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Ask A Minnesota Chef: Healthy Thanksgiving Recipes

By Linda Cameron 

Two of Minnesota's leading culinary schools and a culinary non-profit have assembled batches of delicious and wholesome Thanksgiving recipes. Light yet hearty, savory and original, these holiday creations from Cooks Of Crocus Hill, Minnesota Cooks, and Way Cool Cooking School complement a Thanksgiving turkey and poultry-substitute meals. Consisting of simple local ingredients, most of these dishes can be made in minutes, unless you have ample time to cook. Otherwise, no need to worry about excessive caloric intake or too much fussing in the kitchen. (Note: Due to the generous influx of recipes, we've chosen a select few, although this isn't a contest. Please feel free to request more.)

Cooks Of Crocus Hill
877 Grand Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55105
(651) 228-1333  

A locally owned culinary retail store and cooking school in Twin Cities, Cooks Of Crocus Hill has the cooking tools and classes to foster your culinary journey. Whether you're a professional cook, a culinary hobbyist or a beginner, Cooks invites you to join a class or take private lessons. We hope you'll try the recipes our chef students and instructors prepared.

Green Beans With Fennel And Gruyere 
Fresh fennel, lemon zest, virgin olive oil and almonds dress up the traditional green bean casserole and entertain the palate. Serves 6.


  • 1 ½  tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh fennel fronds, chopped
  • ½  lemon zest, juice reserved
  • ½  teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1 large fennel bulb, stalks removed
  • 1 ½  lbs. green beans, trimmed
  • ½  cup Gruyere cheese, grated
  • 2 ounces of crumbled goat cheese (chevre)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons of sliced, dry-toasted almonds


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the olive oil, fennel fronds, lemon zest, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. Set aside. Cut fennel bulb into quarters, remove the core and thinly slice 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick.
  4. Trim beans to desired length.
  5. Add green beans and fennel to boiling salted water and cook until crisp tender - 4 to 8 minutes depending on preference.
  6. Drain and add to bowl with olive oil and zest mixture; toss gently to coat.
  7. Add cheese and toss slightly to melt.
  8. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired with lemon juice and pepper.
  9. Transfer to serving platter and top with almonds.

Related: Ask A Chef: Best Breakfast Casserole Recipes

Buttermilk Rutabaga And Potato Mash 

This is a refreshing way to prepare mashed potatoes, always a Thanksgiving favorite. Serves 6.


  • 1 ½  lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • ½  lbs. rutabaga, peeled and cut into chunks of at least 1/2-inch: (Note: Rutabagas take longer to cook than potatoes.)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½  teaspoon salt, divided
  • ¾  cup buttermilk, warmed
  • 1 tablespoon butter or pure olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


  1. Place rutabagas and garlic cloves in a sauce pan and cover with water.
  2. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Bring vegetables to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rutabagas are very tender (25 to 30 minutes).
  4. Drain thoroughly and return to sauce pan. Place pan over low heat and toss rutabaga mixture for about 1 minute to dry the vegetables.
  5. Place potatoes in another sauce pan, cover with water, and season with remaining salt.
  6. Cook potatoes about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain potatoes and combine with dried rutabaga mixture.
  7. With a hand mixer or potato masher, mash the rutabaga-garlic mixture and potatoes.
  8. Gradually add the warmed buttermilk to make a smooth puree. Stir in thyme and season with pepper.

Way Cool Cooking School
16544 W. 78th St.
Eden Prairie, MN 55346
(952) 949-6799

This community Eden Prairie cooking school teaches kids and adults how to cook. By mastering the art of efficient cooking and quick meal preparations, you'll be lost in the cooking, not in the kitchen. We hope these recipes will be way cool for your holiday dining. 

Thyme-Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Made with fresh thyme leaves, this potato recipe deserves a time-honored mention. Substitute for traditional Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. Or substitute Yukon or other potatoes for sweet potatoes. Makes 6 to 8 servings. 


  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1 ½-inch thick rounds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ¹⁄3 cup fresh thyme leaves 
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs (for garnish)
  • ½  teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½  teaspoon red pepper flakes 


  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. In large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and toss.
  3. Arrange potato slices in single layer on heavyweight rimmed baking sheet, or in 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
  4. Place on the top rack of oven. Roast for about 40 minutes or until tender and slightly browned.
  5. Garnish with thyme sprigs.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Whole Grain Rice Pilaf 

This side dish is also a healthy alternative to the traditional bread stuffing. A quick tip: chop all herbs and vegetables first. This saves preparation time if you're heading off to work or have other things to do.


  • ½  cup uncooked wild rice, quinoa, wheat berry or barley
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • ²⁄3 cup chopped onions
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ¼  cup chopped carrot
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley
  • ½  teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • ¾  teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • ¼  teaspoon salt
  • ¹⁄8  teaspoon freshly ground pepper


  1. Cook rice according to package directions, omitting fat and salt.
  2. While rice cooks, heat a medium skillet over medium high heat.
  3. Add olive oil; swirl to coat.
  4. Add onion, celery and carrot; sauté until tender.
  5. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and remaining ingredients.
  6. Add vegetable mixture to cooked rice; fluff with a fork. Serve immediately.

Related: Ask A Minnesota Chef: Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Recipes

Minnesota Cooks "Thanksgiving" Recipes
Minnesota Farmers Union
600 County Road, D West, Suite14
St. Paul, MN 55112
(651) 639-1223

An educational outreach program, Minnesota Cooks celebrates the dedication of Minnesota's farming community through ongoing cooking events. Participating Minnesota chefs (Minnesota Cooks) create recipes using local farm fresh produce. We've chosen recipes for dinner and dessert. The time spent on ingredients-gathering and preparation is definitely worth the time.

Roasted Local Butternut Squash Crème Brulee

Because everyone loves dessert, especially deep dish desserts made with fresh dairy, we're starting with a crème brulee recipe. But before diving into dessert, you must first finish the delicious wild rice and walleye croquettes, which is the next recipe. (The crème brulee serves 6.)


  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½  cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup roasted squash
  • Pinch of 5 Spice
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, milk, 1/4 cup of sugar, squash and 5 Spice to a simmer. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and the other 1/4 cup of sugar. Remove the cream mixture from heat and add a little to the egg yolk mixture to warm it, whisking constantly to keep the yolks from curdling. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the hot cream mixture, whisking the cream as you pour. Let the cream mixture cool. Strain through a fine sieve and stir in the salt. Chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Pour the mixture into six 4-oz. ramekins. Arrange the ramekins in a baking pan and place on an oven rack. Pour very hot water into the baking pan to reach 2/3 of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with foil. Bake the custards for 30 minutes, and then let out a little steam and bake for another 15-25 minutes longer, until the custards are set around the edges but still jelly-like in the center. Top the custards with granulated sugar; return to the oven for 2 minutes or until the sugar browns. Or heat custards under a broiler for 30 seconds or less to burn the sugar slightly. Place ramekins on a platter and serve immediately.

Minnesota Wild Rice And Walleye Croquettes With Cured Cucumber Aioli

These croquettes make an excellent entrée, side dish or appetizer. The star ingredient is the tender but hardy walleye, one of several Minnesota state symbols. Yields 12 to14 croquettes.


For croquettes:

  • 3 cups KC's Best hand harvested wild rice
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock
  • 2 pints heavy cream
  • ½  cup white wine
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme (tied with butcher's twine)
  • ½  tablespoon fresh cracked pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 pound Red Lake walleye, skinned and filleted
  • 2 carrots, peeled and small diced
  • 4 celery stalks, small diced
  • 1 medium onion, small diced
  • 1 tablespoon salt

For dredge:

  • 4 eggs, beaten + 2 tablespoons of water
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1 cup flour seasoned with 1 tablespoon of Lawry's
  • 3 cups canola oil (for pan frying)

For aioli:

  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum (available at specialty grocers such as Lunds & Byerlys)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions walleye croquettes:

  1. For croquettes, wash wild rice thoroughly, then combine wild rice and vegetable stock in sauce pot.
  2. Bring to a boil; reduce heat down to a medium simmer for about 45 minutes, or until rice kernels split.
  3. While rice is cooking, in a separate sauce pan combine heavy cream with white wine, thyme, cracked pepper, and cumin.
  4. Bring to a boil and reduce to a medium simmer.
  5. Add cleaned walleye into reducing cream.
  6. Cook walleye 8-10 minutes in the cream, or until the fish starts to become tender.
  7. Remove walleye with slotted spoon; set aside to cool.
  8. When cooled, flake walleye by hand; set aside in fridge.
  9. After fish is removed, add carrot, celery and onions; reduce cream by 3/4 of original amount.
  10. Be careful to not "break" the heavy cream (e.g. cooking until the fat separates), though you will reduce it down to the point of almost breaking.
  11. Remove thyme; let cool for a moment.
  12. In a large bowl mix rice with flaked walleye; slowly add cream and vegetable mixture (this is the binder). Add salt. Once mixed, taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly.
  13. Form mixture into 4 ounce cakes (hockey puck shape) and chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  14. Prepare 3 separate bowls with flour in one, egg mixture in the other, and panko bread crumbs in the last.
  15. Coat chilled walleye cakes first in the flour, then dredge thoroughly in egg, then finish in panko.
  16. Heat a sauté pan with canola oil to 345 F; pan fry cakes 2-3 minutes per side to a golden brown sear.
  17. Serve walleye cakes hot.

Directions cucumber aioli:

  1. Place prepared cucumbers in a colander; cover with 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
  2. Toss slightly so all cucumbers are salted.
  3. Place colander over a sink or another bowl for 1 hour to drain water from the cucumbers.
  4. Draining extracts all bitter juices from the cucumbers and gives a salty cured flavor.
  5. After cucumbers are drained, place in a blender along with dill, lemon juice, and xanthan gum.
  6. Puree the mixture.
  7. While pureeing, slowly add extra virgin olive oil through the small opening in the lid of the blender.
  8. Taste for seasoning.

Top walleye cakes with aioli or serve on the side as a dip. (To serve walleye cakes as an entrée, form into bigger cakes before pan frying.)

Related: WCCO Viewers' Choice For Best Walleye Dinner In Minnesota

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