Thanksgiving Healthy Side Dish Recipe Collection

I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your kind readership.

In case you're still looking to add some color and health to your big meal, or looking for "cleansing" recipes for the weekend after, here are a few of my healthy Thanksgiving/fall recipes, most of which can be prepared well in advance and require minimal finishing touches.

I'd also like to share a wonderful New York Times article by John Tierney, emphasizing the health benefits of gratitude. Tierney writes:

"Cultivating an "attitude of gratitude" has been linked to better health, sounder sleep, less anxiety and depression, higher long-term satisfaction with life and kinder behavior toward others, including romantic partners."

But how do you get to this heightened level of gratefulness? Tierney consulted with some of the greatest experts in the field and provides tricks and practical advice -- really simple ideas that I liked a lot! On adopting the "it could be worse" attitude:

"Instead of focusing on the dry, tasteless turkey on your plate, be grateful the six-hour roasting process killed any toxic bacteria."

Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday,

Dr. Ayala


Roasted squash and chestnut soup with mulling spices

Roasted squash with chestnut and mulling spices

This is a terrific fall soup, perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday. It's easy to make, and requires no pre-prepared soup stock. The aroma of the mulled spices is festive and somewhat surprising in a soup.


• 2 butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored
• 1 large onion
• 1 tablespoon canola oil
• 1 pound peeled roasted chestnuts (you can find peeled chestnuts sold in jars)
• 1-2 tablespoons honey
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the mulling spices:

• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 1 teaspoon whole allspice
• 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
• 5 cardamom pods, bruised
• Orange peel zest (the outer colorful skin of the orange peel)--about half an orange


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the squashes, cut-side down, on a baking pan and bake until tender, about 30-40 minutes. Cut into large chunks.

Gather the mulling spices into a muslin bag, tea ball or cheesecloth pouch. (The orange peel and cinnamon sticks can be allowed to roam free in the pot; they'll be easy to fish out.)

In a large soup pot, over medium-high heat, sauté onions until translucent.

Add the chunks of roasted squash, honey, salt, pepper, and half the chestnuts.

Add water to cover by 1.5 inch and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.

Add the mulling spices, including the orange peel and cinnamon sticks.

Simmer over moderate heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove the mulling spices, orange peel and cinnamon sticks.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender. (This is an inexpensive kitchen tool that saves a lot of cleanup. Immerse the blender into the pot in which the food has been cooked, and easily puree it with a switch of a button. If you don't have an immersion blender you can use a blender or food processor.)

Crumble the remaining chestnuts into the pureed soup.

Taste and correct seasoning by adding ground cinnamon, more salt or some more freshly ground pepper.

To serve:

Garnish with freshly toasted pumpkin seeds (an excellent source of omega 3), and/or a cinnamon stick.

Serves 8-10.


Roasted red and golden beets, with reduced balsamic vinegar


Beets are easy to find, especially between spring and fall. They make for a very simple, delicious, healthy dish that epitomizes fall color to me.
If you can find golden beets, they make for a delightful color contrast with the red beets. They also taste really great.


• 3 medium red beets, rinsed, not peeled
• 3 medium golden beets, rinsed, not peeled
• 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar for reduced balsamic glaze
• Fresh herbs to garnish (chives, parsley or tarragon)
• Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
• Optional - fresh goat cheese (chèvre)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and place in pan in the oven.

Roast until tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Remove from the oven and let cool.

When beets are cool enough to handle, peel and slice them. (Red beets can be peeled and sliced in advance. Golden beets change color when exposed to air, so slice just before serving.)

To make reduced balsamic glaze: In a small pan over high heat, bring vinegar to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and evaporate balsamic until quantity halves and turns to a light syrup.

Drizzle reduced balsamic over the beets.

Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Garnish with fresh herbs, and add goat cheese if desired.

Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

Herbed brown rice



  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup parsley
  • 1 cup cilantro
  • ¼ cup mint leaves
  • 1 ½ cup brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper to taste


Bring the vegetable stock to a boil

Wash the herbs, remove the large stems leaving mostly leaves (you can cheat a little, since it's all going into the food processor)

Place herbs and ½ a cup of the warm vegetable stock in a blender or food processor and process until you have a smooth chunk-less puree. Add the puree to the rest of the stock

Wash the rice in a sieve under cold water

In a medium pot heat the oil on medium high, and sauté the onions and the paprika and salt for a few minutes until translucent

Add the rice, and toss around until the rice is aromatic and coated with oil

Add the herbed broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer

Cook rice according to directions - mine cooks for about 1½ hours

Fluff the rice, check seasoning, and serve with a few leftover sprigs of herbs for garnish. Serves 8-10 as a side dish.


Wheat berry salad

Food photos wheat berry salad

The trick with hard wheat berries is to plan ahead and soak them overnight. These grains are very hard indeed, and will require a very long cooking time if they're not pre-soaked.


• 1/2 cup wheat berries, soaked overnight
• 1 large ripe mango (can be replaced with oranges or persimmon), cut into cubes
• 3-4 celery stalks, (fibery outer parts peeled) diced
• 10 dates, pitted and finely chopped (can be replaced by another dried fruit)
• A handful of dry cranberries
• A handful of nuts, such as roasted almonds, candied pecans or walnuts


• 1 tablespoon of a fine sweet and interesting marmalade. I use organic Adriatic fig spread (sold at Whole Foods)
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• 1 sprig of thyme, finely chopped


Cook the wheat berries by covering them with two inches of water, then bring them to a boil, lower the temperature to simmer, and cook until chewy-about 20-30 minutes. Drain and let cool.

Add all other salad ingredients besides the nuts.

Combine dressing ingredients.

Add the nuts and dressing right before serving.

Serves 6-8 as a side dish.


Black rice with roasted butternut squash

Black rice butternt squash 013

Black rice


  • 2 cups black rice (I use "Forbidden Rice" from Lotus Foods, sold at Whole Foods in small packages)
  • 2 and 1/4 cups water (this does not conform to the package instructions. I find that using less water results in better flavor and texture)
  • 1-2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Optional: chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.


Rinse rice in a strainer under cold running water for 30 seconds

Heat the oil in a medium pot, over medium-high heat

Stir in the onion and sauté until golden

Stir in rice and toss around until coated with oil and fragrant

Add salt and water and bring to a boil

Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. By the time the water is absorbed the rice should be done

Garnish with freshly chopped parsley or cilantro and serve hot.

Roasted butternut squash


  • 1 medium butternut squash, seeded and diced to 1/2'' cubes
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: chopped sage.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Toss butternut squash cubes with the rest of the ingredients

Spread the cubes out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until they are tender and slightly caramelized. This will take 25-35 minutes.

Finishing touches:

You can combine the rice and butternut squash, or (my preference) serve them in a large platter where the rice creates the outer circle, and the squash is placed in the center. I like this presentation visually, and it also allows each diner to choose how much of each of the platter components he wants to eat.

Serves 8-10 as a side dish.


Roasted French string beans with toasted sesame



• 1 pound French string beans, both ends removed
• 2 tablespoons olive oil or toasted sesame oil
• 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
• Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
• A pinch or two of red pepper flakes (optional)


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with the oven pan in the oven.

Toss the string bean with the oil and spices.

Spread the beans in one layer on the pre-warmed oven pan.

Bake for 3-5 minutes, until beans become slightly brow and are sizzling, but are still very crunchy and vibrant.

Correct the seasoning by adding salt or pepper.

Serve hot, or at room temperature.

Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

Pecan yeast "roses" cake


Pecan yeast "roses" cake is a perfect indulgence for the close of the Thanksgiving meal and a fresh take on pecan pie.
This isn't a difficult recipe -- yeast dough is actually easy to work with. The only real challenge is mastering the patience. You'll have to factor in the rising time the dough needs to fully develop.
The "roses" part of this cake's name comes from the delicate shapes formed on the individual cakes.

For basic sweet yeast dough:

• 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour (I use King Arthur's bread flour. All-purpose is fine too. Bread flour is a high-gluten flour called for in many bread and pizza crust recipes where you want the loftiness or chewiness that the extra gluten provides. All-purpose flour is made from a blend of high- and low-gluten wheats, and has a bit less protein than bread flour.)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
• 2 yolks
• 1 envelope rapid-rise yeast
• 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pecan filling:

• 2 cups pecans, finely chopped (in the food processor or blender)
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2/3 cup milk


To make the dough:

If you happen to own a bread machine, put all the ingredients in the mixing bowl and use the dough setting.

If kneading by hand: Put all the dough ingredients in a bowl, combine to make dough, and knead for about five minutes, until the dough is soft and elastic and not sticky at all. (Add a bit of extra flour or milk if you haven't reached a really workable dough within five minutes, but that rarely happens with this recipe.)

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and let sit for an hour and a half in a warm place, until the dough doubles its volume.

To make the filling:

Combine milk, sugar and butter in a small pot and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer.
Add the nuts, and continue stirring on low heat for a minute or two.

Remove from heat and let chill completely. (The filling may seem too watery for handling when warm. Don't worry. Its consistency will improve as it cools down.)

Putting it all together:

Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a rectangle, about 25 by 20 inches. Don't be lazy! If you fail to roll it big enough the cake will have fewer leaves and too much dough between the nut layers. Rolling to a thin sheet is really important!

Spread the pecan filling on the dough and roll the dough.

Cut the roll crosswise into 2 inch pieces and place on a greased 10-inch spring pan, cut side up (will make 12-15 rolls).

Let rise again for about one hour.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake in the heated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let chill on rack.

Serving suggestions:

The cake can be cut to slices (my preference) or separated into its rolls by hand.
This cake pairs very nicely with apple sauce, fresh berries or more simply, a steaming cup of herbal tea.

Serves 14-20

Read more from Dr. Ayala at

Follow Dr. Ayala on Twitter