Wild Rice Stuffing, Sage-Roasted Squash, Braised Cabbage, and Rosemary White Beans: a 2022 Holiday Menu

We went from a hot, smoky, and dry October this year to a cold, rainy, (and for a couple hours snowy), November. During a recent day’s of non-stop downpour at 33 degrees, I had one of my last long run’s for my fall training block and returned soaked, frozen, and less enthusiastic about the return of the rain. I normally love the rain.

This last weekend our temperature dropped to 24 degrees. I woke up to a fortunately clear and crisp day to run one of my fastest half marathons (a formal race PR, though around the same time as a solo time trial effort during the pandemic.) Winter and the holiday season is most definitely here.

In northern Washington, where my parent’s now live, that flip of the switch went from summer to a foot+ of snow. We’re taking a long holiday week there this year for Thanksgiving, and are already “enjoying” the beautiful but freezing, powdery snow.

I’ve been asked for holiday recipes of late, and I gave some thought to a simple menu that is nutritionally balanced, easy to digest, tasty, seasonal, and able to prepare without spending hours in the kitchen. At the time I initially prepared this meal, I began cooking after a long work week and for a “quick” evening dinner. That being said, if you’re going to prepare this delicious meal within an hour, there will be some prep and hands-off cooking to do.

As a reminder, I only share recipes on this blog / website semi-seasonally, but do still share recipes in my newsletter. Sign up here to receive more regular recipes and nutrition tips and suggestions.

In whatever way you’re spending the holiday season this year, I hope you are surrounded by those or what you love and reminded of what brings joy to your life.

Savory // recipes below
Wild Rice Stuffing with Rosemary, Hazelnuts + Astragalus
Long-Cooked Creamy White Beans with Rosemary + Thyme
Sage-Roasted Buttercup or Butternut Winter Squash
Holiday Braised Cabbage

Other savory ideas:
Broccoli Rice Bake
Roasted Vegetables with Autumn Roots + Mushrooms
Simple Sourdough Stuffing {Gluten-Free}
Persimmon + Grains with Moroccan Seasoning
For the Joy Salad
Delicata Squash, Rosemary + Cranberry Flatbread
Mushroom, Butternut + Butterbean Stew

Sweet //
Apple Pie with a Fabulous Gluten + Dairy-Free Pastry
Pumpkin Pie
Boysenberry or Blackberry Pie
Holiday Cinnamon Rolls {gluten-free, dairy-free}
Oatmeal Persimmon Hazelnut Cookies
Oat + Almond Chocolate Date Cookies
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Neah’s Apple Loaf Cake
Pumpkin Ginger Bran Muffins

Further Menu Suggestions: If you’d like some other ideas, check out previous holiday recipe and menu’s I’ve shared over the years or check out the Recipe Index in general for even more suggestions!
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Wild Rice Stuffing with Rosemary, Hazelnuts, and Astragalus

Astragalus is an excellent qi tonic in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is warming, drying, and slightly sweet in an earthy, rooty way. Medicinally, it can be useful for conditions which are cold in nature, when your energy is depleted, and if  you are suffering from chronic fatigue. Used over time, it can strengthen and enhance immunity. As an ingredient addition, the amount used here is not medicinal, or at least it’s not medicinal if used as an ingredient only randomly. If you do not have access to it, it’s okay to leave it out. See the notes below for where to source.

Prep:  4-8 hours  | Cook: 1 hour  | Serves: 4

Wild Rice:
1 cup wild rice, ideally soaked in water for 4-8 hours
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
½ Tbs. astragalus root pieces or 2 slices astragalus root (see Notes)
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, destemmed and minced
2 ½ – 3 cups water

Add-Ins:
2-4 Tbs. raisins
2-4 Tbs. dried cranberries
⅓ cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
½ Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. fresh orange zest

  • Drain the soaked wild rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse it briefly. 
  • Then in a medium pot, add the salt, astragalus pieces, and fresh minced rosemary, along with the water and rice. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 45-50 minutes. When it’s done, take off the heat, fluff slightly and leave the top off a little to allow it to cool slightly. 
  • In a serving dish or platter, gently mix together the wild rice, raisins and cranberries, chopped hazelnuts, and balsamic vinegar. With a micro-grater, grate a small amount of fresh orange peel over the top, and then gently mix that in too. You don’t want to overdo the orange – just add an additional lively seasonal topnote to round out the dish. 
  • Serve warm or at room temperature. While this “stuffing” is not used to stuff anything, you can also make it just as written and then use it as actual stuffing if you are making a holiday roast (turkey, etc.) or to stuff and bake a pumpkin, squash or other large vegetable.

Notes: Astragalus root can be purchased in many well-stocked herb or natural food stores in the bulk section, or online from trusted retailers. Mountain Rose Herbs is an excellent source. 

Sage-Roasted Buttercup or Butternut Squash 

A simple and delicious side dish that can be added to any number of fall and winter meals, whether it’s for a feast day meal, or for a simple weeknight. 

Prep:  15 minutes  | Cook: 30 minutes  | Serves: 4-6

1 medium (~1 – 1 ½ lb.) buttercup or butternut squash
¼ tsp. mineral salt
Pinch of black pepper
6-8 fresh sage leaves, minced
2-3 tsp. olive oil
water to cover

  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F, and prep a large baking pan by lining it with parchment paper.
  • Split the squash in half, then take out the seeds. Slice the two halves into medium-long slices, and lay them on the baking pan in a single layer. 
  • Sprinkle over the minced sage, salt, and black pepper. With your hands or a mixing spoon, stir the squash so the seasonings are dispersed. Then add a little water to the bottom of the pan so it comes up to about ¼ – ⅓ of the way up the sides of the squash pieces.
  • Roast in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until the squash is totally soft when pierced with a fork. The water should all be absorbed and baked off. 
  • When the squash comes out of the oven, drizzle over a little olive oil and transfer to a serving platter, or atop the wild rice stuffing. 

Notes:
– Buttercup (shown in the photos) is a different, smaller variety of winter squash than butternut. It is lovely – if you find it at your local market, try it out. The flesh is a little more yellow and slightly less dense than butternut squash.
– Wait to add olive oil until the vegetables have been removed from the oven and are cooked. High quality olive oil is extremely rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals – but they are sensitive to high heat and will turn toxic and inflammatory to the body when oxidized. Think of extra virgin olive oil as an olive smoothie. You wouldn’t roast your green smoothie, would you? 

Creamy White Beans with Rosemary + Thyme

It is very common for many people to not tolerate beans and lentils – either any/all beans and lentils or the types that are larger, thicker-skinned, and more difficult to digest. This is often the case when digestion is compromised. Instead of eliminating these nutrient-packed foods from the diet and decreasing diversity, many people will find they can actually tolerate them when cooked with spices/seasonings that aid in digestion. Adding herbs and spices is beneficial for digestion of most meals. In most cultures, the foundational reason that spices are added is for digestion and absorption first, and for taste as a secondary bonus. These white beans are cooked until creamy and soft; their texture is lovely, flavor delicious, and they are easier to digest too!

Prep:  8+ hours  | Cook: 2 hours  | Serves: 4-5

1 cup dry cannellini, flageolet or similar white beans, soaked for at least 8 hours
½ tsp. mineral salt
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme or about 1 tsp. dried thyme
1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary leaves, finely minced
Pinch of fenugreek seeds
water to cover

  • Add the soaked and drained beans to a medium saucepan along with the salt, herbs, fenugreek, and enough water to cover by a couple inches. Bring to a medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Then turn down to a medium-simmer and partially cover. Cook for about 2 hours, until the beans are soft and beginning to break apart easily on their own, or when lightly pressed. 

Notes: Fenugreek can be found in the bulk spice aisle at many natural food stores, or at Banyan Botanicals or Pure Indian Foods

Holiday Braised Cabbage

Cabbage cooked simply has a subtle natural sweetness that comes through. It rarely looks show-stopping, but as a bitter / extractive vegetable, it’s quite the quiet powerhouse. Use any type of cabbage here, from bright red/purple, crinkly savoy, or your standard green variety.

Prep:  5 minutes  | Cook: 20-30 minutes  | Serves: 4

1-2 tsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. mineral salt
½ tsp. fennel seeds
¼ tsp. black cumin / kalonji / nigella seeds (see note)
1 medium cabbage, thinly sliced
1/2 cup water

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Then add the salt, and seeds and warm until they start to develop an aroma. 
  • Turn up the heat slightly and stir in the sliced cabbage, along with the water. When the water begins to simmer, lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer over low heat for about 20-30 minutes, or until the cabbage is very tender. Check and stir the cabbage a few times while cooking and add a little more water if it begins to dry out or starts to stick. When it’s done cooking, you don’t want any water left in the bottom of the pan, but you don’t want it to be dry either. 
  • Enjoy as a simple, tasty side dish.

Notes:
Black cumin (also called black seed) is warming and an excellent addition for digestion. If you cannot locate it, add a pinch of brown mustard seeds instead.

Making Beans More Digestible – And the Fiber Connection

When it comes to digesting beans and legumes, complaints about not being able to digest them, or suffering with a painful balloon belly is a common concern. 

One of the common reasons for this has to do with your gut microbiome — all those microorganisms that live in the GI tract.

Your digestive system is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria that ideally live in a symbiotic relationship with you. This means you and they both benefit from them being there. Just like you, the microbes need to eat to live and grow, so they obtain nourishment from the food you eat. In the case of beneficial bacteria, they feed on the undigested part of the food, (fiber,) that is passing through your large intestine by fermenting it into short chain fatty acids such as Butyrate. And beans and legumes are rich in fiber. 

When we introduce any food that we haven’t routinely been eating into our diet, what often occurs is a readjustment period at the microbiome level. Think of it like the first day of a new job or school year. There’s going to be some shakeup to the internal routine and homeostasis. This means there might be more uncomfortable symptoms before optimal digestion occurs because the type of bacteria that eat the food you’re eating is growing its population, while die off of the type that no longer has a food source is also happening. 

But if we can make that transition smoother and get to the optimal digestion that occurs when we can tolerate eating beans and other fiber-rich foods, we’re setting ourselves up for increased intestinal health. This is because short chain fatty acids, produced by those beneficial bacteria in the intestine, play an important role in the maintenance of the intestinal barrier. 

Whereas we don’t want an overgrowth of bad bacteria, having ample and diverse beneficial bacteria is a hallmark for optimal health. Low beneficial bacteria can impact your protective mucus lining in the intestinal tract, which supports up to 80% of our immunity. The commonly used phrase “leaky gut” comes into play here when the interplay between a low fiber diet, low beneficial bacteria count, and difficult to digest macromolecules poke holes in the cheesecloth-like fragility of the intestinal lining and then opens the way for the immune system to do its job –in overdrive – resulting in sensitivities, intolerances, and allergies to many foods that are in your normal routine. 

Tips for Increasing Digestibility of Beans and Legumes

If you struggle with tolerating beans and legumes, first try out the smallest, quick-cook split mung beans, red lentils, and whole green mung beans. They are easiest to digest. The larger beans are more drying in nature, and tougher for the body to break down. Red lentils and split mung beans break down and cook quickly in 20-30 minutes, and they don’t usually need soaking or planning ahead. However, if you are already having tummy troubles, soaking is a good idea. 

Below are a few more tips to help make lentils and beans more digestible:

– Introduce beans and lentils into your diet slowly. Because beans are rich in fiber and will take a few days or couple weeks to repopulate the type of bacteria in your gut that will break them down and digest them, introduce them in small amounts. If you’re particularly sensitive, start with 1-2 tablespoons per meal, and work up from there to a standard ½ – ¾ cup serving.

– Soak and rinse in a big bowl of water, overnight or for 1-6 hours, depending on the type of legume. For large beans, you’ll need an overnight soak. For smaller beans such as adzuki and mung beans, a six hour soak will do. And for lentils and split mung, a soak of an hour is sufficient. Discard the soaking water before using in your recipe.

– If there is foam that rises to the top of the pot while cooking, skim it off. The foam contains a type of protein that is hard on your digestive system. When in nutrition school, my cooking instructor Eleonora constantly repeated, ‘skim your beans’ so often that I hear her voice every time I see foam! 

– Make sure the lentils – or other beans – are cooked thoroughly. This means they are soft, not al dente. One of the biggest challenges with digesting canned canned beans is that most of them are not actually cooked as well as they should be for proper digestion. Cooking until the lentils or beans begin to break apart, or in the case of red lentils and split mung, turn into mush completely, is the best way to know they’re done.

– Add spices! Carminative spices, meaning they boost the digestive capacity, makes meals more digestible. This is why a big soup pot with beans and meat often contains a bay leaf. Other carminative spices include ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel seed, thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil, allspice, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, and more. Virtually every cuisine of the world is ripe with carminatives in the traditional recipes for the exact purpose of not only adding flavor, but also boosting digestion!

– Add a squeeze of lemon, lime juice, or vinegar. Ideally every meal contains a slightly sour flavor addition, since sour helps to activate digestive enzymes. Most meals don’t need to taste outright sour, however. A little addition at the end of cooking goes a long way and often balances the recipe that’s missing ‘just a little something.’

– Eat your foods warm. If you think of an ideal digestive scenario as a nice little cozy fire in the digestive system, eating cold foods is like throwing cold water on it. Not so great for turning food into nutrients and energy! 

– Reduce stimulus during mealtime. Eating while multitasking with your phone, computer, while reading or watching a video, and eating in a loud, overstimulated environment or while upset or anxious is a recipe for continued GI problems. Our gut and brain are incredibly closely linked. We can go a long way to improve tolerance to the foods we eat just by eating slowly, chewing each bite upwards of 30 times (yes, really!), and not doing anything else while eating, other than eating. If you try these tips, you might also find you enjoy your food more, which is always an added bonus.

Signs of Balance and Imbalance

Ultimately, the goal is to feel good in your body and mind. Signs of imbalance include lack of appetite, bloating or gas, pain or cramps, chronic fatigue, sluggish or rapid digestion, extreme Appetite, bodily aches, skin irritations, itching and rashes, brain fog, and irritability. 

Reach Out 

If you’re ready for more individualized nutritional guidance, I invite you to reach out to me for more personalized support on digestion, sports nutrition, or both. 

Simple Non-Dairy Hemp Seed Milk

Spurred on by the realization that I was contributing a lot of plastic to the landfill since they were no longer recyclable, I stopped buying cartons of non-dairy milk a couple years ago. When I stopped, I didn’t like the waste or the time it took to soak, blend, and filter nuts to make traditional homemade nut milk. So I began using raw nut butters, such as cashew, to make an easy DIY nut milk in a quick minute.

But in the last few months, I suddenly remembered another option that is arguably even easier and more accessible.

Hemp seeds!

Hemp seeds as a food product are often overlooked in the nut and seed category. But what they’ve got going for them is that they are highly digestible, especially compared to most other nuts and seeds. And they contain a truly optimal fatty acid profile, with a 3:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (1). 

It’s important for us to eat a variety of fatty acid types from foods, but when it comes to the polyunsaturated fats which contain omega-6s and omega-3s, our modern diets tend to be less diverse and mainly have an abundance of omega-6s. 

The omega 6 fats are found in large amounts in soy, corn, safflower, sunflower and peanut oils, as well as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds, and nearly all nuts. 

In whole food form, omega 6 containing fats are healthy and essential, but need to be balanced with omega-3 fats such as freshly ground flax, chia, walnuts, hemp, and if you eat fish, wild caught cold-water fish such as salmon, halibut, anchovies, cod, and sardines. The ratio of omega 6 to omega 3’s should be under 5:1 to be considered anti-inflammatory and for most individuals, this ratio is at least 20:1 or more in the daily diet.  

If you have an inflammatory condition such as a chronic gut health imbalance, autoimmune conditions, arthritis of any type, and/or you are an otherwise healthy athlete looking to improve recovery between workouts, eating an optimal balance of omega 3s and 6s can be incredibly helpful.

Adding hemp seeds, and this simple hemp milk, can be another way to do this.

One other note about hemp seeds: try not to boil the hemp milk or the seeds – since they contain more heat-sensitive omega 3s, the oils will break down and oxidize – becoming inflammatory – at higher than medium heat. 

Simple Non-Dairy Hemp Seed Milk
Prep:  5 minutes   | Makes: 4 cups

3 Tbs. hemp seeds
4 cups water, divided

  1.  Combine hemp seeds and 2 cups of water in a high-speed blender until smooth, about 1 minute. Then add in the remaining 2 cups of water and gently blend for a few seconds more. Pour into a quart jar with a lid and store in the fridge until ready to use.

NOTES: For a slightly richer milk, you can bump up the hemp seeds to use ¼ cup instead of 3 tablespoons.
If you have an extra large blender, add all 4 cups of liquid and blend, rather than separate them. I have a smaller blender and prefer to give it a smaller ratio of seed to liquid to blend well.

Other Recipes that Feature Hemp Seeds:

References:
1. Da Porto, C., Decorti, D., and Tubaro, F. (2011). Fatty acid composition and oxidation stability of hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) seed oil extracted by supercritical carbon dioxide. Industrial Crops and Products, 36(1), 401–404. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2011.09.015