From cranberries to peppermint, holiday food is about the experience and the memories as much as the taste. During the Christmas season, you might choose to just relax and enjoy the traditional treats you remember loving – and that’s fine. But some people really need a Paleo option: they have Celiac, or they’re healing from an autoimmune disease, or for whatever other reason they know that “cheating” will have disastrous consequences.
For those people, and for the people who simply decide that the health consequences aren’t worth it, here’s a guide to enjoying all those holiday flavors as ingredients in Paleo recipes that aren’t pretending to be anything else. This is not a list of “Paleo cookies” and “Paleo fruitcakes;” it’s a way to take the base flavors and adapt them to a recipe that’s delicious in its own right. Scroll down for the full article, or go straight to whatever it is you’re hankering for:
- Christmas spice
- Something pretty (because after an hour or so on Pinterest, who isn’t?)
Christmas spice won’t win any contests with jerk chicken for sheer eye-stinging oomph, but there’s a subtle heat and an undeniable zing beneath the sweetness of a gingerbread cookie. The good news is that most of that flavor is just from ordinary spices – and the spices themselves are perfectly Paleo-friendly, so you have all kinds of options for incorporating them into your own cooking.
The seasonings that most people strongly associate with Christmas are:
- Cinnamon (warm and a little bit sweet all the way down)
- Ginger (background warmth with just a hint of tingle)
- Nutmeg (the spice that gives eggnog its distinctive flavor: deep and earthy, but still warm)
- Cloves (aromatic and flavorful, but a little stronger than cinnamon)
- Allspice (tastes almost like a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg)
- Anise (has a bit of a bite; it tastes almost like licorice)
These spices are usually used in cakes, cookies, and other sugary foods to complement the sweetness so it’s a little more sophisticated and less overwhelming. So let’s take a look at the way these spices (all of which are completely Paleo) could fit into Paleo recipes:
Add them to Sweet Potatoes or Squash
Sweet potatoes with cinnamon is a classic. But there’s really no reason to stop there. Why not try mashed sweet potatoes with your favorite combination of “cookie spices,” like a cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg blend? Or simply toss them in spices and coconut oil and roast them. And don’t forget about winter squash, either. Some ideas:
- Here’s a recipe for acorn squash with nutmeg.
- Butternut squash roasted with ginger is perfect as a side, or pureed into soup.
- All kinds of squash are also good roasted with anise, especially if you’re liberal with the butter.
Cook them with Fruit
The most basic way to do this is to pick your fruit (apples or pears work well; bananas would also be good), slice it, sprinkle the slices with your favorite holiday spice blend, and then roast in the oven until tender. If you want to get a little more involved, these apple cinnamon fruit rolls are perfect for gifting and just the right balance of sweet and tart.
Bake them into Pancakes
You can make an ultra-quick Paleo pancake recipe with two ingredients: 1 banana and 1 egg. Mash them together (it helps to have a very ripe banana), and cook like a regular pancake. But this basic recipe is ideal for livening up with all kinds of spices, seasonings, and mix-ins. You could make pumpkin spice pancakes, gingerbread pancakes, sea salt and nutmeg pancakes…once you start considering fruit or chopped nuts as add-ins, there’s no limit to the spicy masterpieces you can create.
Bonus Baking Tip: if you’re roasting or baking anything with cinnamon, add just a pinch of salt as well – you’ll be amazed at the flavor boost!
They’re perky and festive threaded onto garlands and strung around the house, but they’re also delicious cooked into your favorite recipes – and cranberries are actually very healthy as well, with especially high levels of Vitamin C to keep those winter colds at bay.
To enjoy these tasty little treats in Paleo-friendly style, try adding them to meat – like this cranberry-stuffed pork loin. Or toss them into a salad (check out steak salad with cranberries). Alternately, serve up this cranberry relish (which even your vegan guests can enjoy), and let everyone at the table decide for themselves how to enjoy it. If you’re really hankering for something sweet and tart, what about a slice of chocolate cranberry pie?
Mint is an herb that gets paired so often with candy and chocolate because (like the traditional Christmas spices) it helps “cut” the sweet taste to make it a little less overwhelming. But like spices and cocoa powder, there’s nothing wrong with the mint itself, leaving you with plenty of Paleo choices.
If your mouth is watering at the candy canes or peppermints all around you, why not try some peppermint whipped cream with coconut milk? Refrigerate a can of full-fat coconut milk until the fat rises to the top, skim off the cream, and whip it as you would whip regular cream. Then just add a few drops of peppermint (or vanilla) extract, and serve plain or atop a pile of strawberries.
Another option is to forget about sweets altogether, and enjoy your mint in a savory dish instead:
- Cauliflower with mint and pomegranate: it even has the red/white/green color combination going on.
- Fish fillets with mint and pepper salsa: another red, white, and green recipe to grace the holiday table.
- Mint pesto: make a batch of pesto, except instead of basil leaves, use mint. This goes perfectly with lamb, goose, duck, or other rich and fatty meats.
Yet another alternative is to brew yourself up a big pot of peppermint (or spearmint) tea. Some companies even make special Christmas-themed peppermint teas (but watch out for hidden sweeteners!). Peppermint is such an incredibly versatile herb that there really should be no trouble in coming up with a Paleo way to enjoy it.
Not technically a taste, but if you’ve ever spent any time sighing over beautifully-arranged cupcakes and cookies on Pinterest, you know the allure of food that you just can’t stop looking at. Sometimes it seems like that’s half the point of conventional baking: the actual eating of the cupcakes is often an anticlimax.
In any case, Paleo food is full of proof that you don’t need sugar and food coloring to cook up something that’s gorgeous to look at. What about…
- Beet and Tomato Soup deep, rich red, with just a swirl of snow-white coconut milk. It’s almost like a candy cane in soup form.
- Veal stuffed bell peppers: make them with red and green peppers, and you’ll have a two-tone holiday color scheme ready to serve.
- Herb and prosciutto stuffed steak: just look at that swirl of red, white, and green inside the meat.
- Egg and pesto-stuffed tomatoes: red, white, and green again, with a golden yellow yolk in the center.
- Pomegranates: pomegranates have the best holiday color, and the seeds are versatile enough to sprinkle on everything from salad to ice cream.
Now go Cook Something!
Hopefully this big list of holiday-flavored Paleo recipes has got your mouth watering for something that’s not only delicious, but healthy as well. It can be really hard to feel like you’re missing out on a taste you remember so strongly from years past, but instead of spending all the time and energy to make “almond flour ________ cookies,” why not find a way to integrate that taste into your diet in a different way? It helps avoid many of the problems with eating too many “Paleo desserts,” and it helps keep the menu fresh and exciting. Who knows: if you share some with a friend, your variation might even become the new classic!