Eat Well & Be Merry: 4 Festive & Healthy Recipes

Find the perfect healthy holiday recipe

Most of us eat "well" during the holidays, but many of us don't eat "healthy." It's hard with so much in-your-face temptation. Holiday parties, sweets at every turn, and big holiday meals leave us desperate to reverse the damage come New Years Day. So this holiday season, instead of feeling guilty with every bite you eat, try my nutritious alternatives to less-healthy traditional holiday fare. These recipes showcase great seasonal fruits like pomegranate, persimmon, and tangerine, kick butter to the curb, and give white flour and sugar the old heave-ho! Best of all, they'll leave you feeling good come the new year, and are delicious and festive enough to serve to Mr. Claus himself!

Try all four recipes:

Instead of Baked Ham, try:
Pork Tenderloin with Persimmon Goji Berry Sauce

Instead of Butter Cookies, try:
Chewy Spelt Flour Gingerbread Cookies

Instead of Egg Nog, try:
Hot Mulled Pomegranate Juice

Instead of traditional Panettone, or bagels, or danish, try:
Mini Whole Grain Panettones

Pork Tenderloin with Persimmon Goji Berry Sauce

Persimmons might just be the most wonderful fruit you'll ever eat. Particularly the smaller, firmer Fuyu persimmons, which can be eaten with the skin on, just like an apple. They're only in season from October thru December, so snatch them up while they're around! Dried Himalayan Goji Berries are available year round and are being touted as THE new super food. Whether or not they really live up to their nutritional "godliness" almost doesn't matter, because they taste so darn good. They have a wonderful smoky flavor, just sweet enough without being cloying. Swapping out organic pork loin for ham this holiday season will help you avoid unnecessary fat, salt, and nitrites. The following recipe serves four, so double or triple the recipe as needed if making for a larger holiday dinner or party buffet.

For Persimmon Goji Berry Sauce:

2 Tbsp. Spectrum organic high heat sunflower oil (or olive oil)
2 Tbsp. minced shallots
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 cups low salt chicken broth (Kitchen Basics)
1/3 cup Goji berries
2 Tbsp. light agave nectar (Madhava)(or honey)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt 
1/2 tsp. ground chipotle chili pepper (reduce to 1/4 tsp. if you like it very mild)
2 Fuyu persimmons (also called Kaki persimmon or Kaki fruit. These are the smaller flatter persimmons, not the large acorn shaped ones. Fuyu are non-astringent, and much easier to use, due to their adaptability. They can be cooked or eaten at various stages of ripeness, as opposed to the Hachiya which must be completely ripened to the consistency of very soft jelly before being edible, otherwise the tannins make them inedible. Fuyu are grown plentifully in the US in CA, and should be easy to find during persimmon season, October thru December. If you can only find Hachiya, they must be completely ripe before use)

For Pork Tenderloin:
2 Tbsp. Spectrum organic high heat sunflower oil (or olive oil)
2 pork tenderloins, about 3/4 lbs each (total 1 1/2 lbs)
kosher salt

Heat 2 Tbsp. sunflower oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and ginger, and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add all other ingredients except the persimmon. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Peel persimmons by slicing four slits from top to stem, and peeling back. Or cut off stem, slice persimmon in half, and scoop out flesh. Chop it roughly. Add persimmon to pan and cook 10 minutes more. Puree in food processor until smooth.

Heat 2 Tbsp. sunflower oil over high heat until it's starting to shimmer, reduce heat to medium, sprinkle pork tenderloins with salt and pepper, add to pan. Cook 10 minutes, flip, and cook 10 minutes more. Insert meat thermometer into center of tenderloin on a diagonal. It's done when the thermometer reaches 145 degrees. Remove tenderloins to a plate, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest 5-10 minutes. Cut slices on the diagonal. Plate and drizzle with warm sauce. Serves 4.

Chewy Spelt Flour Gingerbread Cookies

Many bakers swear you can't do justice to a Christmas cookie without good old fashioned butter. Not so, I cry! It is possible to bake with alternatives to butter, and still have great texture and flavor. These chewy delicious gingerbread cookies are the proof in the pudding. They contain half the fat of most traditional gingerbread recipes, have no cholesterol, swap out healthy sweeteners like agave nectar for most of the sugar, and are made with whole grain spelt flour which provides fiber and protein. They are also vegan. But do they sacrifice on flavor? NO WAY. My five year old son said, "They're even better than good, they're great!", and he's a sweet snob. 

3 cups whole grain spelt flour (Arrowhead Mills)

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup no-trans-fat tub margarine, cut into about 8 pieces (I recommend Earth Balance SOY GARDEN "Buttery Spread", which is vegan, made with non-GMO soybeans, and is non-hydrogenated)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (Santa Cruz)
1/2 cup light agave nectar (Madhava)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp. molasses
currants, raisins, chocolate chips, sparkling sugar, etc. to decorate with

I learned the following time-saver rolled cookie technique from "Cook's Illustrated". Rolling out the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and then chilling it in the freezer for 20 minutes will save you the usual step of waiting several hours for the dough to stiffen in the fridge, to then be rolled.

In the bowl of a standing mixer combine the spelt flour, brown sugar, baking soda, kosher salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Mix on low about 30 seconds until combined. Stop mixer, add pieces of margarine and the applesauce, then mix on low about 1 1/2 minutes until the consistency of a fine meal. With mixer still running, add agave nectar and molasses, mixing until thoroughly combined about 20 more seconds. (If you don't have a standing mixer, use a food processor, adding ingredients as instructed, and process about 10 seconds between each step).

Lay out two large sheets of parchment paper on your work surface. Using a rubber spatula, divide the dough evenly between the two sheets. Cover each with another large sheet of parchment paper and roll out with a rolling pin to a 1/4-inch thick. Transfer the dough in the parchment paper to the freezer, and chill until firm, at least 20 minutes (you'll want to clear a couple of racks, or chill the dough on trays).

Place oven racks in upper and lower third of oven, and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie trays with parchment paper.

Remove one sheet of dough from the freezer, place on work surface. Peel back top sheet of parchment paper, then replace it. Flip, and peel off the other sheet of parchment paper, discard it. Cut dough into 5-inch gingerbread people, or use 3-inch cookie cutters in shapes like stars. Transfer shapes to cookie tray using a wide metal spatula, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Another way to transfer them is to cut out all the shapes, remove the surrounding scraps, then flip the piece of parchment paper onto the cookie tray and peel back. Set scraps aside.

Repeat process with remaining dough, and decorate cookies with currents, chocolate chips, colorful sparkling sugar, or anything else you fancy. Cook 10-11 minutes, rotating trays after first 5 minutes and switching trays between top and bottom racks. Cookies are done once they have set in the center. Do not overbake. Remove from oven, let cool a couple minutes on cookie trays, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling. Gather scraps, roll out between two new sheets of parchment, and repeat process. You may wish to chill the remaining dough again before cutting. Makes about 18 5-inch gingerbread people, more if you use 3-inch shapes.

NOTE: You may also make these into tree ornaments. To do so, roll the dough 1/8-inch thick, bake at 325 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden brown, remove and immediately use the end of a straw to punch a hole in the top.

Hot Mulled Pomegranate Juice

For your next holiday party, try making this warming, spiced holiday treat. It's sweetened with light agave nectar which is low on the glycemic index, is fat-free, and is made with antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice which is thought to lower cholesterol levels (Santa's gotta love that!).

4 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice (R.W. Knudsen)
8 cups unsweetened organic apple juice (R.W. Knudsen)
1/2 cup light agave nectar (Madhava) (or honey)
2 vanilla beans (or 2 Tbsp. vanilla extract)
12 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 1-inch thick strips tangerine rind, cut lengthwise
2 1-inch thick strips lemon rind, cut lengthwise
1 spice bag (Regency Spice Bags)

Combine pomegranate juice, apple juice, and agave nectar in a pan over medium heat. Split vanilla beans down the center lengthwise and scrape out seeds inside with a knife. Add seeds to pan and whisk in (or add vanilla extract). Put cloves, cinnamon sticks, tangerine rind, and lemon rind in a spice bag (or wrap in cheese cloth and tie with butchers twine). Add to pot. Simmer over medium-low heat 1 hour. Serves 8-10.

Mini Whole Grain Panettones

Panettone is a traditional Italian sweet bread eaten at Christmas for breakfast or dessert. I grew up eating it every year on Christmas morning. It's usually made with white flour, white sugar, and butter, but I created these mini versions with whole grain spelt flour, raw turbinado sugar, and canola oil, for a fantastic healthy version that tastes and smells like heaven. As a bonus, they're mini, so everyone gets their own little cake!

1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup Triple Sec, or Grand Marnier, or orange juice
2 1/4 oz. pkgs. dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup turbinado sugar
1/2 cup canola oil (Spectrum)
1/2 cup soy milk
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
5 1/2 to 6 cups whole grain spelt flour (Arrowhead Mills)
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. water

Put currants in a bowl with Triple Sec to reconstitute them. Set aside. Dissolve yeast in warm water and add 1 tsp. of the turbinado sugar. Let stand until it becomes frothy, about 5 minutes. In a medium bowl, combine canola oil, turbinado sugar, soy milk, eggs, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and salt. Mix well. Stir in the yeast mixture and set aside. Measure 5 1/2 cups spelt flour into a large bowl. Add the liquid mixture and stir well. Lift the currents out of their soaking liquid and add to dough. Add pine nuts. Turn dough out onto well floured surface and knead until smooth, 5-10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary. Place dough in a well oiled bowl, turning to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size. (I put it in the oven with the heat turned off). Line a muffin pan with 8 liners. Punch dough back down, and divide into 8 balls. Put balls into liners in muffin pan, cover with a dry tea towel, and let rest 30 minutes more. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk egg white with 1 Tbsp. water. Brush panettones with the egg white/water mixture. Bake 25-30 minutes, rotating pan once in oven. Panetonnes are done when golden brown on top and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pan and let cool on wire rack. Makes 8 mini panettones.

Related Articles: 

Healthy Holiday Party Food: 10 Tips + 3 Recipes

Vegan Recipes for Fall

Harvest Recipes Across the U.S.

12 Ways to Just Say "No" to Holiday Weight Gain


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