Navigating the holidays can be tricky if you have dietary restrictions — or even if you’re just trying to avoid the super-rich, processed foods at the center of so many parties. It can leave you feeling like you’re missing out.
You may find yourself gazing longingly at plates full of stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, even if you’re committed to your healthy choices. You may feel self-conscious as you load up your plate with a third helping of the side salad.
The idea of hosting a gathering might seem out of the question altogether. After all, people have expectations about holiday menus: How can you generously entertain others while staying true to your own health needs?
I understand. I grew up with a mother and grandmother who hosted amazing gatherings all year round; their holiday parties in particular were legendary. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I almost lost hope of ever following in their entertaining footsteps. I actually found myself avoiding parties altogether.
Then I decided to re-create all of my favorite celebratory dishes without gluten or dairy, following the paleo protocol. I was determined to recapture the joy I used to feel during holidays and special occasions.
At first, I just brought special dishes for myself to gatherings. Then I noticed that other people also enjoyed them, even if they weren’t on restricted diets. I realized good food is simply good food. If it’s delicious, that’s what’s most important.
I believe that anyone can attend or host a party without feeling embarrassed about his or her dietary restrictions. I’m proof that you can still embrace tradition and community — and feel joyous and celebratory — without sacrificing your health.
The recipes that follow adhere to the paleo-based diet that helps keep my disease under control. I hope they inspire you to make the kind of changes that support your health and wellness.
Persimmon Prosciutto Salad
Persimmons topped with a pomegranate vinaigrette give this salad festive color and flavor. I especially love the crunch from the pomegranate and pumpkin seeds. My favorite type of persimmon is Fuyu, but other nonastringent varieties will work as well.
Makes 10 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
- 6 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into ribbons
- 4 bunches watercress, thick stems trimmed
- 3 persimmons, pitted and sliced
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
- 1/2 cup roasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pure pomegranate juice
- 1/3 cup white-wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. light-colored raw honey
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Divide the watercress, prosciutto, persimmons, pomegranate seeds, and pepitas among 10 plates, or combine all the ingredients in a salad bowl and toss.
- To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey, and mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the dressing over each salad, or add ½ cup of the dressing to the salad bowl and toss to coat.
- Serve immediately with the extra dressing on the side.
Tip: Pomegranate seeds offer a healthy dose of potassium and vitamin C. Plus, they’re high in fiber.
Tip: Tangy, peppery watercress is a rich source of vitamins K and C.
Garlic Rosemary Rib Roast
This classic holiday dish typically calls for dredging the meat in white flour before browning. I substitute arrowroot powder, which has the same effect but without the gluten that can cause problems for some people.
Makes 10 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: three hours
- 1 7-lb. standing rib roast of beef, fat trimmed and tied with twine
- 10 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 2 tsp. arrowroot powder
- 6 sprigs rosemary
- 6 tbs. ghee or extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 to 2 cups beef or chicken stock
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Make shallow slits with a sharp knife all over the roast and insert the garlic slices into the slits. Rub arrowroot powder over the roast and tuck the rosemary sprigs into the twine on the top and bottom of the roast.
- Melt 4 tablespoons of the ghee over medium-high heat in a large skillet or Dutch oven. Sear the roast on all sides, then transfer it to a roasting pan. Season the roast generously on all sides with salt and pepper and pour in 1 cup of the stock. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee to the same skillet. Add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until well browned. Spoon sautéed onion over the roast.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and continue roasting, basting with the pan juices every 30 minutes for one-and-a-half to two hours, until a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reads about 140 degrees F for medium. If the liquid in the pan has nearly evaporated, add the remaining 1 cup stock.
- Cover the roast with foil and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before slicing. Set the roast on its side and run a sharp knife between the bones and meat; remove the bones and set them aside. Turn the roast right-side up.
- Carve the roast into slices ¼ to ½ inch thick and arrange on a platter. Drizzle pan juices over the top. Serve immediately.
Tip: Have extra pan juices? Pour into an oven-safe pan and top with leftover beef slices; the liquid will help steam the meat and keep it moist during reheating.
Green-Bean Casserole With Crispy Shallots
The holidays just don’t feel the same without this creamy casserole, so I’ve re-created it without the heavy cream, MSG, or gluten. This dish involves a few steps, so it’s helpful to do it in stages ahead of time. Make the sauce up to three days in advance and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Prepare the green beans in advance by trimming them and storing in a bowl of water, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days.
Makes 10 to 12 servings
Prep time: one hour
Cook time: 45 minutes
- 1 cup whole raw cashews
- 1 tbs. ghee or extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, halved
- 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 tbs. sherry (optional)
- 1 cup water
- 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
- 1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 1 lb. thin green beans, ends trimmed
- 1/2 cup palm shortening, bacon fat, or ghee for frying
- 2 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced into rings
- Place the cashews in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Soak for one hour.
- Meanwhile, heat the ghee in a skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, and garlic, and sauté for 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms and shallot have softened. Pour in the sherry and simmer for five minutes to reduce the liquid.
- Drain and rinse the cashews, transfer them to a blender, add the water, and blend until very smooth.
- Add the mushroom mix, half the stock, the salt, pepper, and thyme to the blender, and pulse a few times until the mushrooms are bite-size. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the remaining stock. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the mushroom mixture with the green beans and spoon into a casserole dish. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, until the beans are tender and the sauce is bubbling. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more.
- To make the topping, heat the palm shortening, bacon fat, or ghee in a small, deep saucepan over medium-high heat. Working in batches, pan-fry the shallots for about five minutes, until golden brown. Drain and cool in a single layer on a plate lined with paper towels.
- Top the casserole with the crispy shallots and serve warm.
Tip: A great alternative to dairy, cashew cream is loaded with minerals and antioxidants.
Fried Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower
This dish boasts smoky notes from the fried rosemary and satisfies a craving for salt with a dash of garum, an Italian fermented fish sauce.
Makes four servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: eight minutes
- 3 cups macadamia oil
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 lb. cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
- 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
- 1 1/2 tsp. garum (fish sauce)
- 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp. sea salt
- Place the oil in a deep skillet or saucepan and heat to 350 degrees F.
- Drop the rosemary into the hot oil, then add the cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in batches, frying each batch for three to four minutes, or until browned and crispy. Transfer each batch to a pan lined with paper towels and drain while the next batch cooks.
- Transfer the vegetables to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the fried rosemary leaves into the bowl, discarding the stems.
- Pour in the fish sauce, lemon juice, and salt; stir gently to coat. The vegetables will soften and lose their crispiness as they cool, so serve immediately. Place under the broiler for two to three minutes to crisp if necessary.
Tip: For a nut-free version, replace the macadamia oil with palm shortening.
Roasted-Garlic Mashed Faux-tatoes
While the flavor of licorice is a characteristic of raw fennel, roasting the bulbs brings out a subtler, savory taste. In this dish, roasted fennel and garlic are puréed with celeriac, or celery root, to mimic the texture of mashed potatoes. This is a great alternative for those who don’t like cauliflower, which is the most frequent substitute for mashed potatoes.
Makes four servings
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
- 4 fennel bulbs, stalks and leaves removed
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 tsp. sea salt, divided
- 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, divided
- 3 celeriac, peeled and cubed (about 4 cups)
- 3 tbs. ghee
- 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Cut the fennel into quarters and place it in an oven-safe dish with the garlic. Drizzle olive oil over it and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Cover and place in the oven and roast for 25 minutes.
- In a large stockpot of water, boil the celeriac until soft, about 12 minutes. Drain and add to a food processor.
- Add the roasted garlic and fennel mixture, ghee, almond milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining pepper to the food processor and process until smooth.
- Serve warm.
Be a Great Guest (Even With Major Food Limitations)
One of the most difficult aspects of my autoimmune disease used to be dealing with food at parties and dinners. I would often eat beforehand or wait until returning home. Eventually I found a much better way that will likely work for anyone with food restrictions or special diets. Try these ideas:
Bring a dish you can eat. Talk with the host beforehand — but rather than calling with a list of ingredients you can’t eat, or asking her to overhaul the planned menu, let her know you are on a restricted diet and will bring something for yourself that complements what’s being served. That way you won’t bring a Greek-inspired dish to a dinner filled with Asian specialties.
Bring enough for everyone. Having a single-size portion for only yourself could make you feel even more self-conscious about your dietary limitations. When others can enjoy what you bring, it feels much more like a communal meal.
Have a go-to appetizer. Cocktail parties seem to be filled with wheat-based appetizers. Bring one or two options that are easy to prepare and that you know you can eat. My favorite is veggies wrapped in bacon, because they’re pretty, fun, and require only a few ingredients.
Reprinted with permission from Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple and Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain Celebrations: A Year of Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Paleo Recipes for Every Occasion by Danielle Walker, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Why No Numbers? Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need. — The Editors