A few years ago, shortly before we ate Thanksgiving dinner together, a good friend decided to become a vegan.
My job that year was to bring the side dishes. But I wasn’t daunted by going vegan for the event; rather, I was excited.
I’ve always felt that the side dishes are the real star of the Thanksgiving show. They don’t have to be heavy or bland; they can be light and flavorful. And I’m still very proud of the three recipes I came up with. They’re crowd-pleasing, seasonal, and just a little bit unusual.
First up: a standby autumn side dish in my family that we call Gateway Brussels Sprouts. Brussels sprouts are a classic of the holiday table, and they’ve become downright trendy in recent years. But not everyone is a fan — and it’s true that these little cabbages can be bitter-tasting and sulfurous-smelling.
That’s why I dubbed my version “gateway” sprouts. Even diehard Brussels sprouts haters will admit, upon tasting them prepared my way, that they’re “not bad” — and they might even ask for more.
The trick with Brussels sprouts is to avoid overcooking them into pastiness. I also like to add the sweetness of caramelized onions and maple syrup to mellow out any potential bitterness. And pine nuts add crunch and richness.
For the nutritionally inclined, Brussels sprouts are a fantastic source of fiber, as well as potassium, vitamin C, and the B vitamins. They’re also naturally low in sodium.
My second recipe — chosen in honor of my newly vegan, half-Persian friend — is a vegan version of the classic Persian stew known as fesenjan. A celebratory dish that usually features chicken or duck, fesenjan combines the creamy richness of a slow-cooked, ground-walnut sauce with a sour-sweet undercurrent of pomegranate molasses.
In talking with other Persian cooks, I discovered that sometimes hearty chunks of seasonal butternut squash are added to the stew. So I simply made a version featuring squash alone, without the meat. The resulting flavors are rich, complex, and unusual.
The dish is also a nutritional standout: the walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, and the butternut squash supplies antioxidants, potassium, fiber, and B vitamins.
No Thanksgiving is complete without stuffing. But bread-based stuffings can be soggy, dense, and filling without being nutritious. So I created a whole-wheat couscous with Thanksgiving flavors as a higher-fiber, whole-grain alternative to traditional bread stuffing.
Whole-wheat couscous has 50 percent more fiber than regular couscous, and it’s also a good source of iron. Olive oil, a natural partner to couscous, provides a light, fresh, Mediterranean flavor, and onions, fresh herbs, and spices provide plenty of flavor without relying on salt. Pumpkin seeds add texture, and are also an excellent source of magnesium, potassium, and protein.
Here are some basic tips to remember for making tasty and healthy turkey-day sides.
Cooking healthier food will get you only so far; after all, the holiday season is generally also the Season of Overindulgence. Here are a few tips for a happier, healthier season.
Dr. Linda Shiue is an internal-medicine physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in the San Francisco Bay Area. She teaches healthy-cooking classes to patients and community groups and writes about food on her blog, Spicebox Travels. Follow her on Twitter: @spiceboxtravels.
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