Passed hand to hand around the table or viewed on a buffet table, the side dishes lend both the color and nutritional variety to holiday meals.
Phyllis Dennee, a Montana State University Extension nutrition educator overseeing the Expanded Foods and Nutrition Program, and Lynn Paul, the MSU Extension nutrition specialist, suggest that you don't forego favorite side dishes, though you might consider modifying them slightly to improve their nutrition value.
The new and slightly healthier side dish recipes you come up with can become family favorites in their own right. Just like Mama's recipe box, the nutritionists' recipe cards are dog-eared with notes on the side, and display additional "medals of honor" in the form of brown gravy spatters, floury finger prints and red cranberry juice droplets.
Dennee wrote in an e-mail that her approach is to "try to serve side dishes with lots of fruits and vegetables, with very few added sauces and such. I would rather save my tummy space (and calories) for the dessert! Besides, I enjoy the real taste of the fruits and vegetables. I was surprised how great sweet potatoes are - because my grandmother always smothered them in marshmallows and brown sugar."
An added benefit of simple and traditional vegetable side dishes is that they are inexpensive in the fall, shortly after their harvest.
"I stock up on fresh cranberries, sweet potatoes, and all of the other items which grocery stores use as 'loss leaders' before Thanksgiving," she wrote. Keeping them in the freezer or pantry allows her to have an inexpensive "un-Thanksgiving dinner" later in the winter.
The simplicity of the recipes also means they are great for novice cooks.
Paul points out that what makes Thanksgiving so special now is that so few people regularly share meals together any more.
"For Thanksgiving dinner, most families take a few minutes to gather around a table, give thanks for our bounty and enjoy both food and conversation," she said. "That's a powerful family tie."
Paul chose to offer her recipes for Waldorf salad and sweet potato casserole.
And, for those of you new to filling the holiday table or needing a reminder, you can check safe cooking recommendations on the Internet by going to the USDA's "Let's talk turkey" website:
Phyllis' Fresh Broccoli Salad
1 pound fresh broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
4 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled (use meaty pieces)
½ cup sweet onion, chopped (or red onion)
4 ounces shredded Mozzarella cheese
½ cup low fat mayonnaise
¼ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
Directions: Combine broccoli, bacon crumbles, onion and cheese in bowl.
Mix together mayo, sugar and vinegar. Pour over broccoli mixture and toss to coat. Cover and chill for at least an hour.
Phyllis' Cranberry Orange Relish
("Stolen unabashedly every year from the fresh cranberry package. My mother-in-law stole it unabashedly for decades before that.")
1 package fresh cranberries
1 orange with rind, cut into 8 sections with seeds removed
¾ cup sugar
In a food processor or food grinder, grind together cranberries and orange sections. Stir in sugar.
Note: Wash the orange before cutting.
Lynn's Waldorf Salad
Carol, I love Waldorf Salad and it was always a family tradition. I have modified it for my own taste (no celery!!) and now I make Waldorf salad for Thanksgiving and Christmas whether at my home or with family and friends.
4 medium unpeeled red eating apples, cut into ¼- inch slices
Dash of lemon juice to keep apples from turning brown
3 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1 cup of vanilla (or plain) yogurt
1/4 cup of mayonnaise
2 medium bananas-diced
1/2 cup of seedless grapes (cut lengthwise) 1/2 cup of orange juice
Toss ingredients and enjoy!
Lynn's Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole
Casserole Ingredients and Cooking Instructions:
3-18 oz - or 40 oz can sweet potatoes
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¾ cup butter
Mix all above ingredients well. Bake in 13 x 9 pan 20 minutes at 350º until set.
Topping Ingredients and Cooking Instructions:
¾ cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
Cook in pan over low heat until melted. Add to and mix with:
1 cup pecans (chopped), 1 cup cornflakes (crushed)
Sprinkle topping over hot sweet potatoes. Bake in oven 12-15 minutes- cool slightly.