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Sausage in the stuffing, cream in the potatoes, gravy on that big, rich bird. Face it, Thanksgiving is one heavy meal.

The best way to lighten things up? Citrus.

"It adds brightness, freshness, it accentuates other flavors," says cookbook writer Michael Ruhlman, author of "Ruhlman's Twenty."

Whether it comes from orange, lemon or lime, the acid in citrus fruits balances fat, the way vinegar balances oil in a dressing. It invites salt and awakens the palate. Citrus zest offers bite with its intensely fragrant oils. Used together - as in the lemon-lime sweet potatoes here - the juice and zest create levels of sweet-sour-bitter that play out across your tongue.

"Citrus fruits have a double life," says Niki Segnit, author of "The Flavor Thesaurus." "The juice is sour, the zest is bitter. You have two different flavors you can play with."

Oranges are the world's most popular citrus fruit, Segnit says, their broad flavor assuring that they play well with most others. Your everyday orange loves apples, fennel and chocolate, but it is so rich in undertones that it also offers surprising combinations, such as our asparagus recipe below.

The sharp, intensely sour juice of limes adds spunk to sugary items, but we often turn to lemons as the workhorse of the kitchen. Their bracing juice highlights almost any flavor, from sweet apple to piney rosemary, and lemon often is what stands between a chef and a one-note dish.

The bird

Want the secret to a beautifully bronzed roasted Thanksgiving turkey? It's all in a bottle.

In our many years of cranking out too many Thanksgiving birds, we've found that no roasting technique produces that perfectly browned bird quite as well as a dumping a bottle of soy sauce over the turkey just before popping it in the oven.

So this year we decided to embrace the technique, but elevate it with more sophisticated flavor. We paired the soy sauce with citrus zests. The results were delicious and beautiful. As was the gravy that resulted from the rich pan drippings.

Citrus-Soy Sauce Turkey with Gravy

Start to finish: 3 to 4 hours

10-ounce bottle reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 oranges

1 lemon

12- to 14-pound turkey

2 large yellow onions, quartered

1/2 cup white wine

2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Heat the oven to 350 F.

In a blender, combine the soy sauce and the zests of both oranges and the lemon. Blend until smooth.

Place the turkey on a rack set in a large roasting pan. Scatter the onion pieces under the rack. Cut the oranges and lemon into chunks and put inside the turkey cavity. Pour the soy sauce mixture all over the turkey and into the cavity of the bird, coating all the surfaces.

Roast for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the breast reaches 160 F and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170 F. If the turkey begins to darken too much, cover with foil.

Transfer the turkey to a serving platter, cover with foil and a couple layers of kitchen towels to keep warm.

Remove the rack from the roasting pan. Use a slotted spoon to remove and discard the onions. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium heat and bring the juices to a simmer. Add the wine and scrape up any browned bits in the pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together the chicken broth and flour. Pour into the pan, whisking constantly. Simmer for 5 minutes, while continuing to stir. For a smoother gravy, you can transfer the mixture to a blender, in batches as needed, and puree until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper.

Serve the turkey with the gravy.

• Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy

Nutrition information per serving (assumes 20 servings) (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 330 calories; 130 calories from fat (41 percent of total calories); 15 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 125 mg cholesterol; 3 g carbohydrate; 43 g protein; 0 g fiber; 500 mg sodium.

Stuffing

For this stuffing, we started with a classic combination of sausage and pecans, then elevated those flavors with a bit of dried fruit and citrus. The combination of fatty meat and nuts is complemented by the acidity and tang of the orange juice and zest.

If dried apricots - which add sweetness as well as a pleasant chew - don't do it for you, feel free to substitute dried cranberries or cherries.

Orange Pecan Stuffing

Start to finish: 45 minutes

10 ounces sweet or hot Italian turkey sausage, casings removed

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons butter

1 large sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup diced dried apricots

Zest and juice of 1 orange

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

6 cups stale bread cubes

3/4 cup toasted chopped pecans

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the turkey sausage until browned and cooked through, breaking it up as it cooks. Add the wine to the pan and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the butter, onion and celery, then cook until the onion is tender and translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the coriander, chili powder, salt, pepper, apricots, and orange zest and juice. Continue to cook for 2 minutes to help develop the flavors. Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, pecans, parsley and meat mixture from the pan. Toss until well mixed. Spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole. This can be done up to 2 days in advance (cover with plastic and refrigerate). Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the center of the stuffing reaches 165 F.

• Makes 8 servings

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 300 calories; 140 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 30 mg cholesterol; 28 g carbohydrate; 11 g protein; 3 g fiber; 690 mg sodium.

The fixin's

Our goal was simple - a sweet potato recipe for Thanksgiving that is sweet... But not too sweet.

As in, no marshmallows needed.

Our solution was to reach for citrus and honey, a wonderful combination that pairs so well with roasted root vegetables. A splash of white balsamic vinegar helps balance that sweetness with a hint of acidity. And a bit of ricotta salata or crumbled goat cheese adds a complementary creamy note.

Sweet Potatoes with Lemon-Lime Vinaigrette

Start to finish: 1 hour

5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

3/4 cup olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

Zest and juice of 1 lime

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup crumbled or grated ricotta salata cheese or crumbled goat cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Heat the oven to 400 F.

In a large bowl, toss together the sweet potatoes, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread over 2 large baking sheets and roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until tender and browned.

In a blender, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice and zest, lime juice and zest, honey and vinegar. Puree until smooth. Arrange the roasted sweet potatoes on a platter, drizzle the vinaigrette over the top. Sprinkle with the ricotta salata or goat cheese and the chives.

• Makes 12 servings

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 330 calories; 150 calories from fat (43 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 5 mg cholesterol; 43 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber; 460 mg sodium.

Citrus-Glazed Asparagus

Trim and steam 2 bunches of asparagus until bright green and just tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together 1/4 cup orange marmalade, 2 tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon cumin. Bring to a simmer, then season with salt and pepper. Toss the asparagus in the glaze and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serves 6.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 80 calories; 5 calories from fat (8 percent of total calories); 1 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 4 g fiber; 170 mg sodium.

Easy Citrus-Herb Cranberry Sauce

Cut 3 clementines in half. Remove any seeds. In a processor, pulse the clementine halves until finely chopped. Add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram and 1 tablespoon chopped chives. Pulse to mix, then transfer to a bowl and stir in a 14-ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 12.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 60 calories; 0 calories from fat (0 percent of total calories); 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 1 g fiber; 5 mg sodium.

Lemon-Rosemary Breadsticks

In a small skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter with the zest of 1vlemon and 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary. Cook for 1 minute. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a 20-ounce ball of purchased pizza dough to a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Cut into 1-inch strips. Brush with the lemon-rosemary butter, then transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet, twisting if desired. Allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 F. Serves 12.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 140 calories; 50 calories from fat (36 percent of total calories); 6 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 20 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 1 g fiber; 160 mg sodium.

Dessert

It's important to keep Thanksgiving dinner a rich affair from start to finish.

That's why we decided to skip the usual pumpkin pie in favor of a thick mincemeat crumb-topped pie jammed with dried fruit, spices and citrus zest. The result is a dessert that is both lightly sweet and richly spicy. A hit of balsamic vinegar helps balance the natural sugars of the fruit.

To help with your holiday prep, this pie is easily made the day ahead. Let it come to room temperature before serving, or heat it briefly in the oven. Want to take it over the top? Add a dollop of whipped cream to each serving. Or if you serve it hot, try it with vanilla ice cream.

Citrus Mincemeat Crumb Pie

Start to finish: 1 hour 15 minutes (15 minutes active)

For the filling:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

2 Granny Smith or Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup currants

1/4 cup diced candied ginger

1 cup fresh cranberries

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

Zest and juice of 1 orange

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the pie:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Pinch of salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 prepared (raw) 9-inch pie crust

To make the filling, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the apples, raisins, currants, ginger, cranberries, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, orange and lemon zests and juices, brown sugar, vinegar and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. The mixture should be thick and jammy.

Heat the oven to 350 F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, orange zest, lemon zest and salt. Drizzle in the butter and stir. It should be crumbly.

If it isn't already in a pan, use the pie crust to line a 9-inch pie pan, then place that on a baking sheet. Spoon the prepared filling into the pie crust and smooth the top. Sprinkle the citrus crumb mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust and topping are golden brown.

• Makes 8 servings

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 430 calories; 140 calories from fat (32 percent of total calories); 16 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 72 g carbohydrate; 3 g protein; 4 g fiber; 240 mg sodium.

 

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