Unlike the greens of summer -- crisp and sudden and cool to the touch -- the greens that accompany a Thanksgiving dinner are about duration. These are of a darker spectrum, the bitter greens and patient vegetables that have been built to last, through both the shorter autumn days and the long run of the holiday itself.
Kale and collards, mustard greens and chard and Brussels sprouts: These are vegetables with a hardy temperament, suited to slow cooking and strong flavors. This makes them a particularly good match to a day like this one, measured out in hours rather than minutes, in long oven roasts and endless football games.
Though greenery might seem an afterthought to a menu that traditionally showcases the turkey’s bronzed flourish and the happy ceremony of pies, it provides a necessary balance -- of color, of temperament, of technique. Amid the litany of dishes, of bird and bread and the beautiful underground world of root vegetables, you need the reprieve of a simple bowl of minted lima beans or sauteed broccoli rape.
Winter greens are filling the farmers markets now, and they have a heft and fortitude that can stand up to the rest of the menu.
GIVEN a quick wilt or an easy saute, you can serve savoy cabbage or cavalo nero (or other kales) pretty much on their own. Just hit them with a few minutes in a pan, then splashes of great walnut or olive oil and balsamic or sherry vinegar.
Winter greens are also sturdy enough for a long braise, developing a low, deep flavor without losing their essential nature.
Brussels sprouts, green beans or limas bring a certain poise to the Thanksgiving table. After the burnishing hours of a turkey, the careful art of pastry, the knead and rise of bread, a colander of sprouts or green beans needs only a quick boil or saute.
You can even blanch green vegetables ahead of time -- an hour, even a day or two before you need them -- then pull them out of the refrigerator and finish them right before the meal.
Blanch Brussels sprouts, then, just before the meal, give them a quick saute and lace them with bacon and shallots and a lovely sauce of deglazed red wine vinegar.
Fresh lima beans -- which should just be hitting the market stalls -- can also be cooked beforehand, then tossed with a little butter or caramelized shallots and a cool chiffonade of mint.
Consider the green part of the Thanksgiving spectrum as you would the color wheel itself.
A few clicks north of the menu’s bronze fields, urging toward the cooler latitudes, a nice respite before the antipodal reds -- maybe a cranberry tart for dessert -- and the conclusion of a most happy meal.