Oh Christmas. Although I believe it’s not as big a holiday in The Netherlands as it is in many other countries (because we celebrate ‘Sinterklaas’ on December 5th), it is still my favourite. I love the vibe, the colours, the decoration, and let’s face it: the food.
I usually start planning our Christmas dinner around October. My brother is an excellent cook, but often has to work during Christmas, or is simply too busy to prepare a three course meal for everyone. My dad isn’t much of a cook (sorry dad!), nor are my grandparents, and so I have since years taken it upon myself to ensure we eat well at Christmas.
Now, I’m a bit of a disaster when it comes to choosing recipes. If you ask me to bake you an apple pie, I will go through 25+ recipes, narrow it down to three, find another ten, narrow it down to four, and then ask you which sounds best. And then probably pick a different one. It’s driven more than one of my friends over the edge. Sorry guys. Anyway. You see the importance of me starting my research in October at the latest.
This year I’m leaning towards duck (don’t worry, I’ll share my best duck recipe finds soon!), but in previous years I’ve frequently gone for something a little healthier (I was going to say lighter, but I’m not quite sure that’d be an accurate description..). For many, Christmas symbolises that period during which you can’t possibly not maintain balance, but that really does not have to be the case. And you also don’t have to skip on flavour, exciting dishes, full spreads, or the general Christmas feeling to do so. So, here are some recipes I’ve either made or considered over the past years, as well as some ideas for lightened up side dishes!
Whoa, I’m sorry, am I being terribly unimaginative here? Well, maybe, but fact is: turkey is an incredible lean meat, and paired with the right side dishes makes for a wonderful Christmas dinner. You could also sub turkey with a different bird (quail for example is just lovely). I have paired it with homemade cranberry sauce (the classic), roast pumpkin, celeriac-parsnip puree, and roast brussel sprouts. Thanksgiving much? Yes, maybe. But it still tastes darn fine. And it makes the best leftovers.
If, like me, you don’t have the biggest of families, pork loin could be a great choice. You could make a roulade and stuf it with apricots and couscous for a Moroccan touch, or apples and sage for a more traditional version, or pair it with a pear chutney, or simply some roasted pears and figs.
Stewing beef tends to be reasonably lean, and plenty of game meat is also. A game stew of for example venison, rabbit, and boar is fantastically rich in flavour, but surprisingly light on the nutritional charts.
Fish & Seafood
Alright, this might not be your first thought when considering options for Christmas dinner. But really, why not? Especially in warmer countries, I imagine this would be a fantastic option to change things up a little. Roast a whole fish for an impressive centre piece, or opt for something exciting such as squid or scallops. Or, if you feel particularly confident in the kitchen, create your own mixed seafood platter, featuring for example prawns, tuna, salmon, john dory, lobster, mussels, and maybe even some oysters.
Of course, half the goodness of Christmas dinner comes from the side dishes, but they tend to also be what makes you feel like rolling home rather than walking at the end of the night. Luckily, there’s plenty of ways to lighten them up (which means you can eat more – yay!). Not that I am by any means of the opinion that you should stick to your usual food regimen even over Christmas, but a little mixing and matching of indulgence and sensibility never hurts.
I have been subbing parsnip, celeriac, kohlrabi, and cauliflower for potatoes in mash for years. On weekdays I usually go all veg, but for Christmas I may prefer a 50/50 ratio. You could change it up further by using pumpkin, carrots, or even broccoli if you don’t mind steering away from the traditional mash a little bit.
I tend to serve at least three different types of vegetables for Christmas. Usually something like well-seasoned roast carrots of pumpkin, beans or brussel sprouts, and lastly whatever goes well with that year’s main. Loading up on the vegetables is a great way to give yourself room to go for seconds, without feeling overly full afterwards. And when prepared well, they really are delicious!
There are so many ways to go with salad, and they are a nice, fresh addition to your plate. Making your own vinaigrette or dressing allows you to dose the amounts of oil and mayo that are used. In terms of ingredients, the sky really is the limit. A salad with roast pumpkin, cranberries, a few pecans, and a little goat cheese is one of my Christmas favourites. But also consider bulking up your (bacon-y) brussel sprouts by incorporating them in a salad, or using flavoursome ingredients such as pomegranate, fennel, blue cheese (a little goes a long way!), roasted beets, or beans and asparagus for a lukewarm salad. Or how about a beetroot carpaccio for something a little unexpected?
Make your own sauces, dressings, and condiments
Store-bought sauces are easy, but tend to also be sugar or oil packed. Making your own sauce, chutney, salad dressing, or glaze allows you to get the flavour just right, as well as sub a little of the sugar for stevia, or the mayo for yoghurt if you so wish. Of course, some sauces are just meant to be rich, and creamy or indulgent, in which case..
Out of all of them, I think this may be my most important tip. Christmas is all about enjoying the company and the food in a relaxed setting, without a single worry, least of all the nutritional (caloric) values of that delicious meal. For me, I tend to have a little of everything I love, and then bulk it up with some of the lighter options above. So I’ll splurge on the port sauce, but then fill myself up with roasted carrots rather than buttery mashed potatoes. Also: who really enjoys going home feeling sickly full, stuffed to the brim? Exactly. Leftovers are fantastic for a reason. Why not enjoy a second Christmas dinner the next day? And really enjoy every single bite, rather than trying to fit it all into one evening? Your stomach may just thank you for it ;-).