There are certain dishes it just wouldn't be Thanksgiving without: pumpkin pie and a big fat turkey being two of the most obvious ones. But there's another holiday staple in our midst this November, one that's been loved and reviled for over half a century: green bean casserole.
See, it all started in the 1950s when someone (a bored housewife?) decided canned mushroom soup globules would taste divine on top of floppy canned green beans. And depending on whom you ask, the combination actually isn't half bad: retro green bean casserole shamelessly caters to the profiles we've been slowly programmed to love over the process of evolution: fat and salty flavors, plus creamy and crunchy textures. But take a long hard peek behind the curtain and you'll notice that the two components that give it its guilty-pleasure appeal are the same ones loaded with oh-so-many suspect ingredients.
Canned mushroom soup:
The offenders: Fat, salt and MSG. The classic 10-ounce soup can contains 258 calories, and over half of them (157) are from fat. It's also loaded with 1955 milligrams of sodium, 81% of an American's required daily value, and harbors monosodium glutamate, that controversial additive known to trigger unsettling reactions like sweating and chest pain in some eaters.
The fix: Instead of reaching for the can opener, you can easily replace the soup by whipping up a homemade bechamel sauce. Bechamel is the French name for a white sauce that's traditionally created by whisking hot milk gradually into a white flour-butter mixture. (Check out the video below to watch Alton Brown do it.) Throw in a few sauteed mushrooms and voila: you have a satisfying, additive-free sauce.
Fried onion bits:
The offenders: Topping your casserole with French fried onions is akin to crumbling a bulging handful of potato chips and dumping them onto your veggies. Tempting, but not healthy. And fried onions from a can are typically fried in palm oil, which is packed with saturated fat.
Watch Alton Brown make his fresh version of the green bean casserole here:
In addition to being better for you, chances are a green bean casserole created from scratch will taste way more delicious, too. Follow the tips above or experiment with this updated version. And if you love green beans but just can't deal with them in casserole form, we have three fun spins for Thanksgiving: