It Is Possible: Have A Thanksgiving Meal With A Healthy Twist


November is a month of transition: Tree leaves change in color from green to shades of red, orange and brown; the air becomes thick, bringing with it a chill that invites a coat; meals that previously consisted of salads, light entrees and cold drinks are replaced with hearty soups, stews, hot cider and spice. And last but not least, November signifies the fall harvest with celebratory feasts, with Thanksgiving at its pinnacle.  

Thanksgiving encompasses a variety of classic dishes from cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and baked yams to crescent rolls, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, and for most, turkey with stuffing. While I love to cook, and look forward to any holiday that calls for cooking, I’m always looking for ways to lighten up holiday meals while at the same time, packing them full of nutrient dense foods. I like to prepare dishes that are simple, but call for fresh, whole, superfood ingredients, capturing the gorgeous array of fall flavors and colors. My dishes are both traditional, yet extraordinarily delicious and nutritious.

One of my favorite parts of the Thanksgiving spread is the stuffing. Stuffing is one of those foods that can be made a million different ways with a multitude of ingredients. While classically prepared using a combination of bread, vegetables and often meat or meat stock, there is not one correct way to make stuffing. I like to make mine using cornbread as the base with the addition of Peruvian superfoods, pichuberries and quinoa.

Quinoa: The Incas called this dietary staple chisaya mama, meaning "mother of all grains," and yet quinoa is not actually a grain—it’s a seed. And what a seed it is: one cup of cooked quinoa has eight grams of protein, is high in calcium and iron, and is a good source of vitamin C as well as of several B-vitamins. It is high on the lycine/thiamine system, so in combination with other grains it creates complete proteins. Quinoa contains flavanols, thus giving the seed antioxidant capacity and suggesting that it can serve as a good source of free radical scavenging agents, thus mitigating overall damage to the body.  

Pichuberries: This small, smooth fruit from the Andes of Peru. The Pichuberry is deliciously sweet when ripe, with a mildly tart finish. In terms of its nutritional and health benefits, the Pichuberry is peerless. Only 3.5 ounces of fresh Pichuberries Provides 39 percent of your vitamin D requirement for bone health and maintenance, and is a great source of withanolides.  Withanolides have been strongly linked to the inhibition of cancer cell growth and are strong anti-inflammatory agents, thus helping the body lessen the onset of inflammatory diseases that contribute to rapid cellular aging. The pichuberry’s nutrient profile (Vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C and phosphoros) is also associated with liver fortification, lung strength, fertility, and food absorption. In addition, the Pichuberry is low-glycemic of 25.

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Whether you’re attempting all new dishes this year, or keeping it simple with a new ingredient or two, we hope this recipe makes it into your Thanksgiving smorgasbord.

Quinoa Cornbread Stuffing with Pichuberries (Picture attached)
Serves 10

For the quinoa cornbread:
½ cup dry quinoa
1 cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ cups cornmeal (medium-ground)
½ cup quinoa flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 ¼ cups milk of choice

For the stuffing:
1 recipe quinoa cornbread
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped fine
5 stalks celery, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 ½ Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 ½ Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
3 cups chicken stock
2 eggs
2 cups fresh pichuberries, whole
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil spray

For the quinoa cornbread:
8-inch square baking dish
Medium mixing bowl
Small mixing bowl
Plastic spatula

For the stuffing:
Sheet pan
Large sauté pan and spatula
Large mixing bowl
Large baking/casserole dish

For the quinoa cornbread:
1. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a 2-quart saucepot.  Add quinoa and lower to a simmer. Cook, covered until all of the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Fluff with fork and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place olive oil in 8-inch square baking dish and place inside heating oven.
3. Combine cornmeal, quinoa flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Stir in cooled quinoa.
4. Combine eggs and milk in a small bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and whisk to combine. Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven and quickly pour the oil into the batter. Immediately whisk oil into the batter.
6. Transfer batter back to hot baking dish and return to the oven for baking.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes until set and golden brown.
8. Let cool slightly before serving.

For the stuffing:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  
2. Cut the cornbread into 1-inch cubes and place on a sheet pan. Bake for 5-10 minutes, tossing as needed to dry out the bread cubes. When dry and slightly golden, pull from the oven and set aside to cool.  Leave oven on.
3. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over med-high heat.  When hot, add onion and celery and sauté until soft.  If the vegetables start to stick to the pan, add a little chicken stock.
4. Add garlic, sage and thyme to the pan and heat until fragrant.  Set aside.
5. Place eggs and remaining chicken stock in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add sautéed onion mixture, toasted cornbread and fresh pichuberries to the bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix to combine.
6. Let mixture sit for about 5-10 minutes to absorb some of the liquids. Transfer to a baking dish sprayed with a thin coat of olive oil.
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown on top and crisp around the edges. Serve warm.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Eating Free, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.

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