I love the idea of a healthy but luxurious soup to start off the Thanksgiving feast. But I keep the servings small, to avoid filling everyone up, and keep the soup simple, to warm up your tastebuds for the onslaught of flavors to come. This winter vegetable soup fits the bill perfectly. The clean flavor of the root vegetables shines through, and unlike many similar soups, it’s not cloyingly sweet. And of course, it’s not enriched with heavy cream or anything else to make it too heavy.

I bought a set of vintage mini-bowls that I think would be perfect for serving a soup like this on Thanksgiving. (Unfortunately I forgot about them before I shot this photo!)

This is the third of my Thanksgiving recipes for this year’s Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. Be sure to take part, and while you’re at it, enter to win some great cookbooks.

Puréed Winter Vegetable Soup

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks, sliced
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 very large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small celery root, peeled and cubed
1 carrot or turnip, peeled and cubed
½ cup dry sherry
4 cups vegetable broth (recommend Imagine No-Chicken stock)
4 cups water
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
Black pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy pot or dutch oven. Add leeks, bell pepper and garlic. Cook until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 40 minutes.

Let cool, then puree in a food processor or blender until very smooth, adding water or broth if the soup seems too thick.  Reheat and serve.

Serves 4-6

I’m excited to present a Thanksgiving Challenge guest post by Valentina K. Wein of the lovely blog Cooking on the Weekends. Valentina knows her stuff, people – she had her own catering business, ran Sur La Table’s cooking program in Santa Monica and was a contributing recipe writer to the Los Angeles Times, Food Section. She now works as a recipe developer, and you can always find her Cooking on the Weekends.

This is the second recipe in my Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. Be sure to take part, and while you’re at it, enter to win one of three great cookbooks!

While Thanksgiving is a huge feast, it’s still lovely to have hors d’oeuvres to serve friends and family before the main course. Often times, the “feast” doesn’t make it to the table for a while after everyone arrives. (At my house, anyway.)

This is a wonderful heart healthy, Vegan Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvre!

It’s the cooking technique in this recipe that brings out all of the rich, deep earthy flavors of the mushrooms. Each bite is hearty and oh-so-delicious!

A Thanksgiving Hors d’Oeuvre: Wild Mushroom Croustades

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup thinly sliced brown onion
2 medium-sized, finely minced garlic cloves
1 tablespoon finely chopped, fresh thyme, plus a couple extra sprigs for garnish
1-1/2 pounds fresh, mixed wild mushrooms, washed, dried and roughly chopped (I used Shitake, Maitake & Oyster)
1/4 cup dry sherry
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 medium to large French baguette

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Coat the bottom of a large sauté pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and place it over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Add the thyme, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and mushrooms.

Turn the heat to low, and add the sherry. Then turn the heat to high and deglaze the pan with the sherry, scraping any bits of onion and mushrooms off the bottom of the pan, and back into the mixture. Cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Cut the baguette into thin slices (about 1/4 to 1/2-inch) and place them on a baking sheet. Toast them in the preheated 375 degree F oven until they are beginning to turn golden.

Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of the mushroom mixture on top of each toast.

Serve warm with a bit of fresh thyme on top.

Makes about 1 dozen
Prep Time: 25

Roasted grapes are an underrated food in my book – they’re sweet little nuggets of deliciousness. So when I was searching for a new twist for Thanksgiving stuffing, roasted grapes naturally came to mind. I also added pecans, and used wild rice in addition to the usual bread. Between the chewy wild rice, the slightly crunchy nuts and the soft, juicy grapes, this stuffing has textures galore.

Be sure to get real wild rice, harvested by hand from lakes in Minnesota or Canada. Read the label carefully, because some “wild rice” produced in Minnesota isn’t necessarily the real thing. And pay special attention to the cooking time – you want the grains to open up but not be exploded like popcorn. (I cooked it too little this time, as you can see in the photo, and it was a bit crunchy!)

To keep the stuffing heart-healthy, I used a whole grain bread and olive oil, rather than the usual white bread and butter. This recipe is vegan, but if you’re not a vegan you might want to add a couple of eggs, which would make the stuffing hold together more. But it’s delicious either way.

This is the first of my Thanksgiving recipes for this year’s Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge. Be sure to take part, and while you’re at it, enter to win some great cookbooks.

Wild Rice and Bread Stuffing with Roasted Grapes

1 cup wild rice (see note above)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 ½ cups seedless red grapes
1 large onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
½ cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc
1 one-pound loaf whole wheat sourdough bread, crusts removed, cut into ½-inch cubes (about 10 cups)
2 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock (recommend Imagine No-Chicken)

Cook the wild rice according to package directions, and drain off any remaining liquid at the end of the cooking time. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the grapes with 2 teaspoons oil and bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 300 degrees. Place the bread on rimmed baking sheets and bake until dry, about 25 minutes.  Place in a large bowl.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Sauté onions and celery for 5 minutes. Add wine and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add to bread mixture, along with 4 tablespoons olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper, pecans, parsley, cooked wild rice and roasted grapes. Stir gently, then add broth. Place the stuffing in a baking dish.

Cover and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then uncover and bake for 15 minutes longer.

Serves 8-10

Enjoy more nutritious holiday feast, and get a chance to win one of three great books: Wild About Greens, Vegan for the Holidays or Artisan Vegan Cheese.

Why a Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge?  Well, most Thanksgiving recipes are loaded with butter and cream … not to mention sodium, sugar and red meat. It’s the quintessential “heart attack on a plate.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about giving up stuffing, gravy or apple pie here!  Just making them better. With the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge, I hope to put together a group of holiday recipes that won’t leave your arteries crying “uncle.”

Want to participate? Here’s how:

Fellow food bloggers: Make a healthy Thanksgiving dish and post the recipe on your blog by November 15 17. Please link to this page in your post and feel free to download and display the Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge badge. I’ll include select recipes on a roundup of participants on November 16 19.

Everybody: Enter the cookbook giveaway by following the instructions in the Rafflecopter widget below!  There are five different ways to enter, by doing things like leaving a comment, linking to your blog post or sharing the Challenge with your friends and followers. (Tip: Publishing your own linked blog post with a recipe counts as five entries!)
a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ll be sharing some of my own favorite Thanksgiving recipes over the next few weeks. In the meantime, use my 10 Tips for a Healthy Thanksgiving as a guide for planning your feast. (Note: I don’t pretend to be an expert and I’m certainly not a nutritionist, but these are my personal guidelines for a healthy holiday. Feel free to comment with your own tips.)

10 Tips For A Heart-Healthy Thanksgiving

1. Say no to butter, heavy cream and full-fat cheese
Instead of butter – or heaven forbid, shortening – make heart-healthy choices like extra virgin olive oil, high-oleic safflower oil, organic canola oil or macadamia nut oil. This goes for the outside of the turkey, sautéing vegetables, enriching stuffing, and baking pies (see Tip #9). To replace heavy cream in soups or sauces, try evaporated skim milk or cashew cream. Fat-free yogurt and sour cream can be used in mashed potatoes, creamy dips, soups, sauces and more. If a recipe calls for whole milk, use skim, soy or almond milk.  There are many reduced-fat cheeses available, and fat-free ricotta and feta are surprisingly good when used in recipes (albeit processed, hypocritically violating Tip#10.)

2. Ditch the fatty  meats
Sausage stuffing? Bacon-wrapped turkey? No, you really don’t the extra saturated fat on this already-decadent day. For your stuffing, consider crumbled Field Roast vegetarian sausages (although they are super high in sodium, so use sparingly). The smoked apple variety is particularly well suited for Thanksgiving. Wild mushrooms (fresh or dried) can also lend a wonderfully meaty flavor. Smoked paprika can add a bacon-y taste, too. And if you’re cooking a turkey, be sure to remove any extra globs of fat before you roast (leave the skin on of course, but don’t eat it.)

3. Use whole grains
Less white flour = fewer empty calories and carbs. White whole wheat flour and whole wheat pastry flour are superior substitutes. Use them for your baking, and try whole grain breads for your stuffing. Find ways to work in whole grains like quinoa and barley into the meal – there’s no rule that stuffing has to be made with bread, and gluten-free folks will appreciate an alternative, too.

4. Look beyond the turkey
If there are any vegetarians at your table, they deserve more than a plain hunk of tofu. With vegetarian entrees that serve as centerpieces in their own right, you’ll have hardcore meat eaters straying from the turkey platter. Festive stuffed pumpkin or squashsmoky maple seitan sausages, shepherd’s piewild mushroom strudel … the possibilities are endless.

5. Cut down on the salt
Start with one third the amount that would be used in a traditional recipe (except for baking recipes) and go from there. You’ll be surprised that you don’t miss the excessive amount. Use lemon juice to brighten the flavors of vegetables, which will reduce the need for salt.  If you are using commercial broths, be sure to look for the lowest sodium brands you can find.

6. Watch the sugar
Sure you’re going to eat pie this Thanksgiving, and I’m all for that (as long you follow the guidelines below – see Tip #9). But to make up for it, reduce or eliminate the sugar in other places, such as in your sweet potatoes and cranberries. Try chopping and roasting sweet potatoes with savory herbs and spices instead of making a traditional sugary sweet casserole, and serve a less-sweet (but no less delicious) cranberry sauce. Bring sweetness to the table with naturally sweet vegetables like beets and with fresh fruit in salads. And remember, sugars also come from carbs, so do yourself a favor and don’t serve bread with your meal. It’s really the last thing you need, especially with bread stuffing.

7. Go overboard on vegetables
Mashed potatoes don’t count, people!  Instead of one vegetable side dish, why not serve four or five?  Green salads are often missing on the Thanksgiving table, and it’s a shame – bitter greens like watercress, arugula and radicchio are holiday naturals, especially when combined with seasonal fruits and nuts. Be sure to make some superstar vegetables like kale, brussels sprouts and broccoli so you can load up on antioxidants. Remember, the more vegetables on your plate, the less carbs and sugar you’ll eat during the meal. And speaking of mashed potatoes, try replacing half the potatoes with more nutritious vegetables like cauliflower, carrots or even beets.

8. De-fat your gravy
If you’re a meat eater, turkey gravy is an essential. But it doesn’t have to be made with loads of turkey fat. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s method for low fat turkey gravy. Of course, you can also make a rich, flavorfulvegetarian gravy that will knock the meat eaters’ socks off.

9. Lighten up dessert
Pie is a holiday practically a requirement. But here are some guidelines. Fruit pies tend to be better choices, but it is also possible to make a heart-healthy pumpkin pie. Whatever pie you make, be sure the crust is heart-healthy and not full of butter or shortening.  Use whole wheat pastry flour for at least half of the amount called for. Skip the step of dotting fruit pie fillings with butter, it is simply not necessary. Instead of a top and bottom crust, try a top-only crust – and if you cut it into rough pieces and patch it together, you’ve got a pandowdy.  If you really want to lighten up your Thanksgiving dinner, baked apples are a delicious but often-ignored light dessert alternative.

10. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods tend to be high in salt, calories and unhealthy fats. Use Eating Rules’ October: Unprocessed guidelines: “If you pick up something with a label (and if it doesn’t have a label, it’s probably unprocessed), and find an ingredient you’d never use in your kitchen and couldn’t possibly make yourself from the whole form, it’s processed.”


Oct 9, 2012

My granola

I’ve always had mixed feelings about granola. I love it to death, but there are some definite nutrition issues to consider, whether you’re making it or buying it.

A friend of mine recently made the famed Madison Square Park granola. It tasted great – but of course it did, with nearly a cup of sweetener in a granola with just 2¾ cups of oats! Similarly, Melissa Clark’s recipe includes 1¼ cups of sweetener. Granolas like this are delicious, but hardly the ultimate healthy breakfast.

Many granolas are also loaded with seeds, which have a very high level of Omega-6 fatty acids, which promote inflammation. (I try to limit excess Omega-6 consumption, and boost Omega-3 fatty acids to compensate.) And when it comes to commercially-made granola, many contain “vegetable oil”, which probably means highly-processed soybean oil, not the heart-healthiest choice.

Another common granola ingredient is coconut, which I avoid because of the high saturated fat content. Yes, I know a lot of people believe coconut is heart-healthy, but I’m not convinced – and as someone with serious heart problems, I have to be extra cautious.

So what’s a health-conscious granola lover to do? 

The first thing I did when concocting my granola was to cut down the added sugar from the typical recipe. Of course, I didn’t cut out the sugar altogether, as that would make for a granola no one wants to eat. I used a little each of maple syrup, applesauce and coconut palm sugar, which is said to have a lower glycemic index level (not sure how much stock to put in the health claims, but I love the taste.)  Don’t worry, you won’t miss the heavy sweetness, especially if you spice up the granola up with a hefty dose of cinnamon, along with cardamom and fresh orange zest.

I included nuts, but ditched the usual pumpkin and sunflower seeds, which are higher in Omega-6.  I didn’t include any coconut. And I used extra-virgin olive oil, which is an unprocessed oil that’s high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

Is my granola health food? That’s debatable, as it does contain added sugar. But for me, this is a granola with the right balance of health and deliciousness. Now I just need to stop myself from eating it in huge quantities!

Heart-Healthy Granola

5 cups rolled oats, preferably thick-cut (if you’re gluten-sensitive, be sure to use oats marked gluten-free)
1 cup whole raw almonds
1/3 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 c maple syrup
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar (or increase maple syrup to ½ cup)
Zest of one organic orange
2 teaspoons vanilla paste, or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup dried fruit of choice (raisins, cranberries, etc.)

Heat the oven to 275 degrees.

Combine the oats, nuts, cinnamon, salt and cardamom in a large bowl.  In another bowl, whisk the applesauce, olive oil, sweeteners, ginger or orange zest and vanilla.

Combine the two mixtures, then spread on a large rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the dried fruit.  Cool, then place in an airtight container for storage.

I’m pleased to announce that my chili – with homegrown vegetables and not a can in sight – is featured today on Eating Rules as part of October Unprocessed. Thanks to Andrew Wilder for inviting me to do a guest post for this amazing series. For the recipe, just click on over to Eating Rules. You’ll want to make this chili right away, while you can still get really good tomatoes!