Two weeks before Thanksgiving last year, my husband’s endocrinologist said his blood sugar was dangerously high. David needed to bring it down — immediately.
But traditional Thanksgiving foods can cause anyone’s blood sugar to spike. Think of stuffing, sweet potatoes with melted marshmallows, cranberry sauce (my recipe calls for two cups of sugar) and pumpkin pie!
On top of everything, our 30-year-old niece, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10, was joining us. Recently, she’d worked hard to eat right and exercise more. She became prediabetic for the first time in 20 years.
I always knew Thanksgiving food is carb-heavy and far too sweet, yet I figured what could it hurt once a year. But now that it was clear this menu was harmful to two family members, I didn’t want Thanksgiving dinner to catapult their health backward.
Our family is not alone. In the United States, 34.2 million people suffer from diabetes, and another 88 million live with prediabetes.
I decided to tweak ingredients in Thanksgiving foods, lowering carbohydrate culprits, such as flour and sugar. But in the process, I refused to sacrifice flavor. Here is what I did.
• I skipped cranberries, which require excessive sugar. Instead, I used raw cranberries to garnish the platter of sliced turkey.
• In the stuffing, I upped the veggies and lowered the amount of bread.
• I nixed candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows. As an alternative, I served a sweet potato casserole with a pecan topping.
• I substituted a couple of veggie sides for mashed potatoes.
• I added almond flour to the pear cake and reduced the amount of sugar.
On Thanksgiving, everyone raved about my enlightened recipes. My family didn’t bemoan what we were missing, but rather we were thankful to be together, sharing a delicious meal in good health.
Jerusalem artichoke stuffing | Pareve
Nonstick vegetable spray
6-8 Jerusalem artichokes (sometimes called sunchokes)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
Kosher salt to taste
10-12 ounces of peasant bread or sourdough, presliced (about ½-⅔ of a large bakery loaf)
5 stalks of celery
4 large carrots
3-4 cloves garlic
1½ inches ginger root
8 ounces mushrooms, presliced
¼ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon thyme
3 cups chicken broth
Place a shelf in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Coat a small roasting pan with nonstick spray.
Dice the Jerusalem artichokes. Move the artichokes to the prepared roasting pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or more if needed). Sprinkle with salt, tossing to coat evenly.
Roast for 35 minutes, or until the artichokes are golden and fragrant. Cool to room temperature and reserve.
The recipe can be made to this point up to two days in advance, if covered and refrigerated. Bring the artichokes to room temperature before proceeding.
Tear slices of bread into bite-sized pieces. Reserve.
Peel and dice finely the celery, carrots and onion. Peel the ginger and garlic. Dice them and then chop them finely.
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil on a medium flame. Add the mushrooms, celery, carrots, onion and ginger. Sprinkle them with the salt, sage and thyme. Stir to combine. Sauté until the vegetables soften, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and Jerusalem artichokes, and sauté for 1-2 minutes.
Add the bread, and stir to combine. Slowly pour in the chicken broth a little at a time, stirring after each addition. When the bread is wet and sticking together (but not sopping wet and saturated), you don’t need any more chicken broth. If any remains, use it for another purpose.
Coat a deep 2½-quart casserole with nonstick spray. Spoon the stuffing mixture into the casserole. Bake the stuffing for 45-55 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbling. Serve immediately.
Whipped sweet potatoes with pecan crust | Pareve
4 large sweet potatoes or yams
Nonstick vegetable spray
2 tablespoons maple syrup, preferably Grade A Amber
⅛ teaspoon granulated salt, plus ⅛ teaspoon
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus ⅛ teaspoon
1 to 1½ cups chopped pecans or walnuts
Peel the sweet potatoes, and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Fill a large pot with cold water.
Add the sweet potatoes, cover the pot with a lid and bring it to a boil. On a fast simmer, cook the sweet potatoes until soft in the center, about 45-55 minutes. Add more water, if needed. Drain the sweet potatoes in a colander.
While the sweet potatoes simmer, preheat your oven to 350 F. Coat a deep 2½-quart casserole with nonstick spray.
In two batches, move the sweet potatoes to the bowl of a food processor. To the first batch, add 1 tablespoon maple syrup, ⅛ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon cinnamon.
Cover it with the lid and process until all the lumps are gone and the potatoes look fluffy. Using a spatula, move the sweet potatoes to the prepared casserole. Repeat with the second batch of potatoes, maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon.
The recipe can be made to this point 2 days ahead. Bring the potato casserole to room temperature before proceeding. Scatter the nuts on top. Move the sweet potatoes to the oven, and heat for 15-20 minutes, until the casserole bubbles at the edges. Serve immediately.
Roasted parsnips with rosemary | Pareve
3 large parsnips, peeled and cut the size of carrot sticks
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon rosemary needles, chopped
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat to 375 F. Coat a 7-inch-by-11-inch ovenproof pan, such as Pyrex, with nonstick spray.
Move the parsnips into the prepared ovenproof pan. Drizzle on the olive oil and stir to coat it evenly. Sprinkle on the salt, garlic powder and rosemary. Toss to coat evenly. Move the pan to the oven, and roast until the parsnips turn golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. Serve immediately.
The recipe can be made a day ahead if cooled, covered and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before placing it in a 375-degree oven until heated through and crisping again.
Spiced pear cake | Pareve
Nonstick vegetable spray
2 firm, but ripe, Bartlett pears
⅔ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
⅓ cup vegetable oil
⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups almond flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon cloves
¼ teaspoon cardamom
Place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat your oven to 375 F. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with nonstick spray.
Peel the skin off the pears. Slice them in half the long way. Use a melon baller or paring knife to remove seeds. Place the flat side of pear halves on a cutting board. Cut thin slices lengthwise down each pear half, cutting all the way through. Keep the slices in the shape of a pear. Reserve.
In a large-size mixing bowl, place the sugar, cinnamon, oil and applesauce. Using an electric beater, beat on low until combined. Add the eggs, vanilla and almond extract. Beat on low, until incorporated. The mixture will appear loose and quite dark. Add the 2 flours, baking powder, salt, ginger, cloves and cardamom. Beat on low to incorporate them. With a spatula, scrape the bowl and mix again.
Pour the dough into the prepared springform pan. With a spatula, gently lift each sliced pear half one at a time onto the dough. Place the flat side of the pears down on the dough. Position the necks of the pears closer to the center of the pan and the bulbous ends closer to, but not touching, the edge. Fan out the slices a little. They should resemble the spokes of a bike. Gently press on the pears until the batter squishes up the sides of each pear, but the tops of the pears are still exposed.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool to room temperature before serving. Do not remove the springform sides until the cake is cooled. PJC
Linda Morel writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication where this first appeared.