Food

Cooking up a healthier Thanksgiving

Local cooks share their secrets to keto, gluten-free, paleo, and vegan offerings for the holiday.

Courtesy Melissa Peralta

As Thanksgiving nears, many of us are anticipating a table full of turkey and all its usual fixings, from stuffing and cranberry sauce to green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole.

But as more people turn to healthier eating and follow a vegan, gluten-free, keto, or paleo lifestyle, their traditional Thanksgiving menu is undergoing some revisions.

Melissa Peralta, who offers vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free catering and personal chef services through her Mood Food Wellness Co. and Suddenly Simple Events, said Thanksgiving dinner can be healthy and still satisfying and delicious.

Her own table will include a mix of paleo, keto, and vegan-friendly recipes — and her guests who don’t usually eat the same way still leave full — but without the sluggish after-effects that come from consuming a heavy traditional Thanksgiving feast.

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“The harvest vegetable stuffing is the star of the show,” she said. “It’s super savory and satisfying. My biggest goal is to create recipes where you don’t feel you are missing out on something if you are eating healthy.”

Her turkey recipe uses natural sea salt, which contains vital nutrients. “It’s mineral-rich and has incredible flavor,” Peralta said.

Other sides include her “colorful, vibrant” slaw that pairs well with traditional classics, or her simple cranberry sauce that makes guests forget all about the canned stuff.

Her goal is to create positive associations with healthy eating, said Peralta, who began changing her diet a few years ago due to health issues.

“Instead of [thinking] that warm cozy feeling comes from cranberry sauce in a can or green bean casserole, you start to realize that warm fuzzy feeling comes from your experiences with the food, not the food itself,” she added.

As she began slowly cutting gluten, dairy, and sugar out of her diet, she realized how much better she was doing.

“Once you start to see how good you feel, you are motivated to make a change,” she said. 

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Natasha Gayl Deych, owner of Natasha Wellness, is happy to see the wider availability of vegan and gluten-free products, so it’s easier for people to try.

The Winthrop health coach offers gluten-free and dairy-free prepared meals delivery around greater Boston, but can customize a menu to fit any need.

She says the switch to options like vegan, keto and paleo, is growing as people become more aware of the importance of what you put into your body.

“There’s definitely a shift going on for sure,” Deych said. “It’s a bit more normal now.”

So when it comes to Thanksgiving, she takes the usual side dishes and gives it a healthier makeover.

“I’ve always been a lover of the sides anyways,” she said. “There’s not much flavor in turkey.”

When it comes to green bean casserole, Deych says she might incorporate tomato sauce, or skip the fried onions and use shallots. Skip the butter, and use avocado or olive oil instead, she added.

Sweet potato casserole can still be served without the butter or the marshmallows, Deych said.

Rather than traditional mac-and-cheese, Deych has created a vegan and gluten-free version using cashews and chickpea pasta or red lentil and quinoa pasta.

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 “That kind of gives it the oomph,” she said. 

For the turkey, Deych said, the trick is to take ghee (or butter if you use it) and spread it between the skin and the turkey before you roast it.

“That act makes it super, super moist and flavorful,” she said. “It keeps the juices in the turkey.”

While there’s always someone on her guest list who isn’t used to eating a menu like her’s, Deych said more often than not, they become fans.

“A lot of times I won’t even tell them something is vegan,” she added.

Christian Leatham, owner of  Dad’s Keto Kitchen said his customers beg him to help them get through the holidays where they are surrounded by pies, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods.

“This time of year is toughest for them,” he said. “Sugar is an addiction, hands down. It’s more addictive than cocaine.”

Leatham, who works out of a commercial kitchen in Oxford, offers an assortment of baked goods that are sugar-free, gluten-free, keto, low-carb, and diabetic-friendly. The menu includes whoopie pies, cheesecakes, breads, dessert bars, whipped cups, and cookies.

Once a person makes the switch to a diet without sugar, carbs, or gluten, the difference is extreme, Leatham said.

Energy levels stay consistent without crashes, sleep is more healthy and solid, and “mental clarity goes through the roof,” he said.

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Leatham believes the trend of healthy eating will continue to grow.

“People are much more open-minded now,” he said. “I think you’re seeing the industry turn.” 

In fact, his large dessert platter is popular with customers heading to a holiday gathering because everyone takes from it, he said.

“Our platters turn out to be more popular than what other people bring,” he said. “A parent will hand their kid a cookie and the kids will come back for more. If kids can’t tell, then you know the adults are going to be fine.”

Natasha’s Mac and Cheese Recipe (Vegan + Gluten-Free)

Ingredients

1.5 cups raw cashews (soak in hot water while you prepare everything else)

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup water

1.5 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1 clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon turmeric (for color and added nutritional benefits!)

1/2 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard

16 ounces chickpea pasta or red lentil and quinoa pasta

Directions

1. Cook pasta according to directions. Check doneness frequently. You’ll want it to be al dente.

2. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a blender and whiz up until it forms a sauce. If it needs some thinning out add a tablespoon of water at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.

3. Drain the pasta (and rinse if directed) but reserve a cup of the pasta water on the side. Mix the sauce into the pasta in the pasta pot over very low heat until well combined, being careful not to break the noodles up too much. Add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water at a time until the pasta is perfectly creamy and coated in vegan cheesy goodness. 

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4. Sprinkle with more salt, paprika, nutritional yeast and serve!

Courtesy of Natasha Gayl Deych

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