This season can feel like a minefield when you’re trying to keep up with healthy habits. Spiked ‘nog, indulgent holiday appetizers and gingerbread cookies are around every corner. Abnormal schedules take us away from our routines and out of the kitchen. And when the temps hit single digits, those hearty (perhaps not-so-healthy) comfort foods often seem like the only thing that’ll do.
Sometimes it seems like “healthy” and “holidays” barely belong on the same planet, never mind in the same sentence!
This also happens to be a time when many of us start thinking about our goals for the year ahead. Maybe we want to finally run that 5k, cook at home more often or make plants a bigger part of our diet. And when that collides with constant temptation, it can feel like we’re falling on and off the wellness wagon on a daily basis.
But contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. Cleaning up your diet so you can feel great doesn’t have to come at the expense of doing (and eating!) the things you love.
That’s why today’s Test Kitchen Tuesday comes at the perfect time. I’ve got two healthy (and delish!) holiday appetizers to share with you: a Roasted Garlic and Herb Vegan Cheese Ball and an Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade—YUM!
Healthy Holiday Appetizers: 3 Tips for Building a Perfect Platter!
Before we get into the recipes, I’ve got some tips to help you create a balanced, nourishing appetizer board that satisfies your taste buds and doesn’t wreak havoc on your body.
1. Healthy appetizer boards are full of color.
Forget monochrome, sweetheart—you deserve a rainbow! Include oranges, clementines, carrots, roasted red peppers, green olives, fresh herbs, edamame, non-dairy cheeses, berries, kalamata olives, and various nuts and seeds on your board. The more colorful your holiday appetizers are, the better!
2. Mix indulgent with light and healthy.
Healthy holiday appetizers shouldn’t make you feel like you need a nap. So, instead of traditional salty, inflammatory meats and cheeses, opt for animal-free nut cheeses, hummus and other dippable delicacies. Add a mix of steamed, raw and roasted veggies like carrots, green beans, broccoli, peppers and Brussels sprouts. Bring in some sweetness with fresh and dried fruits (just watch out for added sweeteners and preservatives) such as berries, grapes, persimmon, oranges and apples. Top it all off with some whole grain crackers (or try these—made with the leftover pulp from homemade almond milk) for a savory crunch!
3. Include plants in unexpected ways.
Just like smoothies and sauces, dips are a great way to pack a whole lotta veggies into a small, delicious package. Try pairing today’s plant-powered vegan cheese ball and olive tapenade with this Spinach Artichoke Dip (made with 16 oz of spinach!). Keeping the snack board and dips light and full of flavor will help you stay energized all season long.
Now that we’ve covered those helpful tips for building your appetizer board, let’s get to the yummy stuff!
This vegan cheese ball is perfectly creamy and savory—just like the dairy stuff, but much better for your bod (and tastier, if ya ask me!). It’s also really easy to make and will totally impress your guests.
Psst… If you wanna make the olive tapenade, too, find out how to get the recipe below!
Roasted Garlic and Herb Vegan Cheese Ball
Serves 8 | Prep Time: 10 min | Cook Time: 40 min | Rest Time: 6-12 hours
1 1/2 cups cashews, soaked and drained*
1 small head garlic
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp refined coconut oil**
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp white miso
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
Gluten-free crackers and vegetable crudité, for serving
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. To roast garlic, prep head of garlic by peeling off outside papery layers, leaving intact the skins of the individual cloves and the bulb itself. With a sharp paring knife, cut off top 1/4-1/2” of bulb of garlic, exposing the tops of the individual cloves.
2. Place bulb of garlic in a piece of foil and drizzle with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Wrap the foil over the garlic bulb to form a pouch. Place in preheated oven and roast for 40 minutes, or until garlic is soft and slightly golden. Let cool slightly, then pop individual cloves out of papery skins and set aside.
3. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, place soaked and drained cashews. Add all of the roasted garlic cloves, nutritional yeast, coconut oil, rice vinegar, miso, salt and Italian seasoning. Process for 2-3 minutes until creamy and smooth, stopping the machine occasionally to scrape down the sides.
4. Remove cheese mixture from food processor (it should have the consistency of cream cheese) and place in cheesecloth or in a fine mesh nut milk bag. Roughly form into the shape of a ball and place on a small dish. Place in the refrigerator and let set for a minimum of 6 hours, and up to 12 hours.
5. Once mixture is semi-firm to the touch, remove from cheesecloth/nut milk bag and gently invert on a serving platter; reform into a ball with hands, if needed.
6. To make the herb coating, mix fresh parsley and rosemary together on a small, separate dish, and gently roll cheese ball in herbs until evenly coated. Place back on serving platter and surround with gluten free crackers and/or vegetable crudité. Serve immediately.***
*If you have a nut allergy, sunflower seeds are a great substitute for cashews!
**Not so sure about coconut oil? It does contain saturated fat, but it’s important to remember that not all saturated fats are created equal. Coconut oil is unique because the saturated fats don’t tend to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol the same way animal fats do, and coconut oil works to raise HDL (good) cholesterol, which is important in the heart disease risk equation. It’s also a great source of medium chain triglycerides (MCT), which can help our immune system. Coconut oil is high in calories, and a little goes a long way in terms of the benefits, so my nutrition team suggestions consuming it in moderation. We chose the refined version for this recipe because it has a more neutral taste than its unrefined sister.
***Cheese ball will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5-7 days.
I have a feeling that your guests are gonna gobble up your decadent vegan cheese ball—you fabulous chef, you!
Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade
Now, if you want to take your festive holiday appetizer board to the next level, you’ve gotta try this delicious Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade. It’s got the perfect savory kick to balance out your board and it would make a great sandwich spread, too!
Serves 8-10 (makes 1 1/4 cups) | Prep Time: 10 min
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 cup fresh parsley leaves (plus more for serving)
1/4 cup oil packed sun dried tomatoes, drained
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp pine nuts
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus more for serving)
1 Tbsp capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, add all ingredients. Process until all ingredients are combined, and tapenade has a spreadable consistency with a little bit of texture (you don’t want a silky smooth puree, but it shouldn’t be super chunky, either).
2. Season to taste with salt, if needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and chopped parsley. Serve with crostini/baguette slices, gluten-free crackers, and fresh vegetables for dipping.
Tapenade will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
And finally, a very special thanks to our talented Chef Lauren and the rest of the Test Kitchen Tuesday crew for helping to create these spectacular dishes!
Your turn: How do you stay healthy and balanced while still having fun during the holiday season? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below!
Peace and healthy holidays,