A Gluten-Free Holiday Table

My family's holiday traditions are simple but consistent: Wake up Christmas morning, drink lots of coffee, eat a good breakfast, and wish each other happy happy. If the weather is nice, we postpone the present opening and pile into the car to head directly to the beach for a walk — a sunny December day along the Northern California coast is something to celebrate. Later, we cook a delicious dinner and sit around the table with a fire glowing in the fireplace nearby.

Simple, yes, but in these waning days of 2012 there is infinite comfort in the familiar. There are the redwoods still standing tall in the backyard; there is my ritual cup of hot chocolate (the only time I drink it); there is my brother yawning and grinning; there are big bowls of citrus fruit; and there are the neighbor's cats creeping over the doorstep.

And there is, inevitably, the discussion about what to cook for the holiday meal.

A few caveats: I don't eat meat, my dad hews to a low-cholesterol diet, my sister-in-law avoids gluten. My brother is generally happy with most things, as long as the meal involves a lot of vegetables and perhaps lamb. My mom and my husband have very few food aversions. Fortunately, despite our specific needs, we are a fairly easygoing bunch as long as the white wine is cold and there's some sort of decadent dessert following dinner.

Still, it requires some forethought. To that end, the vegetarian entree is often marinated and sauteed portobello mushroom "steaks," or a rich and creamy risotto. Potatoes may be roasted with olive oil instead of mashed with butter in a nod to a healthier lifestyle. And with just a little bit of extra effort, it's possible to eliminate gluten altogether.

As a vegetarian, I am very conscious of the reality that not everyone can eat everything. When I cook I try to be aware of dietary concerns and needs. I also keep an eye on the health factor. This typically means incorporating lots of seasonal vegetables in high quantities, using whole ingredients and relying on fresh flavors to keep my dishes interesting.

About The Author

Nicole Spiridakis lives in San Francisco and writes about food, travel and her native state on her blog, cucinanicolina.com. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, chow.com and other publications.

Making good use of vegetables and simple ingredients is key to the gluten-free holiday table. In the recipes below, I've attempted to give options for a complete, gluten-free holiday dinner from start to finish, and which I firmly believe will appeal to those who need to avoid gluten as well as those who can tolerate it. Where applicable I've included substitutions for those who also cannot eat dairy.

Pumpkin leek soup served with sage-laced corn muffins starts things off on a satisfyingly seasonal note. Roasted acorn squash stuffed with a wild rice mixture that also includes apples and dried cranberries is a hearty and satisfying — and, dare I argue, quite beautiful — naturally gluten-free and vegan main dish (of course, a more traditional roast also can be cooked without a speck of flour). And a smooth, silky chocolate cream pie with a toasted hazelnut-cocoa crust slips down all too quickly to flourlessly complete the repast.

Dealing with varied dietary restrictions may initially seem daunting and can add yet another complication to this glorious yet hectic season. Don't fret. Keep it simple, keep it fresh, and keep it real.

While my family's holiday traditions may seem distinctly Californian — anchored by that beach trip and clementines that perfume the kitchen — I'd bet that regardless of geography, what we so eagerly anticipate is gathering together to eat and be merry (that and a few presents given and received). It is perhaps the most consistent and enduring holiday tradition.

This year I'm hoping for sun along the Pacific — really the only present I could ask for — and a long evening around the table with my nearest and dearest. Also, that chocolate cream pie. Gluten-free or no, it's the perfect way to toast the season.


Recipe: Sweet Potato Hummus

This is a riff on a hummus I came across years ago on food writer Kim O'Donnel's erstwhile food blog, A Mighty Appetite, for The Washington Post. I dearly love to make it during the holidays. Sweet potatoes stand in for chickpeas in a thick dip that is delicious served with apple slices or gluten-free rice crackers.

Sweet Potato Hummus i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Sweet Potato Hummus
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

Makes 2 cups

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

4 cloves garlic, with skins on

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup tahini

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large piece of tin foil, spread out sweet potato pieces, onion and garlic, and drizzle with the olive oil. Fold up into a packet and place in a baking dish. Roast about 45 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Remove from oven, remove skins from garlic cloves, and place it all in a food processor.

Process the vegetables until smooth. Add tahini, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and process until a smooth paste forms. Taste for salt and add more if needed. If hummus is too thick, add a bit more lemon juice or a splash of warm water.


Recipe: Pumpkin-Leek Soup With Coconut Milk

If you prefer butternut squash, swap a large squash for the pumpkin. It will taste equally as lovely with the coconut milk.

Pumpkin-Leek Soup With Coconut Milk i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Pumpkin-Leek Soup With Coconut Milk
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

Makes 6 servings

1 medium-sized sugar pumpkin, or two small sugar pumpkins

4 leeks, thinly sliced (white part only), with green stems discarded

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium-sized yellow onion, chopped

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon cumin

5 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 to 1/2 cup coconut milk

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds. Place cut side down on a baking sheet. Add three of the sliced leeks and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until pumpkin is tender. Remove from oven and let cool, then scoop out pumpkin flesh with a spoon.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Saute remaining leek and chopped yellow onion over medium heat about 5 minutes, until soft. Add cumin and white wine, and stir to combine.

Add roasted leeks, pumpkin, broth, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer and cook about 10 minutes. With an immersion blender or in a food processor, puree the soup until it is very smooth. Just before serving, stir in the coconut milk to taste.


Recipe: Corn Muffins With Sage And Corn

These muffins pair beautifully with the pumpkin-leek soup, but the recipe also can be baked in a loaf pan and crumbled up to use in a cornbread dressing if you are roasting a bird and need a gluten-free stuffing option. (Note: to make dairy-free, swap soy milk for buttermilk and vegetable oil for butter.)

Corn Muffins With Sage And Corn i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Corn Muffins With Sage And Corn
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

Makes 1 dozen muffins

2 cups cornmeal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup honey

1 cup fresh or frozen corn

1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners.

Combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk melted butter, egg, buttermilk and honey, and add to dry ingredients. Mix just until combined. Stir in corn and sage.

Pour into muffin tin and fill cups evenly. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.


Recipe: Acorn Squash Stuffed With Wild Rice And Apples

Chopped apples are a lovely seasonal surprise in this dish that is both gluten-free and vegan. Serve this as your vegetarian entree, or alongside a meaty main dish.

Acorn Squash Stuffed With Wild Rice And Apples i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Acorn Squash Stuffed With Wild Rice And Apples
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

Makes 4 servings

2 medium acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds each), halved lengthwise and seeds removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

2 medium shallots, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

1 rib celery, diced

1 large apple, such as Fuji, peeled, cored and finely chopped

1 tablespoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 1/2 cups cooked wild rice

1/4 cup dried cranberries, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Place squash cut side up on a baking sheet, brush 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the tops and insides of the squash halves, and season with salt and pepper. Roast until just fork tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add onion, shallots, carrot, celery and apple. Season with salt and pepper and stir to coat.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 6 minutes. Stir in thyme and rosemary and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat and stir in the rice, cranberries and measured salt and pepper.

Divide rice filling among the roasted squash halves (about 1/2 cup for each). Continue roasting until squash is completely fork tender, the edges have started to brown and the filling is heated through, 20 to 25 minutes.


Recipe: Kale-Chard Gratin

Kale-Chard Gratin i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Kale-Chard Gratin
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

This gratin could hardly be easier to make: steam greens, add a sauteed onion and a little milk and herbs, and bake. The result is something I don't just save for the holidays — it's too good not to eat all winter long. (Note: To make dairy-free, omit cheese and swap soy or nut milk for whole milk.)

Makes 6 servings

1 bunch chard, roughly chopped with bottom stems discarded

1 bunch kale, roughly chopped with bottom stems discarded

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 to 3/4 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup (or less) Parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add chard and kale and cook 5 to 10 minutes, until tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add the onion. Saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the greens and cook about 2 more minutes. Sprinkle the cornstarch onto the vegetables and stir to combine. Add 1/2 cup milk. You want the chard to be wet but not floating in liquid — add more milk if it's too dry. Stir and cook a few more minutes. Add thyme, salt and pepper, and stir to incorporate.

Butter a large baking pan and pour in the chard mixture. Evenly sprinkle the Parmesan cheese, if using, across the top. Bake 30 minutes, remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.


Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Greek Yogurt-Lemon Sauce

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Greek Yogurt-Lemon Sauce i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Greek Yogurt-Lemon Sauce
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

I was inspired to make this dish after having a wonderful plate of roasted Brussels sprouts at the Washington, D.C., restaurant Zaytinya last month. Roasting the sprouts brings out a bit of sweetness that is nicely balanced by the tart lemon and yogurt sauce. Sometimes I also roast a head of cauliflower and add it to the mix as well. (Note: To make dairy-free, try making the sauce with tahini instead of yogurt.)

Makes 4 servings

3/4 pound to 1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and cut in half

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 medium-sized red onion, thinly sliced

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Spread Brussels sprouts in a large baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Cook until tender, about 25 minutes

Meanwhile, whisk together Greek yogurt, dill, lemon juice and salt. When sprouts are done, remove from oven and place in a bowl. Mix in the yogurt sauce and toss to coat the sprouts evenly. Add the onion, and stir gently to incorporate. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Recipe: Chocolate Cream Pie

Chocolate Cream Pie i i
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR
Chocolate Cream Pie
Nicole Spiridakis for NPR

I often make a chocolate cream pie for holiday gatherings because it seems just the right amount of decadence to properly celebrate the season. Here, I've come up with a slightly crumbly hazelnut-cocoa crust that is suitably gluten-free as well as utterly addictive.

Makes 10 servings

Crust

2 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tablespoons butter, melted

Filling

2/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 large egg yolks

3 cups whole milk

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

For crust, in a food processor, process hazelnuts, sugar and cocoa powder until fine. Place in a bowl and add melted butter. Press onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until slightly crisp, about 25 minutes, and cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a 3-quart heavy saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, salt and yolks until combined well. Add milk in a stream, whisking. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, whisking, then reduce heat and simmer, whisking, 1 minute (filling will be thick).

Force filling through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, then whisk in chocolate, butter and vanilla. Cover surface of filling with a buttered round of wax paper and cool completely, about 2 hours.

Spoon filling into crust and chill pie, loosely covered, at least 6 hours before serving.

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