Not Your Grandma’s Stuffing
Healthy Twists on Old Favorites
by Judith Fertig
Thanksgiving side dishes continue to evolve, even though traditional entrées still hold pride of place. New, lighter, alternatives to time-honored stuffing maximize flavorful dried fruits, herbs and nuts. Healthy options may use gluten-free bread or black rice, cauliflower, chestnuts or pecans for flavor, bulk and color. A stuffing can also fill a halved acorn squash or cored apple.
According to renowned authority Dr. Joseph Mercola, pecans contain more than 19 vitamins and minerals, including anti-inflammatory magnesium, heart-healthy oleic acid, phenolic antioxidants and immune-boosting manganese. Erica Kannall, a registered dietitian in Spokane and a certified health and fitness specialist with the American College of Sports Medicine, likes dried fruits because they contribute antioxidants and fiber.
Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito, of New York City, salutes his Italian heritage with chestnuts and embraces healthy living with millet and mushrooms in his special stuffing. His new book Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious includes healthy takes on Thanksgiving dishes such as a sugar-free cranberry sauce.
Sonnet Lauberth, a certified holistic health coach, blogger and cookbook author in Seattle, created a healthy stuffing she loves. “My Grain-Free Sage and Pecan Dressing is one of my favorite dishes to bring to gatherings because it works with a variety of diets,” she says. “It’s gluten-, dairy- and grain-free, paleo and vegan. The pecans can be omitted for a nut-free version.” Riced cauliflower is the base, which is available prepackaged at some groceries, but can be made at home simply by chopping the florets into rice-kernel-size pieces. “Cauliflower is the perfect base for this recipe as it adds a nice texture in place of bread and provides extra fiber,” she says.
Laurie Gauguin, a personal chef in the San Francisco Bay area, specializes in gluten-free dishes that she prepares in clients’ homes. “Anything that will hold its shape and not crumble too much can work as a stuffing base,” she says. “Gluten-free, somewhat sticky grains, like short grain brown rice, Chinese black rice, millet or soft-cooked quinoa work well.”
“Choose a mixture that contrasts with the texture and color of the food you’re stuffing,” advises Gauguin. “I created a stuffing that has crunchy pecans, tender black rice and chewy, dried cranberries to contrast with the creaminess of the cored squash entrée. The black rice looks striking against the golden squash.”
A stuffing that everyone can eat is ideal for a holiday gathering, either to serve or bring. Lauberth observes, “While not always possible, it’s nice if the host can accommodate various dietary concerns and preferences. Bring your own hearty side dish or two so that you have enough to make a meal for yourself if needed.”
Judith Fertig writes cookbooks and foodie fiction from Overland Park, KS (JudithFertig.com).