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Ask A Connecticut Chef: Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes

By Gillian Burdett

Traditional Thanksgiving dinner dishes aren’t always the healthiest. Fiber-rich, nutrition-loaded sweet potatoes become a dietary disaster once the cook adds lumps of butter, brown sugar and marshmallows. It’s fine to splurge a little over the holidays. The season is wrapped up in traditions of which food plays a big part. However, Thanksgiving comes between bowls of Halloween candy and platters of Christmas cookies. Re-thinking Thanksgiving dinner with an eye towards health can help you head towards New Year’s Day with more energy and less holiday weight gain. We reached out to Glastonbury Chef David deMercado for some help with making Thanksgiving dinner a little healthier.

Chef David deMercado
Dinner as You Please
Glastonbury, CT 06033
(860) 657-4663
www.dinnerasyouplease.com

Chef David, a member of The American Personal Chef Association, trained under Shirkshire Restaurant Executive Chef John Wiskoski in Bennington, Vermont. He draws on New England’s bounty for his culinary inspiration using fresh Atlantic seafood, vegetables and herbs grown in his own garden and fruits and berries picked from local orchards. Dinner as You Please is Chef David’s personal chef and catering service. He specializes in creating personalized meals for his clients taking into consideration lifestyles and dietary needs. Chef David offered us three recipes that will make a healthy addition to any Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps one, or all three, will become a tradition at your holiday table.

Thanksgiving Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin

Ingredients:

  1. 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  2. 3 cups tart apples (about 3 large or 5 small) cored, peeled, and sliced thinly
  3. 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  4. 1/4 cup maple syrup
  5. 2 tablespoon butter, melted
  6. 1 teaspoon salt
  7. 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  8. 1 cup soft breadcrumbs
  9. 3 teaspoons olive oil
  10. 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  11. 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  12. 1 teaspoon cider vinegar


Directions:
*Note For tart apples, Gala or Granny Smith work well.

  1. To make fresh breadcrumbs, cube bread of choice and whir in blender or food processor.
  2. Place sliced apples in a large bowl; sprinkle with lemon juice. Add the sweet potatoes, maple syrup, butter, salt, and pepper; toss to coat.
  3. Transfer to a 3-qt. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 35-40 minutes or until apples are tender, stirring once.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, olive oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vinegar; sprinkle over potato mixture.
  5. Bake 10-15 minutes longer or until topping is golden brown.

Serves 12.

Chef’s Notes: Having grown up in Southern Vermont, the fall harvest of apples, potatoes, and root vegetables meant the ingredients for hearty sides and wonderful pies would (hopefully) be available through the winter. This healthy gratin is made more flavorful and distinct by the addition of a tart apple like a Granny Smith or Gala.  By volume, fresh bread crumbs have fewer carb calories than dried crumbs and have much better flavor. Maple syrup (go Vermont!) is one of the healthiest and freshest tasting sweeteners available and not a marshmallow in sight. 

Related: Top Spots To Buy A Thanksgiving Turkey In Connecticut

Thanksgiving Roasted Carrots, Parsnips, Purple Top Turnips & Onions

Ingredients:

  1. 1 pound medium carrots, peeled, ends trimmed, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3-inch segments
  2. 1 pound parsnips, peeled, ends trimmed, quartered lengthwise, woody core trimmed away and cut into 3-inch segments
  3. 1 pound purple top turnips, scrubbed, ends cut off, sliced into 1/8ths (no need to peel)
  4. 1 large onion, peeled, cut in 1/2 & sliced thinly
  5. 2 tablespoons kosher salt + more for boiling vegetables
  6. 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 tbs dried thyme
  7. 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Place carrots, parsnips, and turnips in a large pot, cover with water, and season with salt. Heat over high heat until boiling. Reduce to a simmer and cook until barely tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and allow to dry for 5 minutes. Add sliced onions then refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Transfer vegetables to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle olive oil, salt and thyme over vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Roast until caramelized, about 30-40 minutes, turning once or twice during roasting.

Serve immediately.

Chef’s Notes: I have been serving a version of this very dish to my family and friends for at least 20 years. Healthy olive oil and the flavor magic that caramelization can bring to a seemingly humble late-harvest vegetable melange needs to be tasted to be appreciated.

Thanksgiving Pom-Cran Relish

Ingredients:

  1. 1 package (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
  2. 1 medium navel orange, peeled, sectioned, and coarsely chopped
  3. 1/4 cup honey
  4. 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  5. 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  6. 2 to 3 teaspoons grated orange peel

Directions:

  1. Grate orange to get 2-3 teaspoons grated peel.
  2. Peel orange, section and coarsely chop orange.
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the cranberries, chopped orange and honey. Cook and stir over medium heat for 15-20 minutes or until berries pop and mixture is thickened. Stir in pomegranate seeds; cook 2 minutes longer.
  4. Taste for proper sweet/tart ratio.
  5. Add additional honey if desired.
  6. Remove from the heat; stir in orange peel and walnuts.
  7. Serve warm or chilled.

Chef’s Notes: Fresh New England cranberries, anti-oxidant rich pomegranate seeds and phytonutrient rich walnuts combine with another top-ranked healthy sweetener, honey, and fresh orange pieces to create a chunky, palate refreshing sweettart condiment. The recipe as designed allows you to tailor the sweettart ratio at the end.

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