Rachel Grumman Bender
Try these easy swaps for a gluten-free, nut-free or dairy-free feast that still includes all the holiday favorites.
Thanksgiving can be a potentially problematic family meal—and not just because your relatives are going to drill you about your love life. If you’re on a gluten-free diet, have a nut allergy or have trouble digesting dairy, it can be tricky to navigate certain traditional dishes. But rather than taking them off the table entirely, you can make some simple recipe tweaks that won’t get in the way of a delicious Thanksgiving dinner.
Try these easy, expert-recommended tips and swaps that accommodate the more common food sensitivities and allergies, all without sacrificing flavor. Now that’s something to be thankful for.
If you’re gluten-free…
Ditch the white bread in stuffing, and opt for a gluten-free alternative. Try using gluten-free cornbread mix instead, suggests Elana Horwich, chef and founder of Meal and a Spiel cooking school in Beverly Hills. “When you make stuffing, you use stale bread so I usually put cornbread in [the] oven at 350 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes to dry it out, and then let it sit out until the moisture is removed,” she says. “Herbs that often go in stuffing, like sage and thyme, also go really well with cornbread so you won’t feel like you’re missing out.”
…Or nix the bread altogether. Make stuffing with wild rice and quinoa or amaranth mixed with cranberries, chopped apples and pecans, recommends Keri Glassman, R.D., founder of the nutrition practice Nutritious Life in New York City.
Make sure your turkey is labeled “gluten-free.” You wouldn’t necessarily associate turkey with gluten, but some birds are basted with ingredients that aren’t gluten-free to add juiciness and tenderness. Also, toss the gravy mix packets that come with some turkeys since they contain gluten.
When making gravy, replace the flour in the recipe with gluten-free cornstarch. It serves as an equivalent thickening agent. Or make the gravy recipe and simply leave out the flour completely, which turns the sauce into an au jus, suggests Horwich. “It’s every bit as flavorful and less thick,” she says.
Trade the traditional pumpkin piecrust for a gluten-free version — or better yet, make your own. Horwich offers the following recipe: Blend 3 cups of pecans, 7 tablespoons of butter (plus 1 tablespoon for buttering the pan), and 10 to 12 pitted dates in a food processor. Grease the pan, and smush the mixture into the pan to create a crust. Add in your pumpkin pie filling and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Then cover the piecrust with aluminum foil to prevent it from burning, and bake for another 20 minutes or until firm to the touch. “It creates a much lighter pie that won’t weigh you down,” she says.
If you’re allergic to nuts…
Opt for seed butters instead of nut butters to make desserts. While nutty desserts such as pecan pie and peanut butter cookies may be off the table, you can make an alternative cookie recipe using sunflower seed butter or soy butter. And sprinkle in chocolate chips made in a nut-free facility, such as Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates.
Get that “crunch factor” in your stuffing from another source. Sure, you can nix the nuts from traditional stuffing — or you can just use another ingredient for that added bite. Instead of nuts, sub in chopped celery and water chestnuts (which, despite the name, aren’t actually nuts at all.) Or use seeds: You can create a stuffing made with chopped pears, dried cranberries and rice milk with sunflower seeds, or chopped apples, millet and almond milk with pumpkin seeds, suggests Glassman.
If you can’t handle dairy…
Use alternative butters, oils or fats instead of butter or margarine. Consider using a lactose-free spread — such as Earth Balance organic whipped spread, which is lactose-free, gluten-free and vegan — or even coconut oil or coconut butter. And if you’re not counting calories and need a butter substitute for a savory dish like stuffing, consider using duck fat, Horwich suggests. You can find it at gourmet stores such as Williams-Sonoma.
Go alternative (milk-wise) for your creamy soups. For butternut squash soup, for instance, trade out the cream or cow’s milk for soy milk or almond milk.
Consider a different mashed side. Mashed potatoes are usually loaded with heavy cream — the mortal enemy of anyone who can’t handle dairy — as well as butter. Swap white potatoes with mashed cauliflower (adding in garlic, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt for flavor). You’ll get a similar creamy texture without any dairy or the spike in blood sugar brought on by white potatoes. Or make whipped sweet potatoes blended with non-dairy milk such as almond, rice or coconut milk.
Tweak the classic green bean casserole recipe by subbing out the cream of mushroom soup. You can replace the soup with soy creamer, soy milk or cashew milk. Or skip the casserole altogether and make roasted vegetables, such as butternut squash with tomatoes, red onion, cremini mushrooms, olive oil and rosemary, suggests Horwich.
For pumpkin pie, try going sans cream — and use citrus instead. Add a squeeze of fresh orange and lemon, as well as orange zest and lemon zest, for a lighter take on the traditional Thanksgiving dessert