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."
For the big feast, Huber suggests adding heft to the vegetables by adding meaty whole grains, such as farro, wheat berries or whole wheat couscous.
"Whole grains have a lot of protein, a great nutrient package, and all kinds of vitamins and minerals," she said. "Plus, they have healthy fats and fiber."
One of her favorite side dishes is a Roasted Acorn Squash Salad with Wheat Berries and Blue Cheese.
"That would be enough for a really nice, rich main course for a vegetarian," she said. "But it could also make an elegant smaller salad."
Another whole-grain dish that pairs well on the Thanksgiving plate is her Whole Wheat Couscous with Raisins and Almonds.
"It's tart and tangy, savory and sweet," she said. "It would be fantastic with turkey, but I also love it with roast chicken."
If you're catering to a crowd on a special diet, look at what's already on the menu, then just give it a little tweak, she said.
Instead of the traditional green bean casserole, braise some kale in garlic. Instead of serving mashed potatoes, Huber suggests whipping up a Sweet Potato Puree with Honey and Crispy Shallots.
For those who want to cut the dairy fat from the mashed potatoes, Executive chef Justin Wangler of Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates in Santa Rosa advises cooking the potatoes until well done, then whipping half of them with olive oil and the other half with butter and cream.