Saturday, November 3, 2012

Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes: Sides, part 1

Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes
By: Chef Cristian Feher

Thanksgiving signifies the beginning of the Holidays. That means: social functions, shopping, and family get-togethers. It also means high-calorie holiday foods. 

Although turkey is rather healthy, the accompanying posse of sides for a typical Thanksgiving dinner tends to be high in carbohydrates, sugar and calories.  They say it's the turkey that makes you sleepy - I think it's all the other stuff! I don't know about you, but I enjoy my Thanksgiving dinners and I don't exactly practice portion control. 

If you watched my cooking segment Sunday morning on the Good Day show, you saw me prepare a low-glycemic stuffing along with some healthy sides.  I have taken traditional Thanksgiving sides and leaned them up by lowering their caloric value and taking out sugar and carbohydrates wherever I could - without sacrificing taste. All these recipes have been tested and enjoyed!

A note on artificial sweeteners: When I was planning this segment with Mark, a producer on the Good Day show, we were discussing using artificial sweeteners in some of the recipes to replace the sugar. However, I don't personally feel that artificial sweeteners are "healthy", and I tend to avoid them as much as I would avoid high fructose corn syrup. There are studies out there for, and against, artificial sweeteners. But studies are just that - studies.  I just follow my own common sense on this and surmise that adding highly refined chemicals to food can't be considered healthy.

Here are the healthy Thanksgiving sides recipes.

Savory Sweet Potato Casserole Recipe

There is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Although they both look the same, and are often mistaken by the produce clerks at the grocery store, there is a difference in nutrition. Yams are a ball of starch and sugar. Sweet potatoes have starches and sugars too, but they also have vitamins, minerals, beta-carotene and have a lower glycemic load than yams (they release sugar more slowly into your blood stream - this is a good thing!). 

In this recipe, I remove half the calories by taking out the sugar, molasses, and whatever other carbohydrate people usually add to sweet potatoes. This makes them a healthy carb and they taste great as a savory (salty) dish.

Use this recipe losely, as your quantities may change according to how many people you have at your party. I'm going to do this recipe for 4 people so it's easy to multiply.

Yields: 4 servings

- 6 sweet potatoes about the size of a large baking potato, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 tbsp of Italian herbs such as oregano thyme and basil, dried
- Sea salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- (optional) a swirl of extra virgin olive oil, or butter flavored spray to taste


1. Boil the chunked and pelled sweet potatoes in a large pot of salted water until the potato chunks break up easily when you mush them up against the side of the pot with a spoon.

2. Drain and let it sit in the strainer for a couple of minutes while a lot of the water evaporates from them Do not run them under cold water. You want to get as much water out of them as possible before you mash them.

3. In the same pot, or a large pan, fry the onions with a little olive oil or cooking spray until they are well cooked (10-15 minutes). Don't burn them.

4. Add the sweet potatoes, garlic, herbs, and parsley and mash with a masher or an electric mixer. 

5. During the mixing process, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!

NOTE: Once cooled, this mixture freezes well in small batches.

Cauliflower Mash Recipe

This is a great substitute for mashed potatoes. Cauliflower is virtually carb-free, and very low in calories. But there is a lot of flavor to it, and it mashes up similar to potatoes. Add a little butter flavored cooking spray to it (or a small amount of real butter) and you may never go back to mashed potatoes again - you will, I know - but it's a good side dish!

Yields: 4 hearty servings

- 2 heads of cauliflower (fresh) OR - 2 frozen bags of cauliflower, cut into florettes
- Water
- Salt
- Pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Butter flavored cooking spray or a little piece of salted butter


1. Boil the pieces of cauliflower in salted water until it's very mushy (20-25 minutes).

2. Drain very well.

3. Add the garlic, butter (spray or piece), salt and pepper to taste and mash it up with a masher or electric mixer. Enjoy!

Thick Low-Carb Gravy

Yields: 4 cups -+

- 4 cups of beef stock, turkey stock or chicken stock (made from bullion, so make it strong and tasty)
- 1 dozen or two cremini, baby bella or white mushrooms
- 2 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
- Kikkoman japanese soy sauce


1. Put the Porcini mushrooms in a little bowl of hot water until they get soft. Discard the water and keep the mushrooms.

2. Bring the stock to a simmer.

3. Cut the raw mushrooms into small pieces and simmer them in the stock for 15 minutes.

4. Add the porcini mushrooms.

5. Puree the sauce with a hand-blender, or put it in a regular blender. The mushrooms should thicken up the sauce. If it's not thick enough, you need to add more mushrooms, cook them and blend them until the sauce is thickened by the mushrooms. 

6. Season with salt, and a little bit of Japanese soy sauce if necessary. Enjoy!

Sprouted Grain Bread Stuffing

Stuffing is usually made with white bread, which packs a lot of calories and carbs, but very little protein, or fiber. It's not that healthy. But bread made with sprouted grains packs a large amount of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, fiber and it's basically really good for you! Fortunately, it works great for stuffing, you won't miss the white bread at all.

This is a good base recipe which you can add lots of other stuff to, like: almonds, raisins, walnuts, chicken livers, sausage, bacon, etc.

Yields: 4 portions
- Half a loaf of Ezekiel or Sprouted Grain Bread (sold sliced and bagged at your local grocery store)
- 1 cup of diced onion
- 1 cup of diced celery
- 1/2 cup of diced carrots
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- Chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste


1. Cube the bread into small cubes. This is easier when the bread is slightly frozen.

2. Begin to fry the vegetables in a pot with a little olive oil until the onions are translucent (7-10 minutes).

3. Add the bread. Toss.

4. Add just enough chicken stock to make the bread slightly moist. Toss. Add a little more. Toss. Do this until you get the bread just soggy enough to resemble stuffing (every one knows what stuffing looks like, right?)

5. Once you do this, season with salt and pepper. Cook for another five minutes at med-low heat and:

a) Stuff your bird with it
b) Put it in a baking dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top.

I hope that you enjoy all these recipes. Please tune in next Sunday on Fox 13 for my easy turkey cooking segment. 

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