Whether you celebrate with family or close friends, holiday gatherings are an opportunity to honor our most cherished relationships. And the feasts that surround this time of year give us the chance to relish another of our most important relationships: with the Earth. These meals were traditionally a way to give thanks for a successful harvest and to pack in some last indulgence before the start of the long winter. And they are often when we bring out our favorite traditional recipes and cooking techniques.
One way to ramp up our recipes’ celebration of the Earth’s ability to nourish us is by packing them with seasonal whole foods. Nature doesn’t deliver cranberries in a gelatinous can-shaped mold — only factories do that. Meanwhile, a simple, made-from-scratch cranberry sauce offers much more in the way of flavor, texture and nutrition. The recipes in this article aim to bump up the nutrient factor and health profile of holiday favorite dishes, but read on for tips to incorporate more bounty-celebrating superfoods into any meal.
What are Superfoods?
Superfoods are nature’s most potent medicines. These foods are called super because they have distinct compounds with documented health benefits (such as the ability to slow tumor growth), or because they are especially nutrient-dense per calorie, delivering high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, probiotics, phytochemicals and other powerful compounds. These critical nutrients — many of which are deficient in today’s diet — have wide-ranging benefits, from improving heart health, detoxification, sleep and weight loss to mitigating anxiety and depression. They also keep us satisfied and energized.
It’s easy to incorporate a whole slew of superfoods into holiday meals. Simply ask yourself these questions before preparing a dish: What superfoods would enhance the flavors of this dish? For the same quantity of food, how could I pack in more nutrients? Is there a way to transform this choice into something that gives me energy instead of taking it away?
Eating for wellness is not about deprivation. Self-proclaimed “superfood opportunist” Julie Morris, author of five cookbooks on superfoods, suggests focusing on the beneficial foods you can add to your cooking, rather than on what to avoid. Try to replace ingredients of little nutritive value with nutritious choices.
The most basic and powerful superfood change we can make is simply to cook with as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible. Whereas whole foods give our bodies the nutrients they need to fight inflammation and disease, processed foods do just the opposite. Physician Aviva Romm says highly processed foods can cause a litany of health problems, including gut lining damage and impairment to DNA, and they can confuse the immune system over what to attack, leading to chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease.
Artificial ingredients have also been found to sway gut flora in the direction of species that promote obesity. For this season’s special meals, avoid packaged items and instead enjoy the process of connecting with the Earth’s bounty by making things from scratch. Ingredients straight from nature don’t require complex cooking methods: Many fresh ingredients need nothing more than a quick steam or easy oven-roast to achieve peak flavor potential.
Try Crispy, Roasted Chicken rather than Conventional Turkey
Why it’s a Super Swap:Pastured chickens are more affordable than pastured turkeys, thaw much more quickly, and benefit from fast cooking methods that keep the bird extra-juicy. Plus, pastured chickens have deep, real flavor and all the nutritional benefits of antibiotic-free, grass-fed animals — including healthy fats that promote heart and brain health. You can easily double this recipe either with a large roasting pan or side-by-side pans. Use a pan that can go from oven to stovetop if you plan to make delicious gravy from the drippings. If chicken doesn’t appeal to you, opt for something nontraditional but special, such as roasted wild salmon, wild-caught venison or an herbed lentil loaf with wild mushroom gravy.
• 1 whole, pastured chicken (about 4 pounds)
• 1/4 cup flour
• 3/4 cup water or milk
• Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place chicken, breast-side-up, in a roasting pan, and rub all over with salt. Roast for about 1 hour, or until juices run clear, legs feel loose and skin is golden.
3. Transfer chicken to serving platter, then tip platter to drain juices back into roasting pan.
4. Place roasting pan on stovetop over high heat and bring juices to a boil, scraping up all the flavorful bits from the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle flour on, whisk in approximately 3/4 cup water or milk, and stir until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add pepper to taste. Serve alongside chicken. Serves 3 to 4.
Adapted from Scratch by Maria Rodale
Try Garlic Mashed Cauliflower rather than Mashed Potatoes
Why It’s a Super Swap:Cauliflower is one of the most nutritious foods on Earth. It is rich in glucosinolates, and has been shown to be a powerful cancer fighter. If you don’t want 100 percent mashed cauliflower (which has a much lighter texture than a potato mash), combine any proportion of cauliflower with potatoes, but opt for some of the more nutrient-dense potato varieties, such as fingerling or yellow-fleshed potatoes. Also consider mixing in steamed or roasted parsnips to add sweetness, or celery root for a light celery flavor.
• 8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
• 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 2 heads cauliflower, trimmed into florets
• 1/3 cup chicken or vegetable stock
• 5 tablespoons melted ghee or grass-fed butter
• 2 teaspoons sea salt
• Several twists of freshly ground black pepper
• Chopped fresh thyme, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Put garlic in baking dish, drizzle with oil, cover (or wrap in foil), and bake 15 minutes. Set aside.
3. While garlic roasts, put cauliflower in saucepan with stock. Cover and steam over high heat for 10 minutes, or until tender. Add cauliflower and liquid to food processor bowl, along with garlic cloves (squeezed out of their skins). Add remaining ingredients, except thyme, and puree. Top with thyme and serve warm. Serves 10 to 12.
Adapted from Against All Grain Celebrations by Danielle Walker
Try Maple-Glazed Root Vegetables rather than Sweet Potatoes
Why it’s a Super Swap: Candied sweet potatoes are a holiday classic; this dish offers the same combination of sweet and earthy flavors, but also brings more fiber- and nutrient-rich seasonal vegetables to the holiday table. These slowly digesting roots still satisfy the sweet tooth, with just a smidge of real maple syrup to bring out their natural sweetness, but won’t cause dramatic spikes in blood sugar levels.
• 1/2 stick unsalted butter (or 1/4 cup ghee or olive oil)
• 6 pounds carrots, parsnips, beets and/or sweet potatoes, sliced into chunks, rounds or matchsticks (skins on for more nutrients)
• 2 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup
• 1 cup orange juice
• Handful fresh thyme leaves Sea salt
1. Melt butter in wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add vegetables, decrease heat to medium, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring from time to time, until edges of vegetables begin to caramelize.
2. Stir in maple syrup and orange juice, and continue cooking until liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes.
3. Turn off heat, sprinkle on thyme, season with salt once more and serve. Serves 8.
Adapted from The Nourished Kitchen by Jennifer McGruther
Try Homemade Cranberry Chutney rather than Canned Cranberry Sauce
Why It’s a Super Swap: Like all berries, fresh cranberries are rich in antioxidants and naturally antimicrobial. If you’ve never served fresh cranberries before, you may not be familiar with their bright, delicious flavor, a perfect complement to the rich foods in a typical holiday meal. This chutney features a number of other superfood ingredients, including high-fiber fruits and phytochemical-rich spices. It all comes together with no preservatives or fake sweeteners, and makes for a much more interesting side dish than plain cranberry sauce. This chutney also goes well with holiday leftovers. Try it spread on a turkey sandwich with avocado and honey mustard. You can make chutney several days ahead of time and refrigerate or freeze.
• 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
• 1 cup golden raisins, or dried mulberries or goji berries
• 1/2 cup coconut sugar or honey
• 1/2 cup maple syrup
• 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
• 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1 cup water
• 1 small onion, chopped
• 3 medium apples, cored and chopped
• 4 stalks celery, chopped
• 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1. Combine cranberries, dried fruit, coconut sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and water in heavy pan. Cook 15 minutes over medium heat.
2. Stir in onion, apples and celery. Cook 15 minutes more. Remove from heat, fold in lemon peel, and serve or refrigerate. Makes 4 cups.
Adapted from Clean Food by Terry Walters
Try Dark Chocolate Pecan Tart rather than Pecan Pie
Why It’s a Super Swap:With hints of maple and vanilla, this rich pecan pie blows away any competition from the processed version we all grew up eating. It features antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, the healthful fats in coconut, and a nutritious almond flour crust, in addition to the many health benefits of tasty pecans. This pie keeps well, covered, for up to three days at room temperature.
• 2-1/2 cups almond flour
• 1 cup arrowroot powder
• 1/4 cup coconut sugar
• 2 eggs
• 3 tablespoons cold water
• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
• 4 tablespoons chilled grass-fed butter, lard or coconut oil
• 2 eggs
• 1 egg white
• 1/2 cup coconut sugar
• 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
• 3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
• 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
• 1-1/2 cups pecan halves, divided
• 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate with high cocoa content (or raw cacao nibs)
• 1 egg yolk
• 1 tablespoon full-fat coconut milk
• Cold whipped coconut cream or whipped cream, for serving
1. Combine all crust ingredients in food processor, and pulse several times until dough with pea-size bits starts to come together. Gather it into a ball and flatten into a thick disc. Wrap and freeze for 1 hour.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. Remove pie pastry from freezer and let sit at room temperature until just pliable, about 10 minutes. Press pastry into bottom and up sides of 11-by-7-inch tart pan with removable base. Bake 15 minutes, then cool on wire rack.
4. Whisk together whole eggs, egg white, coconut sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and vanilla. Chop 1/2 cup pecans, and add to mixture along with dark chocolate.
5. Pour filling into prepared shell. Arrange remaining pecans in a decorative pattern on top.
6. Mix egg yolk with coconut milk in small bowl. Brush exposed crust with egg wash and bake 15 minutes. Cover just crust with foil or a pie shield, and bake 5 to 10 minutes more, until center is set.
7. Cool on wire rack for several hours or overnight. Remove pan sides and slice tart into rectangles. Serve with whipped coconut cream or whipped cream. Serves 8 to 10.
Adapted from Against All Grain Celebrations by Danielle Walker
Simple Superfood Additions to Traditional Recipes
Besides being powerhouse disease-fighters and energy boosters, superfood ingredients are also incredibly delicious and offer diverse flavors and textures to foods. Try sprinkling or stirring any of the following into traditional holiday dishes:
• Nuts, seeds, dried seaweed and chopped greens in stuffing
• Herbs in gravy and vegetable dishes
• Nutritional yeast on salads and casseroles
• Berries on homemade pies
• Bee pollen on pumpkin pie
• Ground flaxseed in pie crusts
• Unrefined nut oils in salad dressings
• Diced vegetables into grain-, potato- and bread-based dishes
• Chopped garlic, ginger and turmeric in most any savory recipe
• Nutritious citrus zest in and on sweets
• Fresh fruits on the dessert table
Simple Superfood Swaps in Favorite Recipes
Try swapping these superfood ingredients with their less-nutritious cousins.
• Replace cocoa powder in dessert recipes with antioxidant-loaded raw cacao powder, or use high-cocoa-content dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.
• Use whole-wheat and other whole-grain flours instead of all-purpose flour in baked goods; and whole-grain or nut crackers and vegetables on appetizer trays.
• Rely on in-season, fresh fruits and vegetables instead of using whatever a recipe calls for.
• Swap cooked quinoa, millet, wild rice and other whole grains for white rice in casseroles.
• Buy locally grown kale or spinach instead of out-of-season lettuce shipped from afar.
• Try cooking with nutritious broth when plain water is called for in recipes.
• Add dried superfood berries, such as goji berries and mulberries, in place of raisins in baking recipes.
• Swap out refined white sugar for healthier sweeteners, such as coconut sugar, dates, maple syrup, honey, lucuma powder, mesquite flour, yacon syrup or stevia.
• Try heart- and brain-healthy grass-fed meat, eggs, cheese and butter instead of the conventionally raised, industrial stuff.
• Serve fermented pickles and roasted nuts as appetizers, instead of store-bought chips and dip.
Even appetizers can be sources of top-quality nutrition when we work in superfood extras. Try this simple, superfood-laden cheese ball as a delicious, nutrient-rich appetizer:
Form any soft cheese (such as chevre) into a ball. Chop nuts, dried berries and fresh herbs. Roll the cheese in each topping, then refrigerate. Serve with apple slices, carrot sticks and whole-grain crackers.
Food and Garden Editor Tabitha Grace is a superfood fanatic and the author of Whole Grain Baking Made Easyand Superfoods: Everything You Need to Know About Nature’s Most Incredible Foods.