Now that Fall is in the air, nearly everyone’s attention turns to the holidays. While the season may seem challenging for those interested in eating for health and cancer prevention, many holiday foods and ingredients are loaded with beneficial and chemoprotective nutrients. Turning Thanksgiving into a cancer phyting feast is not difficult, and you won’t have to sacrifice any of the flavor or fun. Below are some quick ideas to get you started. And be sure to check out the recipes at the end of this article for Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Wild Rice Stuffing with Apples and Sausage, Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Rosemary, and, one of my favorites, Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Onions.
Using herbs to season can really boost phytonutrient content as well as flavor. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, savory, sage, and bay are all commonly used to flavor turkey and stuffing. Besides trace minerals involved with antioxidant activity, each of these contain potent phytonutrient substances that fight cancer by supporting normal cell growth as well as the prevention and repair of damage to DNA. Fresh herbs will provide the maximum benefit.
- Try tucking herbs under the skin of the turkey: Gently separate the turkey breast skin from the flesh as far back as possible, without tearing the skin. Place herbs over the flesh and pat the skin back into place. In addition (or instead), herbs can be placed in the cavity of the turkey to flavor it. As the turkey roasts, the volatile oils in the fresh herbs containing the phytonutrients actually permeate the meat and convey both flavor and health benefits.
- Use finely chopped rosemary to flavor homemade cranberry relish.
- Toss some finely chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, and other herbs into gravy.
Sprout a New Tradition
To give the menu a nutritional leap forward, switch the green bean casserole out for a cruciferous vegetable side dish, such as cauliflower or broccoli. Cruciferous vegetables are a rich source of a family of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates which can help to prevent cancer. If this sounds boring try sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon and onions and see just how festive and delicious cruciferous can be!
Skip the Fluff
Traditional preparations of sweet potatoes or yams are often closer to dessert than a side dish. Rather than piling on butter, mini marshmallows, or fluff, try this sweet potato recipe. What makes this recipe so great? The nuts provide healthy fats that help the body to absorb more beta-carotene and vitamin A, as well as adding fiber and trace minerals. Maple syrup adds deep flavor, sweetness—and it’s a prebiotic, supporting healthy gut flora. To top it off, roasting retains more of the nutrients than boiling and mashing—and its easier!
Kim Jordan is the Manager of Medical Nutrition Therapy Services at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Walnuts
Makes approximately 12 1-cup servings.
- 5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 16 cups)
- 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat. Sprinkle chopped nuts over sweet potatoes.
- Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.
(This dish can be prepared and refrigerated for up to 1 day before. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.)
Wild Rice Stuffing with Apples and Sausage
Makes approximately 14 1-cup servings.
- 4 cups cubed Jewish rye bread (1/2-inch cubes), preferably day-old
- 3 ¾ cups cooked wild rice
- 1 pound sweet turkey sausage, casings removed
- 2 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only
- 2 tart apples, cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 1 cup diced celery
- 3 cups turkey broth
- 1 cup dried cherries and/or craisins
- 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
- 1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh marjoram
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 300°. Spread bread on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring once halfway through, until dry and crisp, about 25 minutes.
- Increase oven temperature to 425°.
- Cook sausage and leeks in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring and breaking up with a spoon, until the sausage is browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add apples and celery; cook for 3 minutes more.
- Transfer the sausage mixture to a large bowl. Add the rice and bread; stir in broth, cherries, pecans, marjoram, thyme, salt and pepper. Transfer to a 3- to 4-quart baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray and cover tightly with foil.
- Bake the stuffing for 35 minutes.
- Uncover and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the top is browned.
Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Rosemary
- 2 cups cider, hard cider or dry Marsala wine
- 1 cup diced dried apricots
- 2 12 ounce bags fresh cranberries
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Fresh Rosemary finely chopped
- Zest of 1 orange finely chopped
- Combine wine or cider and dried fruit in deep saucepan.
- Simmer until reduced by one half.
- Mix in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
- Cook until cranberries burst and mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes.
- Transfer to a bowl to cool and refrigerate. Sauce will thicken more as it cools.
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Onions
- 2 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed
- 4 slices uncured bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 sprigs thyme or savory, plus 2 teaspoons leaves, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. If sprouts are very small, cut in half; otherwise cut into quarters. Cook the sprouts until barely tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain. (If doing this step ahead, rinse with cold water; store airtight in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.)
- Cook bacon in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring, until brown but not crisp, 3 to 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel. Pour out all but about 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the pan.
- Add oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, reducing the heat if necessary, about 4 minutes. Stir in thyme (or savory) sprigs, salt and pepper.
- Increase heat to medium-high, add the Brussels sprouts, and cook, tossing or stirring occasionally, until tender and warmed through, about 3 minutes. Remove the herb sprigs. Add the bacon, thyme (or savory) leaves and toss.