Sausage in the stuffing, cream in the potatoes, gravy on that big, rich bird. Face it, Thanksgiving is one heavy meal.
The best way to lighten things up? Citrus.
"It adds brightness, freshness, it accentuates other flavors," says cookbook writer Michael Ruhlman, author of "Ruhlman's Twenty."
Whether it comes from orange, lemon or lime, the acid in citrus fruit balances fat, the way vinegar balances oil in a dressing. It invites salt and awakens the palate. Citrus zest offers bite with its intensely fragrant oils. Used together -- as in the lemon-lime sweet potatoes here -- the juice and zest create levels of sweet-sour-bitter that play out across your tongue.
"Citrus fruit has a double life," says Niki Segnit, author of "The Flavor Thesaurus." "The juice is sour, the zest is bitter. You have two different flavors you can play with."
Oranges are the world's most popular citrus fruit, Segnit says, their broad flavor assuring that they play well with most others. Your everyday orange loves apples, fennel and chocolate, but it is so rich in undertones that it also offers surprising combinations, such as our asparagus recipe below.
The sharp, intensely sour juice of limes adds spunk to sugary items, but we often turn to lemons as the workhorse of the kitchen. Their bracing juice highlights almost any flavor, from sweet apple to piney rosemary, and lemon often is what stands between a chef and a one-note dish.
> Citrus-Glazed Asparagus
Trim and steam 2 bunches of asparagus until bright green and just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 1/4 cup orange marmalade, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon cumin. Bring to a simmer, then season with salt and pepper. Toss the asparagus in the glaze and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serves 6.
Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 80 calories; 5 calories from fat (8 percent of total calories); 1g fat (no saturated; no trans fats); no cholesterol; 16g carbohydrate; 4g protein; 4g fiber; 170g sodium.
> Easy Citrus-Herb Cranberry Sauce
Cut 3 clementines in half. Remove any seeds. In a processor, pulse the clementine halves until finely chopped. Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram and 1 tablespoon chopped chives. Pulse to mix, then transfer to a bowl and stir in a 14-ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 12.
Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 60 calories; 8 calories from fat (0 percent of total calories); no fat (no saturated; no trans fats); no cholesterol; 15g carbohydrate; no protein; 1g fiber; 5mg sodium.
> Lemon-Rosemary Breadsticks
In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter with the zest of 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary. Cook for 1 minute. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a 20-ounce ball of purchased pizza dough to a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Cut into 1-inch strips. Brush with the lemon-rosemary butter, then transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet, twisting if desired. Allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves 12.
Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 140 calories; 50 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 6g fat (3g saturated; no trans fats); 10mg cholesterol; 20g carbohydrate; 3g protein; 1g fiber; 160mg sodium.
> Orange Pecan Stuffing
10 ounces sweet or hot Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1/4 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
6 cups stale bread cubes
3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
(For this stuffing, we started with a classic combination of sausage and pecans, then elevated those flavors with a bit of dried fruit and citrus. The combination of fatty meat and nuts is complemented by the acidity and tang of the orange juice and zest.
If dried apricots -- which add sweetness as well as a pleasant chew -- don't do it for you, feel free to substitute dried cranberries or cherries.)
Heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the turkey sausage until browned and cooked through, breaking it up as it cooks. Add the wine to the pan and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the butter, onion and celery, then cook until the onion is tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the coriander, chili powder, salt, pepper, apricots, and orange zest and juice. Continue to cook for 2 minutes to help develop the flavors. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.
In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, pecans, parsley and meat mixture from the pan. Toss until well mixed. Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole. This can be done up to 2 days in advance (cover with plastic and refrigerate). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the center of the stuffing reaches 165 degrees.
Per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 300 calories; 140 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 16g fat (3g saturated; no trans fats); 30mg cholesterol; 28g carbohydrate; 11g protein; 3g fiber; 690mg sodium.
> Citrus-Soy Sauce Turkey with Gravy
1 10-ounce bottle reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 12-to14-pound turkey
2 large yellow onions, quartered
1/2 cup white wine
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the oven to 350 F.
In a blender, combine the soy sauce and the zests of both oranges and the lemon. Blend until smooth.
Place the turkey on a rack set in a large roasting pan. Scatter the onion pieces under the rack. Cut the oranges and lemon into chunks and put inside the turkey cavity. Pour the soy sauce mixture all over the turkey and into the cavity of the bird, coating all the surfaces.
Roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the breast reaches 160 F and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170 degrees. If the turkey begins to darken too much, cover with foil.
Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, cover with foil and a couple of layers of kitchen towels to keep warm.
Remove the rack from the roasting pan. Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the onions. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium heat and bring the juices to a simmer. Add the wine and scrape up any browned bits in the pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together the chicken broth and flour. Pour into the pan, whisking constantly. Simmer for 5 minutes, while continuing to stir. For a smoother gravy, you can transfer the mixture to a blender, in batches as needed, and puree until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper.
Serve the turkey with the gravy.
Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy.
Per serving (assumes 20 servings) (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 330 calories; 130 calories from fat (41 percent of total calories); 15g fat (5g saturated; no trans fats); 125mg cholesterol; 3g carbohydrate; 43g protein; no fiber; 500mg sodium.
(Recipes by Alison Ladman)