazuela, a round clay baking dish that evenly distributes and maintains heat

When everybody came together, we knew just what we were thankful for: a year of hands-in-the-dirt work that had culminated in a harvest we could be proud of.

Moroccan-Style Carrot and Beet Salad

4 to 5 servings (2 1/2 cups).

The salad can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

8 ounces carrots, scrubbed well and finely grated

8 ounces beets, peeled and finely grated

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

½ teaspoon sea salt

Pinch ground cayenne pepper (optional)

Toss together the carrots, beets, orange zest and juice in a mixing bowl. Drizzle in the oil, then toss to coat. Sprinkle in the cumin, paprika, salt and cayenne pepper, if using, then toss to incorporate.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Per serving (based on 5): 100 calories, 2 g protein, 11 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 280 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar

Tamari-Roasted Brussels Sprouts

10 to 12 servings (Makes 8 1/2 cups).

Tamari, a mild variety of soy sauce that contains less wheat than other varieties (and sometimes none at all), gives Brussels sprouts a sharp tang, while toasted sesame oil adds a hint of smokiness. Roasting adds caramelization. The oil-tamari mixture can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

¼ cup olive oil

¼ cup tamari (see headnote)

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon Southeast Asian fish sauce (optional)

3 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered

Preheat the oven to 500 F degrees. Have one or two large rimmed baking sheets at hand.

Whisk together the oil, tamari, sesame oil and fish sauce, if using, in a small bowl.

Spread the Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet(s); keep them to one layer, with room for air circulation in between the sprouts. Drizzle the tamari mixture over them and toss to coat. Roast, shaking the pan every 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables are crisp and browned, about 20 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving (based on 12): 100 calories, 4 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 340 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

Roasted Sunchoke and Celery Root Soup

8 servings (Makes 9 1/2 cups).

Roasting concentrates the flavors in this root-vegetable soup, which gets a mysterious depth from za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend. It’s available at some supermarkets and at Penzeys.com, Gryffonridge.com and Kalustyans.com. If desired, substitute equal parts dried thyme, sesame seeds and lemon zest. An immersion blender will create a thick, textured soup; puree in a blender or food processor if you prefer a smoother consistency. The soup can be made and refrigerated up to 3 days in advance. From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

2 pounds sunchokes, scrubbed well and cut into 1-inch chunks

12 ounces celery root (celeriac), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 small onion, cut into 1-inch chunks

4 cloves garlic (unpeeled)

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for optional garnish

2 teaspoons za’atar (see headnote)

1 teaspoon sea salt

6 cups homemade or no-salt-added vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 450 F degrees.

Toss together the sunchokes, celery root, onion, garlic, oil, za’atar and salt in a roasting pan, making sure the vegetables are evenly coated. Roast until they are very soft, 35 to 40 minutes.

Pick out and reserve ½ cup of just sunchokes and celery root (combined). Cool, then chop them for a garnish.

Pick out the roasted garlic cloves from the remaining mixture, and squeeze them out of their papery skins (discard the skins). Scrape the remaining contents of the roasting pan into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the roasted garlic cloves and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so the mixture is barely bubbling around the edges. Cover and cook for just a few minutes, stirring, so the flavors can meld.

Use an immersion (stick) blender to create a thick, textured soup (see headnote). Divide among individual bowls and top with the sunchoke-celery root garnish. Drizzle a little oil on each portion, if desired, and serve hot.

NUTRITION Per serving: 240 calories, 3 g protein, 29 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 340 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 16 g sugar

Persian-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie

12 servings (Makes one 9-inch pie).

Inspired by fruit pies with beautifully arranged layers, this dessert requires you to thinly slice the sweet potatoes. The trade-off is that it’s otherwise so easy: no preboiling or roasting of the sweet potatoes, no making of a pureed, custardy filling. Instead, the slices soak up a brushed-on combination of butter, sugar and Persian spices as they bake and cool. The pie dough needs a first rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour and up to 2 days. The pie crust can be refrigerated, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 2 months. The pie can be baked, cooled and refrigerated, covered in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving. From Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan, author of “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2013), with a crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe in “Baking: From My Home to Yours” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006).

For the crust:

1½ cups flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) frozen unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces, plus more for the pie plate

2½ tablespoons frozen vegetable shortening, in 2 pieces

¼ cup ice cold water

For the filling:

8 tablespoons

(1 stick) unsalted butter

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ to ½ teaspoon rose water

½ cup light brown sugar

1½ pounds sweet potatoes of similar size, peeled

For the crust: Combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse briefly, just until the pieces are pea size. Add 1 tablespoon of the water at a time and pulse, adding water until you can pinch the dough and it barely sticks together. Transfer to a work surface, gather it up and form it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Grease a 9-inch pie plate with a little butter.

Roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap to a diameter of 12 inches, making sure to turn the dough over often and to lift the plastic frequently so that it doesn’t roll into the dough and form creases. Place in the pie plate and trim off the overhang, crimp the dough’s edges, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes while you prepare the filling.

For the filling: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it foams, add the cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, pepper and coriander. The spices will bubble and bloom for a few seconds; stir to prevent burning. Stir in the rose water (to taste) and the brown sugar; cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until the mixture is blended. (The sugar will not fully dissolve; that’s okay.) Cool slightly in the pan.

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees.

Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife to cut the pieces into ⅛-inch half moons.

Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator. Arrange the sweet potato slices in the crust, standing them with the curved side up and the straight edge down, overlapping them tightly around the edges of the crust and continuing to work your way around until the crust is filled. You might have some sweet potato slices left over; feel free to artfully tuck them in here and there, or reserve for another use.

Spoon the butter-sugar mixture over the sweet potatoes, using your fingers to make sure the potatoes are evenly coated. Bake until the sweet potatoes are very tender and the crust has browned, about 1 hour. (If the crust browns before the sweet potatoes soften, loosely tent the pie with aluminum foil or cover the crust edges with foil, and continue baking.)

Cool the pie completely; if any of the butter had pooled around the potato slices in the oven, it will be absorbed as the pie cools.

Per serving: 310 calories, 3 g protein, 32 g carbohydrates, 20 g fat, 12 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 11 g sugar

Polenta Stuffed With Squash and Mushrooms

16 to 20 servings.

The polenta can be cooked, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to 1 week. The squash and the mushrooms can be roasted and refrigerated for up to 5 days. The tomato sauce can be made and refrigerated for up to 1 week. The entire casserole can be assembled up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. From Yonan’s “Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook” (Ten Speed Press, 2013), inspired by a recipe in “Herbivoracious,” by Michael Natkin (Harvard Common Press, 2012).

12 cups water, plus more for moistening the bowl

1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more to taste

3 cups coarsely ground polenta

One 2½-to-3-pound squash, such as butternut, acorn, buttercup or other winter squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½-inch cubes

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds mixed mushrooms, such as oyster, cremini and shiitake, cleaned, stemmed and cut into large pieces

1 teaspoon dried thyme

14½ ounces canned, no-salt-added crushed tomatoes, plus their juices

1½ ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated

8 ounces smoked mozzarella, grated

Bring the water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and gradually whisk in the polenta, ¼ cup or so at a time. Reduce the heat so the water is at a gentle boil, lightly bubbling all around but not rolling, then cover and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and stir vigorously for 1 minute, then cover and cook for 10 minutes. Repeat two more times, until the polenta has been cooking for a total of about 40 minutes, then uncover and cook for 5 minutes to make sure no grainy texture remains. Remove from the heat.

Moisten a large mixing bowl with a little water, then pour in the hot polenta to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees.

While the polenta is cooking, toss the squash on a large rimmed baking sheet (or two, if needed to keep the squash from overlapping) with one tablespoon of the oil; season with salt to taste. Toss the mushrooms on one or two separate large rimmed baking sheets with 1 tablespoon of the oil, the thyme and salt to taste.

Roast the mushrooms until they collapse, exude liquid and start to lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Roast the squash until it is browning on the bottom and fork-tender, about 20 minutes. Cool those ingredients.

Pour the tomatoes and their juices into a narrow, deep bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil, then use an immersion (stick) blender to puree until smooth. Season with salt to taste.

Lightly grease the large casserole dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Spread half of the polenta in the bottom of the dish, using your hands to break it up and spread it around if it has firmed up in cooling. Evenly sprinkle half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on the polenta, then layer on the squash cubes, half of the mozzarella and all of the mushrooms. Top with the remaining polenta, spreading it as evenly as you can on top of the mushrooms. Pour the pureed tomatoes on top, leaving an inch or so of the polenta exposed around the edges, then scatter the remaining mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top.

Bake until the cheese has melted and started to brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges of the casserole, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting into squares or wedges. Serve warm.

Per serving (based on 20): 190 calories, 7 g protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 430 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar