A feast for the fussy

  • Thanksgiving by Executive Chef Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson on Thursday, November 1, 2012.

    (Jeff Kan Lee/ The Press Democrat)

In these times of demonstrative food preferences and sensitivities, planning for the Thanksgiving feast can become a host's worst nightmare.

First there are the vegans and vegetarians. Then there are the gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, fat-free and everything-but-meat-free folks.

Once you've got a roomful of picky eaters, carving the turkey like Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold seems like child's play next to the challenge of feeding the crowd.

If it were a more casual meal, the problem could be solved by a small-plates buffet. But Thanksgiving tends to demand a formal feast woven together like a fine tapestry, with equal parts warmth and comfort, flavor and nostalgia.

For your dining sanity, we gathered tips and recipes from a trio of North Bay chefs who came up with healthy yet delicious side dishes aimed at making everybody happy.

The trick is to celebrate what guests can eat, rather than creating an artificial substitute for something that they can't eat. In other words, why serve "tofurkey" when you can serve wild mushrooms and butternut squash?

"We call it creative cuisine," said Sid Garza-Hillman, staff nutritionist and culinary director at The Ravens restaurant in Mendocino. "You don't have to give up anything to eat healthy food that's good for the environment and compassionate."

The Ravens serves a delicious, all-vegan Thanksgiving dinner each year featuring special dishes like Layered Vegetable Pat? Handmade Pumpkin Ravioli and a Wild Mushroom Crepe with red quinoa, butternut squash, stuffed roasted apple, garden greens and roasted root vegetables.

Showcasing seasonal fall produce like squash, greens and root vegetables provides hearty entrees and sides that vegetarians and carnivores alike can appreciate.

"The vegetables of the season tend to be very rich and decadent in and of themselves," said Lia Huber of Healdsburg, founder of the wellness website Nourish Network. "The squashes are just wonderful, and kale is a very meaty green."

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