Holiday Side Dishes: Lighten Up
Though I generally eat healthy, I find myself eating quite poorly on Thanksgiving Day -- and that's before I even get to dessert, which is my real weak spot.
Part of the problem stems from family traditions. Whether we celebrate with my family or my husband's, the traditional side dishes served aren't light in calories or low in sugar. This is doubly true for the vegetable and fruit dishes, which you'd think would be healthier. But since they're typically made with canned soups, processed cheeses and lots of cream, butter and sugar, the nutritional value of the whole foods is essentially killed.
But what if the fruits and the vegetables were the stars of those side dishes, instead of add-ons? To try this idea on for size, I re-imagined three calorie-heavy Thanksgiving side dishes: cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and broccoli and cheese casserole.
Cranberry sauce, for many tables, comes out of a can, jellied and sugared up. Even if you make it from scratch, most recipes call for at least one cup of sugar. To get around this, I added fresh apples and oranges, and I used cranberry-raspberry juice instead of water. My son, who is 20 months old, ate this up like applesauce, and my sister Julie says she can't wait until she can put it on leftover turkey sandwiches.
The primary flavors of a typical green bean casserole are fried onions and mushrooms, sopped up in a creamy, salty soup base. My version still has a delicious flavor of onions and mushrooms, but since I use fresh green beans, fresh white and Portobello mushrooms and caramelized onions, the dish isn't heavy, but it's still oh-so-good. My husband says the green beans taste like candy.
Most broccoli and cheese casseroles call for Velveeta that's easy to melt and bright yellow-orange. To get around this, I recommend using aged cheddar or Gouda, or a blend of the two cheeses. I also follow the instructions I learned in one of my first French cooking classes taught by Jill Prescott: If you're going to make a white sauce or cheese sauce, infuse the milk with flavor first. That makes a huge difference, as the base of your cheese sauce has a rich and savory flavor.
Here are my three healthier side dish recipes:
Tart 'n' Sassy Cranberry Sauce
8 oz fresh cranberries
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
2 medium navel oranges -- 1 zested and juiced, 1 peeled, pith removed and cut into segments (see note)
½ cup all juice cranberry-raspberry juice
2 TB maple syrup
2 TB Grand Marnier
1 tsp. vanilla extract (use a good one like Spice Islands, Penzeys or The Spice House)
In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stir together all ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. After sauce begins to boil and most of the berries have popped, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. Makes about 2 cups.
Note: To remove the pith and cut into segments, use a paring knife to cut away the peel. This will remove the pith, and then, using the paring knife, cut the segments of the orange away from the core.
Fresh Green Beans with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms
1 ½ lbs fresh green beans, ends trimmed
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 TB extra virgin olive oil
8 oz white mushrooms, sliced
2 Portobello mushrooms, diced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. After it begins to boil, drop in the green beans and boil for two minutes. Remove and rinse under very cold water to stop the cooking process.
2. Heat a large saucepan over high heat for one minute. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil; heat for one minute. Add diced onion and reduce heat to low. Sauté, stirring about every 3 to 5 minutes, until onions are caramelized, or about 20 minutes.
3. Add mushrooms and remaining olive oil, bring heat back up to high for one minute, reduce to medium heat. Sauté for about five minutes.
4. Add green beans, cook only until warmed through or about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Note: If you want to make it more traditional, before step four, stir in 2 cups heavy cream, bring to a boil, and then as soon as it boils, reduce heat, and then add the green beans. Pour vegetable-cream mixture into a large casserole dish and then top with either ½ cup breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or crunchy fried onions.
Lighter Broccoli and Cheese Casserole
1 ½ lbs broccoli florets, steamed
3 cups skim milk
1 tsp whole peppercorns
½ tsp whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1 slice onion
2 TB diced yellow onion
2 TB unsalted butter
3 TB white flour
1 TB Dijon mustard
¾ cup aged cheddar or Gouda cheese
4 oz light cream cheese or Neufchâtel cheese
¼ tsp quality ground nutmeg like Spice Islands
freshly cracked pepper, salt to taste
In a large saucepan, bring milk, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves and slice of onion to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as it boils, turn it off, and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves and onion slice.
In same saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add diced onion and sauté for about five minutes or until translucent. Stir in flour, then whisk in milk, a little bit at a time. Stir until thick -- or until it coats the back of your spoon. Add mustard, nutmeg and cheeses. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in broccoli florets and warm them up. As soon as the broccoli florets are warm, serve.
Note: If this is too light for your tastes, use 1 or 2 percent milk and add up to 1 ½ cups grated cheese.