Thanksgiving and healthy? It can be done.


From Staff Reports

Well, it’s definitely going to be a Thanksgiving like no other.

Thanks to COVID-19, many families across Chapel Hill and Carrboro won’t be gathering, or not nearly in the same large numbers. The kids — now dispersed to Brooklyn and Buffalo — likely are not coming home this year. At least if they’re listening to the CDC.

When we do gather, in smaller groups, we may be doing it (we hope) at a distance, frequently with masks on when we’re not swallowing green bean casserole or sweet potato pie. We’ll be doing it in the midst of a deadly and chaotic year and we’ll try to be thankful despite the doomscrolling that has been the signature of 2020. We’ll try to be thankful for what we do have, how we have survived, and for the supportive, neighborly community in which we live.

And if this is going to be a Thanksgiving like no other, maybe we should consider a Thanksgiving meal like no other. Fortunately, Dilip Barman, The Local Reporter’s healthy eating columnist, has some ideas.

At this time of year, Dilip generally hosts the country’s largest vegetarian (all vegan) Thanksgiving meal. But this year, because of the pandemic, they’re only doing takeout and are already sold out.

So if you want to forgo the turkey — or just want some healthier side dishes — here are some suggestions Dilip recommends on his livestreaming program  So Many Cooks in the Kitchen.

Marinated Jerk Seitan – Dilip Barman

For the marinade and seitan, which is made from wheat gluten:

  • 8-ounce package of seitan strips
  • Juice of 1 lime (or half a lemon — try tangerine or orange juice for a sweeter dish)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced

For the jerk seasoning (or you can use a commercial jerk seasoning mix):

  • 1⁄4-1/2 teaspoon each chili (more or less according to your heat tolerance) and garlic powders
  • 1/8 teaspoon each oregano, allspice, and nutmeg

Other ingredients:

  • 1/8 cup onion cut into thin half moons, approximately 1⁄4” x 1” or 2 cloves garlic roughly cut into longitudinal halves or thirds
  • (optional) 1⁄4 cup nutritional yeast

Cut the seitan into relatively thin strips; it really is your preference, but consider the kind of mouth feel you desire. I recommend 1⁄4” or less thick and approximately 2” x 3⁄4”, at least as a starting point.

Marinate the seitan strips in the remaining marinade ingredients. If you want more moisture, add a little bit of reduced sodium soy- or tamari- sauce or — what I prefer — coconut aminos. Even a short 10-minute marination will help. If you can plan it, then a few hour marination would be good.

When you are ready to cook, decide if you want to air fry or pan saute. If the latter, use a cast iron pan and, if it appears dry, put ¼ t of oil on it. Preheat the pan over medium heat for 2 minutes or so; if you had applied oil, rub it around the pan bottom and then mostly off with a paper towel.

Put the jerk seasoning and, optionally, nutritional yeast, into a bowl. Dredge each strip of seitan in the seasoning.

Cook the seitan along with onion (or garlic.)

If pan sauteing, put each prepared strip directly on the cast iron pan as it is prepared. When all strips are added, put in the onion/garlic. I generally avoid citrus or an acid like tomato in cast iron; it can interact and pull out some metal from the pan, adding a metallic flavor and stripping the seasoning of the pan.

Cook, turning the strips occasionally, to desired crispness, approximately 4-7 minutes.

If you are air frying, place the prepared seitan strips single layer on the fryer basket with no oil and air fry at 350°F for about 5 minutes, turning the strips once (not essential but helpful for even cooking). You can add an extra 30-60 seconds of cooking at the end at 425°F for extra crispiness. Sprinkle the onion or garlic atop when you turn the seitan or halfway through.

The seitan goes great with mashed potatoes or served with rice or mixed in with cooked vegetables.

Makes 2-3 servings.

Pumpkin Hummus Hors D’oeuvres – Canan Orhun

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned or home cooked)
  • 1 cup roasted pumpkin or squash
  • 1⁄4 cup of water (as necessary, little by little, to moisten the mix once in the food processor)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice (or more, adjust to your taste)
  • 1-2 tablespoon tahini
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • (Set Aside) 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • (Set Aside) 1⁄2 teaspoon of finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon of allspice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The pumpkin should be roasted well; nicely caramelized and browned, both to give added flavor and to avoid having a very runny pumpkin puree.

Put all ingredients (except the finely chopped lemon zest) in a food processor and process until creamy smooth. The water should be used sparingly and carefully to avoid having a very runny hummus.

Adjust the seasonings to your liking.

Before serving, fold in the finely chopped lemon zest and sprinkle with some toasted sesame seeds.

Calabacitas –  Debbie Kent Zimmerman

  • 8 ounces button or other favorite mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 small zucchini or other squash, quartered lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 3 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt, optional
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper, to taste

Braise onion in 1 tablespoon water (cook in a small quantity of liquid) stirring until liquid has evaporated. Add zucchini, mushrooms and remaining 1 tablespoon water. Stir in cumin and chili powder.

Simmer for 5 minutes, until mushrooms are soft. Stir in corn and cook for 2 more minutes, until heated through.

Add black pepper to taste.

Makes 4 servings

All Thanksgiving recipes can be accessed at: 

Dilip Barman leads the Triangle Vegetarian Society, teaches food and nutrition classes, and recently made his first film, Code Blue, about the health benefits of moving toward a whole food plant-based diet and the importance of nutrition education in medical training.

His periodic column in The Local Reporter will cover various aspects of plant-based eating, including recipes and cooking techniques; health and environmental benefits of eating low on the food chain; and pointers to important relevant resources and news.

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