Season’s Eatings: Updating Your Holiday Menu

by Samantha Suarez | photography by David Specht

When it comes to holiday meals, you already know the drill: Honey-baked ham, turkey drowned in gravy to mask its inherent dryness, cranberries, mashed potatoes, a little green bean casserole, and most likely apple pie for dessert. While these traditions are great and can undoubtedly be well-made, sometimes it’s nice to switch things up.

Maybe you decided to go vegetarian or gluten-free. Maybe you’re tired of the same old thing every year. Or maybe you’ve just never been a fan of turkey and stuffing. If a new and healthy alternative holiday menu appeals to you in some way, we’ve got you covered. Don’t worry: the spirit of these holiday dishes will remain intact. Besides, isn’t the important thing this time of year for family to be together? As they say, the foodie family that experiments together stays together.

“Instead of the traditional American meal, we’ll have a feast from another country. We do some research as a family on what sounds cool and what they eat during the holidays and do that instead.” — Chef Jenna Arcidiacono

For Chef Jenna Arcidiacono of homestyle Italian restaurant Amore Tattoria Italiana, holiday feasts at home are anything but conventional.

“We have a new tradition where we choose a theme. Last year we did Korean food for Christmas!” she expressed. “Instead of the traditional American meal, we’ll have a feast from another country. We do some research as a family on what sounds cool and what they eat during the holidays and do that instead.”

Chef Aaron Van Timmeren of modern French and Italian restaurant Bistro Bella Vita had more traditional holidays growing up, but that didn’t stop him from urging his family towards something different as an adult.

“The meals were kind of mediocre, but it was more about getting together,” he said. “I remember one year when I was just out of culinary school, I was excited and wanted to make Thanksgiving. I cooked for about 25 people and felt really good about it. We did braised pork shanks, figs, stuffed quail, roast duck, and a couple of other things. It was definitely different than the usual dry turkey, ham, canned cranberries,
and yams.”

If you’re ready to toss aside that baked ham and green bean casserole, we’re here to share some chef-approved alternatives that will help you think outside the turkey box. From vegetarian or gluten-free, to more international elements, you may have a new holiday tradition in the works, and you won’t have to feel like a calorie Grinch to enjoy it!


Vadouvan Butternut Squash

recipe by Chef Aaron Van Timmeren | serves 8

2 large butternut squash, peeled and cut medium dice.

For Vadouvan

2 tablespoons turmeric
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon fenugreek
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon chopped shallot

In a large pot place 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat to a light smoke of the oil. Sauté squash in said large pot, letting squash caramelize. Add vadouvan spice and continue to cook squash until soft, stirring frequently. Season with salt to taste.

“Vadouvan is sort of a French-style curry,” Chef Van Timmeren explained. “The butter and sugar thing tastes good, but it’s kind of one-dimensional because it’s just sweet. It’s like dessert before dessert. This recipe has a more savory element, but still some additional sweetness there too. It’s almost like a warm salad that has more dimension to it than a giant sugar bomb.”

Speck and Mele Salad with Fig Balsamic Dressing

recipe by Chef Jenna Arcidiacono

Mixed greens
Smoked blue cheese
Salted pistachios
Fuji apples
Smoked prosciutto

For the dressing:

7 oz bag of dried figs (pick top stem off)
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Put figs and balsamic vinegar into a blender until smooth, add olive oil. Toss with mixed greens, smoked Blue cheese, salted pistachios, Fuji apples and smoked prosciutto.

Chef Jenna has been a vegetarian for more than 25 years, so naturally, her pick was veggie-centric. “Figs are something very Italian, especially during the holidays,” she explained. “Instead of using them in a traditional dessert, it’ll be cool to switch it up and make a low-fat salad with great ingredients!”


Sam was born in Chicago, grew up in the Philippines, attended college in Australia and is now living in Grand Rapids. She loves cheese, video games and music, and will quote a movie or TV show every chance she gets.


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