During the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is hard but essential to find things for which to be grateful. Even though family gatherings and congregations are a no-no, this doesn’t mean we can’t be thankful to be safe at home (rather than stuck at home). We do have many blessings and are fortunate to be alive and well to resent these restrictions rather than the alternative. With that thought in mind, it is imperative that we consider this Thanksgiving as a time to ponder the real blessings we are given by waking to each new day. It is easy to forget the gift of health, life, and freedom when it is disguised by everyday frustrations and consumerism (especially with the prevailing political and divisive atmosphere). The level of anxiety and mental fatigue we are experiencing is unprecedented. In light of this, planning a healthier Thanksgiving meal that has immune and mental health boosting effects is a nod to fending off this deadly virus and a needed boost to our mental health.
When most Southerners think of a Thanksgiving meal, thoughts typically include a turkey stuffed with flavorful cornbread dressing, mounds of smooth, buttery mashed potatoes topped with a brown gravy made from the turkey drippings, and thick, sweet potato pie laden with brown sugar and marshmallows. These items are delicious but chock full of the artery clogging and inflammation causing substances that are attacking our health today. Maybe it is time to offer ourselves a more health-conscious Thanksgiving menu. With this in mind, let’s consider a few alternatives.
Most people associate eating turkey with the sleepy-time chemical, tryptophan. Nutritionists note that turkey does contain moderate amounts of tryptophan. This chemical can be converted by the body into serotonin (a natural antidepressant) and even melatonin (a sleepy chemical). Most experts agree that the after-Thanksgiving-dinner slump is probably not due to the tryptophan but more likely to overeating of carbohydrates and protein. This leads to the body diverting blood and energy to digest that large, complex meal (leading to feeling tired and sluggish). It is recommended to avoid deep frying the turkey (unless you are expert) since amateurs can have safety issues from explosions and often have periods of cook time where the oil temperature is too low. This can lead to excessive oil absorption by the turkey meat. Roasting or grilling the turkey are excellent alternatives and offer the option to apply a healthy and flavorful dry rub. Adding whole quarters of onions, shallots, lemons, apples, sprigs of fresh herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, and others inside the turkey cavity boosts the taste and adds health benefits. Rather than rubbing the outside with butter or oil, try drying with paper towels, seasoning it with kosher salt overnight, and applying an oil spray and dry seasonings on the outside and under the skin just prior to baking, roasting, or grilling. Avoid self-basting turkeys as they often have added fat. While useful to retain moisture and seasonings during cooking, removing the skin before eating is recommended since it will remove a lot of the fat in the turkey.
The Dressing (or stuffing if you ain’t from the South)
The typical Southern dressing is a delicious mix of high carbohydrate breads with little fiber content. Recipes are available that offer a more nutritious alternative to this beloved Thanksgiving staple. Choices to try include apples with quercetin and kaempferol containing, mood-boosting, virus, and cholesterol and inflammation fighting health properties; or add some depth with a recipe using the superfood, mushrooms. Mushrooms are a natural way to add flavor and offer nutrition. All edible mushrooms are antioxidants and each offers a range of differing health benefits. Another option is to use sweet potatoes as shown here.
Don’t want to go to the trouble of roasting a whole turkey? Try a less complex stuffed turkey breast instead! This recipe contains pecans and whole dried cranberries which contain several antioxidants to help keep you healthy and in a good mood.
Starting with the ever-present mashed potatoes, we take a look at healthier options. Standard, homemade recipes can call for a stick (or more) of butter and adding milk for creaminess. For us humans, both can be bad. Many of us lack the enzyme necessary to break down the lactose these products contain. This can lead to gas, indigestion, and misery. If you think about it, humans are the only species that continue to drink milk past infancy and many lack the enzyme necessary to break it down in the gut (but that is another discussion). Options to reduce these irritants include using the starchy water left over from boiling the potatoes to cream them rather than butter and milk. Some people choose to substitute chicken or vegetable broth for the additional flavor.
Mashed potatoes seem bare without the gravy, especially at Thanksgiving time. The typical Southern gravy is made using the turkey drippings which are the fats and juices left after cooking. The key word here is “fats.” An alternative is to use vegetable oil which is lower in saturated fats and cholesterol free in place of the drippings. If you must use turkey drippings, use a gravy separator which allows the fats to naturally separate for removal. Other choices include using a broth-based gravy recipe or vegetable gravy instead. If you find yourself in a hurry, try this lightning-quick gravy recipe option.
The last item is a true Southern tradition, sweet potato pie. Fantastic recipes abound with loads of added sugar and corn syrup-laden marshmallows. These are a good combination for a blood sugar spike and rebound slump! A healthier option is a twice-baked sweet potato with ricotta cheese. If you are absolutely set on having a sweet potato pie, a reduction in the amount of sugar like this recipe will help.
We at CannaCook are planning our Thanksgiving celebration as we are very thankful for the blessings we are receiving. Thank you, our readers, for your support during our first fantastic year of existence! We hope to continue to be your trusted, #1 source of information for your cooking with cannabis needs.