You've started your list - turkey, potatoes, squash, stuffing, green beans and, of course, pumpkin pie. This works. You've made a lot of very good Thanksgiving meals sticking to the standards that everyone looks forward to and expects. You feel pretty sure that nothing is missing. OK, Let's look at your list again. All those traditional foods are wonderful, but as often prepared, a little bland. Certainly good enough for many of our guests to eat themselves into a Thanksgiving coma, but how could you change these good foods into superstars? The secret is acid! Add some acid to at least some of these dishes and they will shine because acid is an antidote to blandness. There are lots of acidic foods to choose from. Finding the right one can change an average dish into a great one.
In the picture above I've lined up some of the foods I had in my house, placing them in a line from the most acidic on the left to milder acid on the right. Most of us are aware that lemon and vinegar are acidic, but there are many milder acids. So what is it exactly that the acid does? It balances and brightens flavors. For example, just adding olive oil to a salad will enhance the flavor, but adding a good vinegar will make it pop. Greek Yogurt is a mild acid, close to 5 on the pH scale, but can add a wonderful tang to the right recipe. Mustard is one of my favorite acids, with a pH of 3 and it can brighten all sorts of dishes, including salad dressings, fishes, meats, and grains. Wines and liquors are acidic and often add brightness to a dish. Many wonderful dessert dishes have liquor added to balance the sweetness. The brandy in my Creamy Brandy Cherries elevates a very simple dessert dish into a special one. Below is a squash dish that contains a number of acidic ingredients, including brandy, that enhance the great taste of this vegetable. Just click the link
Brandied Winter Squash for the recipe. How can you tell if your dish is balanced? Taste it! You'll find that your tasting skills will improve as you try various vinegars on your salad or different amounts of mustard in your dishes.
I've encouraged you to use acidic ingredients in your dishes to balance the flavors and avoid bland foods. Acid is the opposite of alkaline, so we should be clear about what these terms mean. Acid levels of foods and liquids are measured on a pH (power of hydrogen) scale of 0-14. A measurement of 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acid and above 7 is alkaline. The alkaline diet states that you should eat those foods that keep your body's pH above 7. However, your body's pH levels are not affected by the food you eat, unless you're dealing with a serious illness. For example, your blood's pH is in the very narrow range from 7.36-7.44. Going much above or below that can be fatal. Your stomach is very acidic with a pH between 2.3-3.5 which is necessary to digest your food properly. Another confusing fact about the alkaline diet is that, although the pH of a lime is 2.2, a reasonably strong acid, it is rated as highly alkaline on the alkaline diet. The theory behind the alkaline diet is faulty according to a number of reliable sources; however, the diet itself is fairly healthy, mostly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. Its major drawback is that it eliminates some foods that are good for you.. For though the lime is rated as highly alkaline on this diet, an orange with a similar pH is rated as mildly acidic.
A common suggestion is that a vinaigrette salad dressing should be three parts oil and one part vinegar. However, vinegars can vary so much that for a more gentle balsamic vinegar a 2 to 1 ratio might be much better. But you'll need more oil with a stronger vinegar.
Above is a picture of green beans. My husband and I used them to fine-tune their flavor. First, I sautéd them in a little olive oil and some garlic and then added a little broth, covered and steamed them until their texture was just how I liked them. I squeezed some lemon juice on one of the dishes and added balsamic vinegar to the other. I assumed I would prefer the sweet taste of the balsamic; however, although I liked the taste of both, I found the lemon preferable. When served with the rest of the meal, the lemon was the clear winner, though between my husband and myself, all the beans were eaten. Let me know what you think. If you send me some of your ideas about using acid, I'll include them in my next blog.
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Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and remember that focusing on the things for which you are grateful, will turn the meal into a celebration!
Tricia Gregory, MA,RD/N
A dietitian who is a foodie and loves a great dinner party with wonderful food and terrific friends.