How traditional do you want your Thanksgiving meal to be?
It’s a good question to ask when planning a menu. The original New World Thanksgiving dinner — a several-days-long feast — was lavish, but green vegetables probably weren’t abundant. Gourds, melons, pumpkins and squashes were the vegetables of choice, or carrots and parsnips grown from seed. Dried native corn was ground, and either baked into cakes or cooked for porridge. Berries and other wild fruits such as plums, gooseberries and grapes were much appreciated.
But mostly there was game to eat. Wild turkeys and pheasants, ducks, geese and swans were spit-roasted, as was a vast supply of venison. Cod and lobster were plentiful. Shellfish was abundant, too.
Over centuries, the Thanksgiving menu has changed, but in many respects the repertoire has remained the same. We put forth mashed potatoes, peas, green-bean casserole, creamed onions, marshmallow- topped canned sweet potatoes and bread stuffing.
I get it. Nostalgia makes us crave these accompaniments. Even so, I monkey around with the bird’s seasoning, and, for the vegetables, I want some bright flavors. This year, I’m playing with basic vegetables.
Cauliflower, for one, can be boiled, baked or roasted, and seasoned in any number of ways. Going sweet and sour is a good option for Thanksgiving — I like the contrast of big Italianate agrodolce (sweet-sour) flavors.
Raisins, currants, wine, sugar and vinegar, along with onions and sweet spices, transport cauliflower to elegance. I make this a day or two ahead, as it only improves as it steeps. Served hot or cold, the cauliflower becomes a sort of condiment as well as a side dish.
In a large, heavy pot, warm olive oil over medium- high heat until hot but not smoking. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened and just turning golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Adjust heat to prevent browning. Add saffron and stir to coat.
Add cauliflower, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, uncovered, stirring frequently.
Add brown sugar, currants, raisins, lemon zest and juice, cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar. Turn up heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is just tender, about 5 to 8 minutes more.
Remove pot from heat, taste and adjust seasonings with salt and sherry vinegar. Set aside at least 10 minutes (or up to 2 days, refrigerated) before serving.
Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with chives and pine nuts. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 6.
Nutritional information unavailable.