What a lot of salt it takes to produce Thanksgiving. It seems impossible to take one large, already-hard-to-season turkey and make it satisfying without salt. Then there's the stuffing. And what about the kids who demand mashed potatoes -- unthinkable without salt -- and that crater filled with rich gravy? Even when you reduce the salt, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner adds up to a lot of sodium.
But there is more than one way to season a turkey. The Montgomery County Heart Association suggests using a blend of herbs and spices for cooking and at the table to perk up natural tastes. It even distributes samples of several herb blends members have found especially suitable to the Thanksgiving bird -- such as garlic, onion, paprika and celery seed -- and also provides recipes for the blends.
An adaption of a 19th-century roasting technique is another way to overcome the sodium hurdle. By stuffing flavor-infusing ingredients between the turkey's skin and flesh, a more intense flavor is produced, thereby eliminating the need for salt. Protected by a layer of moist stuffing, the breast meat remains tender and juicy, while the turkey roasts throughout. The technique is simple, and loosening the turkey's skin is not difficult:
Begin by placing the turkey on its back. Then, slide your fingers between the skin and the upper sides of the breast meat, separating the skin from the thin membranes holding the skin to the meat. With a small, sharp knife, cut the thick membrane under the skin at the center of the breastbone, being careful not to pierce the skin. Slide both hands under the skin, separating the skin from the meat at the neck cavity, along the sides of the bird and to the end of the drumsticks. The turkey is then ready for stuffing.
A stuffing combination of lemons, onions and unsalted butter both under the skin and in the cavity produces a traditionally flavored Thanksgiving turkey. For a variation, experiment with other stuffing combinations such as garlic, chopped mushrooms, parsley, rosemary, cayenne, pesto, tarragon, mustard or smoke flavorings. Or try one of the Heart Association's herb blends mixed with margarine and lemons.
Potatoes are especially bland without salt, but one misses it less if extra flavors are added. Drop a small onion in with the boiling potatoes and whip in sour cream or yogurt instead of milk when mashing them. Rich drippings for gravy are made by placing the turkey on a bed of thickly sliced onions and lemons at the bottom of the roasting pan and using white wine to baste the bird.
Avoid the sodium in bread stuffings by using rice and bulgur wheat to create a stuffing-like pilaf baked outside the turkey. Unsalted vegetable juice provides extra flavor.
Green vegetables are especially crisp and tasty when steamed and lightly sauced with a lemon-nutmeg butter. Brandied yams, made with a combination of raisins, brandy, cinnamon, orange and honey, need no salt and are less sweet than the traditional version.
Dessert can be a crunchy cousin of the pumpkin pie, using a sweet oatmeal crust and nut topping. The pumpkin filling uses lower-sodium skim milk, and is sparked with a bit of vinegar.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY HEART ASSOCIATION SPICE MIXTURE (Enough for a 10-pound turkey) 2 tablespoons dill weed or basil, crushed 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel, dried 1 teaspoon celery seed 2 teaspoons onion powder Dash black pepper 1 teaspoon oregano leaves, crushed
Combine all ingredients.
SPICIER MIXTURE (Also from Heart Association) (Enough for a 10-pound turkey)
This is recommended for seasoning a turkey as well as for vegetable salads and baked potatoes. 5 teaspoons onion powder 2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika 2 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard 1 1/4 teaspoons thyme, crushed 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
Combine all ingredients.
ROAST LEMON TURKEY (8 to 10 servings) 10-pound turkey 1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened 5 lemons 5 medium onions Pepper 1/3 cup white wine (or lemon juice mixed with water)
Wash turkey, drain and pat dry inside and out. Using your fingers, separate the skin covering the breast meat and carefully move down the sides of chicken and towards the legs. Use a small knife to cut the membrane connecting the inner skin with the breast bone, being careful not to pierce the skin.
Cut one lemon and one onion into eight pieces each. Squeeze a little of the lemon juice into the turkey cavity, and season with pepper to taste. Loosely stuff the cavity with alternating pieces of the lemon and onion. Use additional lemon and onion pieces if necessary to fill the cavity.
Next, grate two lemons, leaving behind enough of the white membrane to keep the lemons firm. Mix the grated rind with the softened butter, and add about 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Using your fingers, spread the butter or margarine on the turkey meat beneath the loosened skin. Reserve about two tablespoons of the butter mixture.
Slice the peeled lemons and two onions as thin as possible. Insert the slices, alternating them and slightly overlapping the lemon and onion to form a layer between the turkey skin and meat. Carefully smooth the skin back in place and, if necessary, secure skin with toothpicks to prevent lemons and onions from sliding out.
Slice the remaining lemons and onions thickly and place in the bottom of a shallow roasting pan. Place the turkey in the pan on top of the bed of lemons and onions. Spread the remaining lemon butter mixture over the skin of the turkey. Cover turkey with cheesecloth, removing cloth for final hour of roasting.
Roast in a 325-degree oven 20 minutes per pound. After 45 minutes, baste the turkey, using the pan juices. Add 1/2 to 1 cup of water to the pan if more juice is needed. Baste five more times before the turkey is cooked, using the white wine for at least two bastings. Slice and serve as soon as possible. Also good served cold.
PAN GRAVY (Enough for 10-pound turkey) 2 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock, or stock made from low-sodium bouillon 1/4 cup cold water 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot Freshly ground black pepper or lemon juice to taste
Remove the lemon and onion slices from the drippings in the roasting pan. Skim fat from drippings. Place onion slices in a blender; discard lemon slices. To the blender add the chicken or vegetable stock and blend until onion is pure'ed. To the drippings add 1/2 cup of the hot stock and scrape up all browned particles.
Mix together in a saucepan the onion pure'e and the drippings. Dissolve cornstarch in cold water and stir into gravy in saucepan. Cook until thickened, stirring constantly. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. A little lemon juice or fresh, finely chopped parsley also may be added.
BROCCOLI WITH NUTMEG BUTTER (4 to 6 servings) 1 medium bunch broccoli 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, melted Juice of 1/2 lemon 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Trim the broccoli into bite-size florets. Cut the stems diagonally, discarding portions that are coarse and fibrous. Steam over boiling water 3 to 4 minutes, and immediately immerse in cold water. Drain well. Return to saucepan, add lemon juice, butter and nutmeg and heat.
MASHED POTATOES (4 to 6 servings) 6 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters 1 medium onion, cut into quarters 4 cups boiling water 2 teaspoons vinegar 1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Boil potatoes and onions in water for 20 minutes. Mix vinegar and sour cream or yogurt. Drain the potatoes and reserve the cooking liquid for the gravy or use as a future soup base. Mash the potatoes, adding the sour cream mixture, butter and white pepper. Serve.
BRANDIED YAMS (4 to 6 servings) 6 medium sized sweet potatoes or yams 1/4 cup coarsely chopped raisins 1/4 cup brandy or bourbon Juice and grated rind of 1/2 orange 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine plus enough for baking dish
Pare and thickly slice the yams. Steam over boiling water for 20 minutes. In a bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the butter. Place sliced yams in a buttered baking dish. Spread the honey and raisin mixture over the potatoes. Dot with the butter or margarine, and baked uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes in a 375-degree oven.
PUMPKIN SQUARES (6 to 8 servings) Crust: 1 cup flour 1/2 cup quick-cooking oatmeal 1/4 cup brown sugar 6 tablespoons melted, unsalted butter or margarine Filling: 1 2/3 cup skim milk 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine 1-pound can pumpkin 1 teaspoon vinegar 3 eggs, beaten 3/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1/2 teaspoon cloves Topping: 1/4 cup chopped pecans or black walnuts 1/4 cup oatmeal 1/4 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or margarine
Mix crust ingredients until crumbly and press into a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Scald skim milk and butter or margarine. Combine with remaining filling ingredients. Gently pour over crust and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
Combine topping ingredients, sprinkle over pumpkin filling and return to oven. Bake 20 minutes or until filling is firm. Cool and serve.