Entertaining family and friends is supposed to be fun, but it can also be somewhat stressful. Planning, shopping for, and preparing a big meal can feel like a monumental undertaking. Things can get especially tricky when special dietary accommodations are necessary.
With the holidays approaching, I’m frequently asked what I would cook for a vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten-free guest. Similarly, it’s not unusual to hear of guests with peanut, soy, egg, corn, or seafood allergies—restrictions that can further complicate the menu-planning process.
My extended family is well versed in this area. Among us, we have several vegetarian and gluten-free eaters as well as those with seafood, nut, sesame, and a variety of fruit allergies. If we all came to your house for dinner, you might suggest takeout!
The following salad is on my regular rotation, mostly because I really like it, but also because it’s hearty, healthy, and adheres to most diets. Advance prep options add welcome convenience.
With a combination of roasted vegetables, wild rice, and hearty greens, this dish is more filling than the average tossed salad and stands up well over time. The secret is in the dressing where white balsamic vinegar supplies a subtle yet unique flavor. I usually serve this dish as the single complimentary side to a protein of choice and happily repurpose any leftovers for a convenient lunch over the next few days.
(By the way, the photo above shows a batch I made with brown rice. I’ve made this salad with quinoa, too, although wild rice is my favorite. Last week I actually made a version with yellow lentils and it was quite good. I think I will try that option again!)
The combination of ingredients pairs well with a traditional holiday meal, and would likely be welcomed as a healthy option among the heavier fare. As written, the recipe is vegetarian and gluten-free. Simply omit the cheese and use maple syrup or agave instead of honey for a vegan option. If nuts are a concern, choose the seed option, serve them on the side, or go without.
The easy dressing will add a little something extra to a basic green or slaw-based salad as well, so don’t hesitate to double or triple the recipe. Stored in the refrigerator, it will keep for a week or more and, in addition to the items listed below, will complement add-ins like apples, pears, blue cheese, and roasted squash.
Although this recipe requires chopping and roasting vegetables, cooking a grain, and mixing a dressing, I streamlined the process as much as possible. The veggies have differing cook times, but you can use a single baking sheet, adding the quicker-cooking veggie midway.
The dressing comes together in a minute or two and can be mixed well in advance. The broccoli can be washed and chopped into florets up to a day or two early and refrigerated in a deli bag or airtight container. The rice can be cooked ahead of time, too, as this salad can be enjoyed warm, cold, or room temperature.
I’ve had many requests for plant-based meals recently, and this fits the bill. It’s vegetarian as written and will be vegan with the simple omission of the cheese.
Meat lovers might enjoy stirring in cooked and sliced sausage (turkey, chicken or pork are all fair game) or some crisp, crumbled bacon.
I could eat a big plate of this for dinner with no meat on the side, but the men in my family enjoy a side of protein and an occasional roll or piece of cornbread.
Cooked and sliced sausage adds welcome flavor and oomph for the meat lovers in your crowd.
- 2 sweet potatoes (8-10 ounces each), chopped
- 3 cups bite-size broccoli florets (about 1 medium-large head of broccoli)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 6-7 cups (from about one 8- to 10-ounce bunch) slivered or finely chopped kale leaves (tough stems removed; could substitute a mix of spinach, Swiss chard, or your favorite greens*)
- 2 cups cooked brown or wild rice (from 2/3 cup uncooked; may substitute quinoa or grain of choice**)
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans*** (may use pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds instead)
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta or goat cheese (omit for vegan option)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Place the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar or another container with a tight-fitting lid, and shake well to emulsify. The dressing may be prepared several days in advance and refrigerated. Return to room temperature and shake well before using. (See tip below.)
In a large mixing bowl, toss the chopped sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil until evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. (Tip: If you start with a bowl large enough to toss all of the salad ingredients, you can use one bowl throughout the entire process.) Spread the sweet potatoes in an even layer on a large greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, and then remove from the oven and toss the potatoes for even cooking.
While the sweet potatoes are cooking, add the broccoli to the same mixing bowl and toss with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Once the sweet potatoes have been tossed, gently push them to one side of the baking sheet, and spread the broccoli in an even layer on the other side. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender and cooked through, and the broccoli is crisp-tender. Remove from the oven, and transfer the sweet potatoes and broccoli to a large mixing bowl.
Add the kale, cooked rice, cranberries, pecans, feta, and vinaigrette. Toss to thoroughly combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, or cover and refrigerate for 3-5 days.
- *I like to use kale in this salad because it holds up well for several days as leftovers. Feel free to use your favorite greens. For those who find kale to be too tough or fibrous, try massaging the slivered kale with your fingers for a minute or two. The leaves will turn a darker shade of green and soften in the process.
- **Wild rice is my favorite addition, although I’ve made this salad with quinoa and brown rice. When preparing wild rice according to the package directions, be sure to check on the early side of the specified cooking time—even taking a taste to avoid overcooked rice. Most labels call for 45 minutes, but I find this to be a bit too long.
- ***To easily toast pecans, place them on a dry baking sheet (I often use a cake pan for small amounts), and bake for approximately 5 minutes at 350 degrees F. Bake them just until they become aromatic, watching closely towards to end to avoid burning.
- Tip: If you like a heavy coating of dressing, you may wish to double the recipe. In this case, start by adding half of it to the salad to start, and then add more to taste. When planning on leftovers (or if you go heavy on any of the ingredients), it is nice to have some extra dressing to freshen them, as the rice absorbs moisture over time. Extra dressing will keep for a week or more and tastes great on a variety of green and grain-based salads.