Sometimes I think cranberry relish became a staple of Thanksgiving dinner because of its colorful good looks. Its brightness is a foil for the browns and neutrals of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, creamed onions, and Parker House rolls. Without cranberries and perhaps an obligatory bowl of steamed broccoli, the meal over which we give thanks for a year’s bounty would be as drab as it is weighty.
Martha Rose Shulman’s new cookbook, The Very Best of Recipes for Health, has arrived just in time to inspire home cooks who aim to shake up their Thanksgiving menus without straying far from the basics. The bounty of beautiful ideas for preparing beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, and more can enliven the holiday table and lighten the calorie and glycemic load.
Instead of sweet potatoes with marshmallows, cooks might try Shulman’s Baby Salad Greens with Sweet Potato Croutons and Stilton. Instead of bland and butter-laden mashed potatoes, try them as Colcannon, with kale. (Shulman lightens her version with just two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for the fat.) Offer an alternative to the high-sugar cranberry sauce and serve the Braised Red Cabbage with Apples, sharpened with balsamic vinegar.
This beautifully designed, organized, and photographed collection is intended as an everyday resource and therefore has usefulness well beyond Thanksgiving. I made a family meal from two of the recipes of the many that caught my eye: Warm Chickpea and Broccoli Salad and Barley Soup with Mushroom and Kale. The preparation steps were straightforward and required no special equipment or skill, and the ingredients were available at my regular supermarket. The finished dishes were vibrant in color and taste, true to the pictures in the book. Because the salad and soup contained grains as well as vegetables, they satisfied our appetite for a hearty evening meal.
Even though Shulman’s recipes emphasize vegetables and legumes, this is not a vegetarian collection. Staples like pasta, fish, and poultry have their place, too, in dishes like Malaysian Stir-Fried Noodles with Shrimp, or the simpler Turkey Burgers. Her influences are Mediterranean, Mexican, and Asian cuisines, and she transforms familiar eggs, for example, into Bruschetta with Scrambled Eggs and Asparagus.
Features of Recipes for Health make it especially useful for cooks, like me, who are aiming to follow special diets. Basic nutrition information (calories, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, and so on) follows each recipe, and a special dietary index, with categories like “Gluten-free” and “High-protein,” is a thoughtful addition to the general index. Her shopping list for a well-stocked pantry conveys that cooking with both health and pleasure in mind can be managed with widely available foods and seasonings.
Breakfast, too, has a place in Shulman’s collection. With the holiday weekend ahead, I look forward to a few days of leisurely mornings, with time for more than a rushed bowl of cereal. In my copy of Shulman’s book, I’ve already earmarked the page for Morning Couscous with Oranges and Dates. I predict this will delight and nourish me more than my customary morning-after piece of cold pumpkin pie.
The Very Best of Recipes for Health is available on Amazon.com