The Jew And The Carrot

A Healthy Thanksgiving Feast, With a Jewish Twist

By Jackie Topol

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Jackie Topol

For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to overindulge, give in, and stuff ourselves to the brim — not so different from most Jewish festivals that revolve around food. You’re probably expecting me (a holistic health counselor and nutrition student) to give you a list of all the things not to eat, right? Well, what if I told you that you could eat to your heart’s content on Thanksgiving, with a small catch? Follow 4 simple tips.

The turkey is the star on Thanksgiving so I won’t ask you to change that (though I will advise you to purchase one that is free-range and request that you refrain from deep frying it!). Instead, I’m just going to make some suggestions for how you can switch things up a little this year for the remaining items on your table. Though we’ve all become accustomed to similar dishes year after year at Thanksgiving, adding some new recipes into your holiday repertoire can really do wonders for your waistline, wallet, and the planet.

Keep hors d’oeuvres / appetizers simple. Put out a nice but modest spread of crudités, crackers, and hummus or tapenade. Better to leave your guests with ample room to fill their bellies with what’s ahead! This will also help those of us who tend to stuff ourselves.

Make the majority of your side dishes non-starchy vegetables. Some examples would be: sautéed kale with lemon and garlic, roasted Brussels sprouts with apples and pine nuts, winter-inspired salads, and balsamic-glazed Portobello mushrooms. Try to choose vegetables that are in season — they’ll save you money and taste better. Start a new family tradition by featuring different seasonally focused recipes that reflect a wide variety of colors on your table each year. Not the one hosting Thanksgiving? Then offer to bring one or two vegetable side dishes so that you can easily follow these tips.

Pick one starchy side. So many of our Thanksgiving tables have a grain dish (rice, barley, etc) in addition to mashed/roasted potatoes, stuffing, PLUS a classic roasted root vegetable dish. Just choose one and go to town on the non-starchy sides. If you’re sad about missing out on mashed potatoes, try pureed cauliflower. Oh, and skip the breadbasket please!

Have a P.O.A. No, not a power of attorney! P.O.A. stands for plan of action. It’s imperative to have a P.O.A. at holiday gatherings. The first step is to identify your weakness(es) — for some it’s going for seconds, for others it’s desserts — and then carve out a clear plan for how you’re going to tackle this. It’s not about complete restriction; it’s about thinking ahead and making good choices (i.e. “I’m just going to have seconds of the one dish I really love at Thanksgiving,” or “I’m just going to have one small slice of pie and a cookie.”). Going into Thanksgiving (or any other holiday feast for that matter) with a P.O.A. will help you stay on the course to good health year round.

To start you off on the right foot, I’ve put a little spin on a very traditional Jewish side dish so that it fits right in with your healthy Thanksgiving feast. A simple swap of tart cranberries for traditional prunes gives this tzimmes a Thanksgiving touch. Inspired by my beloved Grandma’s tzimmes, it’s actually one of the most nutritious dishes on the table — if it’s made correctly. Some tzimmes recipes call for canned carrots or sweet potatoes, sugar, or margarine but this one skips these items and goes for good old wholesome ingredients. This recipe is packed with beta-carotene, which boosts immunity, protects against heart disease, and helps prevent age-related macular degeneration.

Thanksgiving Tzimmes Recipe by Jackie Topol, inspired by Grandma Esther

1 bunch carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons pareve heart-healthy margarine (I like Earth Balance)

1) Fill a large soup pot halfway with water, secure with a tight-fitting lid, and bring to a boil. Add carrots and sweet potatoes and cook until just tender, about 10-15 minutes.

2) Drain the carrots and sweet potatoes and place them in a large 2-quart glass baking dish. Sprinkle cranberries on top.

3) In a small bowl whisk together the orange zest, orange juice, agave nectar, salt, and cinnamon. Pour evenly over the carrots and sweet potatoes.

4) Next, dot the entire dish with little bits of margarine. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, then stir and bake uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.

Note: This is a chunky-style tzimmes. If you prefer a smoother tzimmes, bake covered for 10 extra minutes, then bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Once you remove it from the oven, use a potato masher to get it to the desired texture.

Wishing you and your families a delicious and nutritious Thanksgiving! Please feel free to share any links to great sides starring seasonal vegetables in the comments box below!

Jackie Topol is a certified holistic health counselor and is a Masters candidate in Clinical Nutrition at NYU. She is currently completing her dietetic residency at NY-Presbyterian Hospital and will be a Registered Dietitian in the very near future, check out her health-focused cooking classes at the JCC in Manhattan. Her career has been greatly inspired by her experiences at Adamah, where she was a Fellow in 2007.


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