Carb Solutions: Turkey Day Dressing
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
The Thanksgiving table, even going back to those mostly anti-foodie Pilgrims, has always been about celebrating with a bounty of tempting traditional dishes. However, while many of those familiar recipes are steeped in history, they are also laden with an excessive amount of carbs that are simply out of bounds for the diabetic and can in one seating undo weeks of careful carb-counting by those trying to keep on their diets during the holiday season. So, with all of those inviting empty calories in mind, here’s a dressing that relies solely on fresh vegetables and herbs instead of a loaf of breaded carbs and a pound of butter to celebrate the day without increasing blood sugar or calorie scores!
The key to satisfying this annual one-day dressing craving, which seems to kick in automatically with the aroma of roast turkey, bowls of cranberries and mashed potatoes, is texture and taste. Dry roasted parsnips act as the bread-like cubes, keeping this recipe lower in carbs while replicating the bready crouton texture of the traditional dish. Parsnips are an interesting veggie, glycemicly, and a great example of why one needs to be aware of both kinds of glycemic scores. While the starch content in the parsnip makes for a high glycemic index score of 80, that starch is converted by the body’s metabolism into sugar very slowly, resulting is no spike in blood sugar.
Like any of the traditional dressings, there are an infinite number of ingredients that could easily be incorporated into this recipe to suit your own tastes and traditions. Cauliflower pieces could be substituted for the parsnips. If your family is used to sausage in dressing, add it in during the initial sauté with the celery, onion and garlic. There is also a portability aspect of this recipe for those carb-counters who are guests at someone else’s table since it can be reheated. Bringing your own dressing does require a little culinary diplomacy so as not to offend the host. On the other hand, it also takes the pressure off the host of having to worry about serving a meal that will work with all dietary disciplines. We diabetics have a sort of “note from the doctor” that allows for some bring-your-own-food to another’s table without risking offense. If you are just trying to watch calories during the holidays or are gluten intolerant, then this recipe is perfect.
Lastly, the Thanksgiving elephant in the room is whether this or any recipe in this category is a stuffing or a dressing. The Internet is filled with myths and theories on the subject. The culinary map of this country seems to be clearly divided along the Mason-Dixon Line on the subject. Generally, southern states in America call this mixture "dressing" while northern states usually call it "stuffing." The National Turkey Federation states that the terms are interchangeable, but then they are just trying to sell more turkeys to everyone on both sides! As a word-smith, who is always trying to construct perfect phraseology, I must side with the well-known cookbook "The Joy of Cooking" that states a mixture is considered stuffing if you cook it inside the bird and dressing if you cook it stovetop. Since this recipe would be over-cooked beyond recognition if “stuffed” in a roasting turkey for several hours, it is definitely a dressing. In any case, try it while raising a glass to the holiday season, not blood sugar or calorie counts.
4 cups Parsnips, peeled and cut into large cubes
1 cup Carrots, peeled and rough chopped
1 cup Yellow Onion, chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
10 ounces Crimini Mushrooms, chopped
½ cup Granny Smith Apple, chopped
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
2 Tablespoons Butter
Fresh Thyme Leaves (from about 6 sprigs)
Fresh Sage Leaves (from about 6 sprigs)
½ cup Walnuts, chopped
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place parsnips and carrots on two lined baking sheets in a single layer. Roast for 30 minutes, turning over halfway through the process. Note: a little caramelizing is a good thing; it adds more flavor.
Sauté the garlic, onion and celery in a large skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add in the mushrooms, apples, herbs and a few TBS of water or broth -- cook for 8-10 minutes, until tender.
When roasted parsnips and carrots are ready, combine them with the mushroom mixture in a large bowl, sprinkle in the walnuts, salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer contents of the bowl to a food processor. Quickly "pulse" the vegetable mixture, so that it combines, but still has a chunky texture. This may have to be done in batches depending upon the size of the equipment.
Serve warm, family style; can be prepared ahead of time and reheated.