It's that time of year again, when our diaries start to brim with festive season catch-ups. Getting together to share good food with great friends really is one of the simple pleasures any time of year, especially if you love hosting. However, it doesn't have to be a headache if you want to turn it up a notch to really spoil your loved ones.
Our naturopath Sandra Villella has some great tips for wowing your guests with some stunning platter treats that are not only nutritious and delicious, but easy to prepare. By sticking to fresh, seasonal and colourful produce, you'll not only be celebrating good friends and good times, but also fresh and wholesome food.
Instead of the traditional prosciutto and melon, Sandra suggests this healthier alternative (but not for pregnant women; smoked fish is one of the foods women are advised to avoid during pregnancy).
Take a cube of mango and a sprig of fresh coriander and wrap them in a thick strip of smoked salmon or tuna. Spike with a toothpick as an easy finger food option.
"Salmon and trout are oily fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids," says Sandra. "There is some concern that the nitrates and nitrites – byproducts of the smoking process – may be associated with increased cancer of the stomach, but you can enjoy smoked fish in moderation, with a diet high in fruit and vegetables. Smoked fish is a better option than processed meats and salamis."
This pesto recipe – along with three variations – is in the Jean Hailes Kitchen. And so easy to make!
But what to serve them with? If you really want to impress your guests, try Sandra's new seeded crackers recipe. They're super-easy to make, yet look so pretty on a platter. They're also vegan, gluten-free, grain-free and nut-free.
Sandra's modern take on the popular '70s hors d'oeuvre, 'devils on horseback'
Pitted prunes, spread with a dollop of goat's chevré and topped with a whole almond.
"Prunes are one of my top 5 foods," says Sandra. "They are a good source of fibre, are rich in antioxidant properties, are a source of iron and excellent value."
This vegetable frittata recipe is also from the Jean Hailes Kitchen. But instead of cooking it in a round pan, bake it in a slice tin and cut into fingers. Wheat-free and gluten-free.
A popular and easy Jean Hailes Kitchen creation that's also gluten-free and wheat-free. Recipe here. When cut into smaller squares as finger food, this tasty treat can be served hot or cold.
Follow this popular Jean Hailes recipe, but instead of forming the mixture into large patties, make into bite-sized balls and allow to set in fridge before cooking. Serve them warm, skewered on toothpicks, with the yoghurt dressing, or on toothpicks with cherry tomatoes and coriander salsa (dressing and salsa recipes also in link).
It's always easy to prepare a cheese platter, but make like the Mediterraneans and include a sheep and goat's variety. Try a soft goat's cheese, which is often lower in saturated fat. Dress the cheese platter with fresh fruit in season that hold their colour (ie, that won't go brown) such as strawberries, fresh figs and grapes, and vibrant vegetables such as vine-ripened cherry tomatoes (on their stalks), witlof (great topped with a soft cheese) and olives.
And what to put the cheese on? Choose your Christmas crackers wisely! Some crackers contain hidden unhealthy or unspecified fats. Look for ingredients that you can recognise, or make our seeded crackers recipe.
Nothing says Christmas like a platter of gleaming red cherries. This nutritionally dense fruit, rich in antioxidants, needs no accompaniment. Not only do they taste uniquely delicious, they are high in fibre, potassium and vitamin C, and rich in polyphenols, which are anti-inflammatory. They may help to reduce blood pressure, may help muscles recover from exercise and feed our gut microbiota.
"Cherries as a stand-alone are perfect," says Sandra. "If you need a dipping sauce, buy a raw coconut chocolate butter. If you serve them in fancy ramekins, the ramekins can even be gifts for your guests."
Cut dried figs in half. Fill one half with walnut halves and sprinkle with cinnamon. Top with the other half of the fig. Bake at 160°C for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool. Serve cold.
"My favourite auntie used to make these at Christmas," says Sandra. "They smell wonderful as they're cooking. When I make them at home, I have to hide them from my family so they don't eat them all! The heating changes the texture of the fig, creating a chewy sweetness."
You can do these gluten-free, bite-sized delights plain (as mini Christmas cakes) or top them to make tiny puddings that will look irresistible on a festive platter. They're also perfect for a smaller but still-sweet finish to Christmas lunch or dinner. They're quick, easy and a brand new addition to the Jean Hailes Kitchen.
"These have many of the ingredients of a typical Christmas cake or pudding, blended together to create a raw mouthful of Christmas sweetness, without additional sugar, flour or eggs (or suet of the puddings of old!)," says Sandra.
We brought you this delectable vegan, wheat-free, gluten-free and dairy-free recipe last year as a Christmas gift. Here it is again if you missed it. Tip: you MUST use medjool dates as they're moister and help the balls to hold together.
All of these delicious and nutritious recipes celebrate local seasonal produce. So when you're having friends over, what could be better to celebrate their company than serving them up nourishing treats that show you care about their good health too? Enjoy!