By Andrew Witham
The holidays represent a time of getting together with family and friends and, more often than not, having big meals stacked with appetizers, drinks, and dessert. Tell me you don’t go into the holiday season thinking – I’m going to have to hit the gym in January! Historically, the holidays are about good comfort food and visiting with family – the beginning of cold weather and a lot of holiday time off usually means big meals and extra calories. It doesn’t have to be that way!
A few great recipe ideas demonstrate that you can eat great meals over the holidays without fearing that you will be “Jabba the Hutt” come January. Here are a few nice options for your pleasure this holiday season.
While turkey represents a fairly low fat staple during the holidays, there are some even better options for main dishes if you want to broaden your horizons and not your waistline. Eggplant, and other root vegetables, offer hearty alternatives that can be prepared in many different ways and are nutritious and filling. The recipe below will add an “Italian” flavor to your table and is a great alternative to the ham, roast, or turkey staples that typically adorn holiday tables.
Zucchini Eggplant Lasagna
1 large eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup (8 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
1 (8-ounce) package precooked lasagna noodles
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt; let stand 15 minutes.
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, oregano, red pepper, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Combine basil, ricotta, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Spread 1/2 cup tomato mixture into the bottom of a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles over tomato mixture; top with half of eggplant and half of zucchini. Spread ricotta mixture over vegetables; cover with 4 noodles. Spread 1 cup tomato mixture over noodles; layer with remaining eggplant and zucchini slices. Arrange remaining 4 noodles over vegetables, and spread remaining tomato mixture over noodles. Top evenly with mozzarella. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 25 minutes or until browned. Cool for 5 minutes.
Farro ñ a wheat-based grain
(not gluten free) can serve as a great substitute to those bread heavy stuffings that are typically served during the holidays. This particular recipe includes colorful butternut squash, red onions, carrots and almonds. A true winner on any holiday dinner table.
4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
2 cups uncooked farro
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced peeled butternut squash
1 cup chopped red onion
1 cup thinly sliced carrot
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
3/4 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Bring stock and farro to a boil in a large saucepan; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until farro is al dente. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add squash, onion, carrot, and celery; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir squash mixture into farro mixture. Stir in almonds, parsley, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Spoon into an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Stir in additional reserved cooking liquid as needed just before serving.
Cauliflower-instead of Potatoes
Cauliflower offers a great substitute to potatoes and can be prepared in many different ways – including mixing half and half with potatoes to make mashers that are far less carbohydrate/calorie intensive. This particular recipe – Gratin of Cauliflower with Gruyère – bursts with nice flavor.
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets (about 2 pounds)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
2 teaspoons butter
1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400°.
2. Place cauliflower in a 2-quart broiler-safe baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; coat cauliflower with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until almost tender. Cool 5 minutes.
3. Preheat broiler.
4. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Stir in panko. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and chives.
5. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until almost tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 cup cheese, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, parsley, and pepper. Pour milk mixture over cauliflower mixture; toss. Top evenly with cheese mixture. Broil 3 minutes or until golden brown and thoroughly heated.
The simplicity of this option is awesome. Fresh fruit (which is available year round now in almost every grocery store) brings color and a lightness to the end of a holiday meal. Add in some fresh yogurt, and you have a rich, healthy dessert alternative.
Fresh Fruit Yogurt Parfait
1/3 cup honey (original recipe specified 3/4 cup!)
3 cups plain yogurt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries, etc.)
3/4 cup granola cereal
(I suggest Granola)
Slightly soften the honey in the microwave so that it is easier to stir. Cool.
In a bowl, combine the softened honey with the plain yogurt and vanilla extract.
Using parfait glasses, layer the honey mixture alternately with the fruit and granola, ending with granola on top.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
These are just a small selection of many healthy options that you can bring to the table during the holiday season. Look up some alternatives – you don’t have to end the holiday season feeling like a stuffed turkey!!
Andrew Witham is a cook who recently moved back to Northern Virginia after operating a food truck in Arizona for 15 years. He currently is employed at Bernie’s Delicatessen and Gourmet Market in the City of Fairfax.