Healthy Holiday Side Dishes to Savor

December 5, 2019

It’s that time of year. A time to gather our loved ones around us, enjoy, share and celebrate…everything. A long, cold winter stretches before us. The holidays distract us from the truth of winter, harsh weather (for most of us…), long nights and short days. We feast and party, party and feast.


And we don’t think of health and wellness very much until around January 2 when we face the New Year.


Now don’t stress. I’m not going to be the buzz kill who talks about not indulging and controlling your portions (wise advice, but still…). I won’t give you that silly tip to eat before you go to a party so you won’t overdo it. Seriously? The holidays are all about indulgence and celebration. You go to parties to enjoy the food, the drink, the people, the festivities.


But what if you could have it all? What if your holiday feasts included dishes that tasted decadent and rich, with flavor that makes you swoon, but they are all plant-based and so are better for your health? I’d call that a win-win.


Here are some of my family’s favorite special occasion side dishes. I think your crowd will love them, too. They are eclectic, unique and completely delicious. And you’ll love that you’re benefitting their wellness while listening to their moans of pleasure as they enjoy every…last…bite.


Splendid Spanakopita

Know to us as spinach pie, spanakopita is a light and delicious way for us to get our antioxidant-rich greens. My version uses arugula, but you can go with traditional spinach or switch it up with the greens you like best, from kale to bok choy.


Makes about 20 spanakopita


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ small red onion, finely diced

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

Sea salt

15-20 cremini mushrooms, brushed free of dirt, coarsely chopped

Scant pinch ground nutmeg

2 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed, finely shredded

4 cups arugula, rinsed well, coarsely chopped

2 cups Tofu Cheese, coarsely crumbled (recipe follows)

1 package phyllo dough, thawed in the refrigerator for several hours before use

1/2 cup (approx) ground almond meal or whole wheat bread crumbs

Extra virgin olive oil


Place oil, onion and garlic in a skillet over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in mushrooms, a pinch of salt and nutmeg and sauté until mushrooms are beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in arugula and tofu cheese and season lightly with salt. Transfer to a bowl to cool and set aside.


Preheat oven to 350o and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.


On a dry, flat work surface, remove the sheets of phyllo, cut them in half lengthwise and lay them flat. Cover the phyllo with a damp towel while you work (so it doesn’t stiffen). Using one half sheet at a time, brush phyllo lightly with oil and sprinkle with ground almonds. Lay another half sheet on top, brush with oil and sprinkle almonds. Lay a third half sheet on top and brush with oil, but with no almonds. Place about ¼-cup of the arugula mixture in one corner of the phyllo layers, fold the other corner over the mixture, forming an angular shape. Continue to fold over on an angle, creating a pastry triangle around the arugula. Place on lined baking sheet and repeat until all the filling is used. Brush each triangle lightly with oil and bake until golden brown and crispy, about 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Cook’s Tip: Any un-used phyllo can be tightly wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for future use. It will keep for several weeks. Do not re-freeze.


Tofu Cheese

This tofu version of cheese has a good bit of cheesy satisfaction. Try it….you’ll like it.


Makes 5-6 servings


1 pound firm tofu

1 teaspoon sesame tahini

2-3 fresh green onions, minced

juice and zest of 1 lemon


Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook tofu for 5 minutes. Drain and then simply puree with tahini until smooth. Fold in lemon juice and zest and mix well.


Cabbage Spring Rolls

I love this starter course during the holidays. It’s light but festive and implies there’s a real party on the way.


Makes 12-14 eggrolls


Avocado oil

2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

1 yellow onion, finely diced

organic soy sauce

1-2 stalks celery, diced

1 carrot, fine matchstick pieces

4 cups finely shredded green head cabbage

1 cups fresh/frozen organic corn kernels


12-14 eggless egg roll wrappers


dipping sauce

½ cup unsweetened orange marmalade

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 tablespoons umeboshi or red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger juice

½ teaspoon organic soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown rice syrup

generous pinch chili powder


Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a deep skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a dash of soy sauce and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Stir in celery and carrot and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in cabbage, cover and steam for 1 minute, until it begins to wilt. Remove cover and add a light seasoning of soy sauce. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, until cabbage is quite limp. Stir in corn and a light seasoning of mirin and sauté until any liquid has been absorbed. 


Lay egg roll wrapper on a dry work surface with one corner facing you. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons filling across the wrapper, close to you, but leaving the corner exposed so you can fold it over. Fold the two side corners and the corner closest to you over the filling. Roll, jellyroll style, forming a cylinder. Moisten the remaining corner and seal the roll. Lay, seam side down on a dry surface. Repeat process with remaining filling and dough. 


Make the dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in a small saucepan and cooking over low heat, whisking, for 2-3 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste and cook one minute more. Set aside to cool. 


Brush a large skillet generously with oil and place over medium-high heat. Cook the spring rolls until golden and crispy, turning as needed to insure even browning. 


To serve, slice spring rolls in half crosswise, on the diagonal. Arrange on a platter with dipping sauce on the side. Serve immediately. 


Crunchy Tuscan Kale Salad

There’s salad and then there’s this salad. I love this for a holiday or special occasion feast because it’s hearty and richly flavored. But it works just as well for any cold weather supper.


Makes 3–4 servings


1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur, but regular kale will work)

1 teaspoon extra- virgin olive oil

¾ cup coarse bread crumbs

1 clove fresh garlic, mashed

½ teaspoon sea salt

⅛ teaspoon cracked black pepper

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil

Juice from ½ fresh lemon


Rinse the kale leaves and towel dry. Shred the kale leaves, removing the stems if they are thick.

Place a teaspoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the bread crumbs until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside.


Mix together garlic, salt, pepper, red pepper, oil, and lemon juice. Adjust seasonings to your taste and

mix well.


Toss kale with bread crumbs and dressing to coat. Allow to marinate for about 5 minutes before serving.


Quinoa and Sweet Potato Croquettes

These are great on a buffet. They hold really well at room temperature and they’re unique, delicious and different, so they can be a real conversation starter.


Makes About 6 Servings


Black Bean Salsa

½ red onion, cut into small dice

2 plum tomatoes, seeded, cut into small dice

1 small jalapeño chili, finely minced

1 clove fresh garlic, finely minced

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup cooked or canned black beans

3 green onions, finely minced

1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil


Quinoa and Sweet Potato Croquettes

2 cups spring or filtered water

1 small sweet potato, peeled, diced

1 cup quinoa, rinsed very well

Sea salt

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

3 green onions, finely diced

4 sprigs parsley, minced

1 jalapeño chili, seeded, finely minced

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon dried oregano

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

½ cup pureed silken tofu

3 tablespoons grated vegan mozzarella cheese substitute

Avocado or sunflower oil, for frying

Whole wheat bread crumbs


Make the salsa: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix well, cover and set aside for flavors to develop.


Make the croquettes: Bring water to a boil and add sweet potato and quinoa. Add a pinch of salt; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until quinoa has absorbed the water and has opened, about 20 minutes.


While the quinoa cooks, place olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, parsley, chili, cumin, oregano and garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a mixing bowl.


Mash cooked sweet potato and quinoa together with a fork to break up the sweet potato. Fold in scallion mixture, tofu and cheese alternative. Mix very well. Form quinoa mixture into 2-inch patties.


Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat, turning the skillet so that the oils coats the surface. Dredge croquettes in bread crumbs to coat. Fry until golden on each side, turning once to ensure even browning, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a platter and spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons salsa on top of each croquette.