Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

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By Emily Paster

For most of us, Thanksgiving is the beginning of a season of indulgence that lasts right through New Year's. In my family at least, the holiday season is a time of parties, giving and receiving edible gifts and festive multi-course meals. All year long I look forward to those traditional family dishes that are too much work — or too many calories — for any other time of year. My mother and I insist on hosting Thanksgiving ourselves because we know exactly the menu we want to make: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, Balsamic-glazed pearl onions, and sauteed haricots verts followed by pumpkin and apple pie. Never mind the fact that the mashed potatoes are full of enough cream and butter to make your heart stop and the glazed pearl onions are so much work that every year we swear we will never do it again!

Sometimes, we come to realize that our traditional holiday recipes just aren't consistent with how we live our lives today. I remember that when I was a little girl, my father made oyster stew for a first course on Christmas Day. The dish was little more than warm cream with oysters floating in it. Sure, it was insanely good. But one year, my dad decided to retire the dish. He was a health nut who spent most of the year eating chicken Caesar salad with no dressing for lunch and running four miles several times a day. Oysters floating in a pool of cream was not a dish that was a part of that healthy lifestyle.

I was recently given a challenge by the makers of Country Crock, America's favorite spread, to lighten up two of my Thanksgiving dishes by using Country Crock in lieu of butter. For those who are watching their fat and cholesterol intake, Country Crock offers great taste with less fat and fewer calories than butter plus no cholesterol. As long as I was going cut fat and cholesterol by using Country Crock, I decided to develop some Thanksgiving dishes that were both traditional and exceptionally nutritious.

My first thought was to replace traditional mashed potatoes with puréed sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are certainly seasonal and traditional for the holidays. They also are loaded with nutrition and flavor. Sweet potatoes have vitamins A and C and plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates which help fill you up. Plus, they are so sweet and flavorful that you don't need to add all that cream and butter. A few tablespoons of Country Crock, a splash of maple syrup and some warm spices are all you need. This purée will win over all your Thanksgiving guests, even the kids!

Maple Sweet Potato Purée
Serves 6 as a side dish

3 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 TB. Olive oil
3 tsp. maple syrup
3 TB Country Crock
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. each ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 400. Toss cubed sweet potatoes with olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the maple syrup. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spread the sweet potato in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes or until tender. Place roasted sweet potatoes in a food processor with 3 TB of Country Crock, 2 tsp. maple syrup and the spices. Puree until smooth. Season well with salt and pepper. This dish can be made ahead of time and reheated over low heat.

For my second healthy side dish using Country Crock, I decided to take a vegetable that is traditionally cooked in butter and see how it fared using Country Crock instead. One of my favorite late fall vegetables is the leek — cousin to onions and garlic both with such a sweeter, milder flavor. Leeks can be a pain to work with because they are woody and hard to clean. I'm not sure I would prepare a dish of leeks on a typical weeknight, but for your holiday table, leeks make for an elegant presentation and a change from everyday vegetables.

We didn't miss the butter in this dish one bit. Because the leeks are braised in chicken broth and then splashed with puckery lemon juice, this dish is both very lean and very flavorful. When cooked, leeks are extremely mild so even members of the "no-onion club," to which many of my family members belong, can enjoy this one. Although your children may look askance, if you can get them to give leeks a try, they might be converted. On my honor, my nine year old loved this dish so much that she asked for a second helping.

Braised Leeks

8 leeks
2 TB Country Crock
1 cup chicken broth
2-3 sage leaves
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Trim off the tops and the woody outer layers of the leeks and wash them well. Cut the trimmed leeks into three-inch pieces and then cut them in half lengthwise. Melt 2 TB Country Crock in a large deep skillet. Arrange the leeks in a single layer and saute over medium heat for five minutes, turning once. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lay the sage leaves over the leeks, reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer leeks until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil until remaining liquid is syrupy. Discard sage leaves. Place leeks in a shallow serving dish. Spritz with lemon juice and season well with salt and pepper.

I hope that you and your family have a very safe and healthy Thanksgiving full of favorite dishes, old and new.

Full disclosure time: Thank you to Good to Know & Unilever Spreads for being a sponsor. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective. All opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.


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