The holidays are all about being indulgent—endless feasting, shopping and time with your favorite people. It's also a time when rules are broken and health goals become afterthoughts until the New Year.
But the good news is you can still treat yourself to delicious eats and incorporate more veggies in your life—and that's whether you're a devout vegan, considering becoming one, or just trying to fit into your skinny jeans. For help, we're looking to the expert: Bay Area chef and Instagram food darling Marie Reginato, whose plant- and seafood-based recipes have been featured everywhere from MindBodyGreen to Food52.
Reginato swears by hearty veggie-laden dishes—think pumpkin curry, stews, one-pot pastas and grain bowls—that "do a phenomenal job at keeping you energized and full throughout the day." Her new cookbook, Alternative Vegan, shatters the notion that eating has to be a binary choice and that food and diet is not one-size-fits-all.
"This book gives you the wiggle room to stick to a healthy lifestyle long term," Reginato says. "It makes plant-based cooking more accessible with two sections dedicated to incorporating seafood and eggs into your diet whenever you'd like."
The book is chock-full of mouthwatering recipes that will also do the work of impressing your friends and fam during holiday meals. Check out five irresistible side dishes plus a snack for the road, as well a few tips from Reginato on how to stay healthy this season.
Caramelized Fennel and Dill Polenta Cakes
(Photography by Marie Reginato)
Makes 4 slices. Vegan and gluten-free.
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, divided
- 1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and sliced
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) maple syrup
- 2 tsp (2 g) green onions, chopped into thin rings
- 2 tsp (2 g) dill, chopped
- 4 (1⁄2" [13-mm]-thick) slices of precooked polenta roll
- 2 tbsp (15 g) any flour (use brown rice flour as a gluten-free option), reserved for the polenta
In a medium-sized sauté pan on medium-high heat, warm half of the olive oil for 1 minute. Add in the fennel slices and a pinch of sea salt, and sauté for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the fennel is tender but still crisp. Remove from the heat and add in the maple syrup, green onions and dill. Mix well.
Remove the fennel mixture and set aside while you add in the remaining olive oil to the sauté pan. As the oil warms on medium-high heat, lightly press the polenta into the flour, so that it coats each side. This will prevent the polenta from sticking when cooking in the oil. Now sauté the polenta slices for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until they're crisp and slightly golden brown. Remove from the sauté pan and pat the polenta with a paper towel to remove any excess olive oil.
Top each polenta cake with the sweet fennel mixture.
7x7: As people are traveling for the holidays and prone to catching colds, what are some good ingredients to help boost immune systems?
MR: I'd say start with an immune-boosting morning tonic, which sounds fancy but, in reality, we're just mixing pantry staples to create a delicious yet nutritionally dense drink. To make the tonic simply mix 1/2 cup hot water, 1/3 cup warm nut milk, ½ tsp. turmeric, dash of cinnamon, a crack of black pepper and a spoonful of honey. It's absolutely delicious and nonetheless a great way to start your day.
7x7: What are your favorite spices or condiments to jazz up healthy holiday meals?
MR: Caramelized medjool dates in savory recipes work every time. Roast up some rosemary-honeyed carrots and throw in a few dates for crispy bites of caramelized sweetness. This is one of my favorite dishes to serve to friends who might not be sold on the plant-based eating experience. It's a food rainbow, highlighting how delicious a plate full of veggies can taste when roasted with an array of fresh herbs.