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Healthy Thanksgiving Side Dishes

November 15, 2018

With a growing awareness of food allergies and dietary preferences, more people are seeking out modern twists on classic Thanksgiving favorites to accommodate those who are vegetarian or vegan, on dairy or gluten-free diets, or who need to watch their sodium intake. The good news is that in today’s foodie-centric world, choices abound and myriad blogs and magazines explore creative dishes for all dietary restrictions.

Below are two of my favorite dishes that are vegan and gluten-free (according to the Gluten Free Society, quinoa is defined as gluten-free based on the definition of gluten for those with celiac disease, but it has “gluten like storage proteins that can mimic proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye.” See additional notes for substitutions.

Leek and Sage Quinoa Stuffing

(Adapted from Kevin Lee Jacobs’ A Garden for the House)

Who says a stuffing needs bread? The leeks give this quinoa stuffing (technically, it’s a dressing, since it’s not stuffed into the turkey or main dish) an oniony bite, and the tart sun-dried tomatoes complement the dish. It also calls for a generous addition of sage, a staple of fall entrees. Sage is also known to boost the immune system and aid digestion.

2 cups quinoa

4 cups unsalted vegetable broth

2 t. kosher salt, divided (or salt substitute like Mrs. Dash Original Blend*)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 T olive oil

2 T Earth Balance vegan butter (or substitute 2 additional tablespoons olive oil)

2 large leeks, white and green ends diced

10 fresh sage leaves

2 t. fresh chopped thyme

1 t. fresh chopped parsley, plus additional for garnish

1 t. fresh rosemary leaves, minced

4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes

5 garlic cloves, minced

Put quinoa, vegetable broth and 1 t. kosher salt into a pot. Bring to boil over high heat. Turn down heat to low, cover pot and let simmer until all the vegetable stock is absorbed. Fluff the grains with a fork and set aside.

Warm the Earth Balance and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks, herbs, remaining salt and black pepper. Sautee until the leeks soften and turn slightly brown. Stir in tomatoes and garlic and cook for another minute.

Put quinoa in a large bowl and add the contents of the skillet. Stir to combine and transfer mixture into a baking dish and garnish with parsley and fresh ground pepper, if desired.

*Choose salt substitutes carefully; some have additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) or potassium chloride, which can taste bitter and cause an upset stomach.

Herb Roasted Vegetables

(Adapted from Colorado Collage cookbook, c. 1995)

This is a colorful, eye-appealing dish that looks great on the table, and you can use any root vegetables of your choice (I’ve made variations of this dish with added radishes and heirloom carrots).

1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes*

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and halved

1 pound of fresh mushrooms, quartered (button or cremini work well)

2 medium leeks, white and light green ends cut into 2-inch pieces

1 medium red or green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into eights

1 large white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (you can also use red onion)

1 pound new potatoes, quartered with skins on*

1/3 c. non-GMO/organic canola oil

¼ c. chopped fresh rosemary

¼ c. chopped fresh sage

¼ c. chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large, heavy roasting pan combine all vegetables. In a separate bowl, combine canola oil, herbs and desired amount of salt and pepper. Drizzle over vegetables and toss to coat. Roast 1 to 1½ hours, stirring every 20 minutes.

*For tips on how to easily peel raw butternut squash, visit

You can also buy squash already peeled and cut; however, that generates plastic waste from packaging. You’ll also pay more for the convenience.

*For color and variety, use a mix of red and purple potatoes, or 2 pounds of fingerling potatoes, halved

Wishing everyone peace and love this Thanksgiving holiday!

Sheila Julson is a regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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