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These days, it’s inevitable that everyone’s trying a different diet or cutting out specific products from their lifestyle. You’ve probably got friends trying the keto diet, and others are becoming vegan, gluten-free, and following plant-based diets. So what, exactly, does that mean for preparing a holiday dinner where everyone can eat, well, something?

Related Reading: 12 Low-Sugar Cookbooks Perfect for Paleo, Keto, and Diabetic Diets

Enter Amy Chaplin, an Australian cookbook writer who recently released her plant-based cookbook called “Whole Food Cooking Every Day,” a book filled with 250 recipes that cut out gluten, dairy, and refined sugar. I consulted Amy on her tips for entertaining and cooking this holiday season when you have to please a slew of diets, and it’s actually not as hard as you might think. Keep reading for Amy’s suggestions, and at the bottom, you’ll find a recipe for her famed cauliflower bake—the dish she promises will satisfy just about everyone. 

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Focus on the Season

Amy maintains that one of the best things to cook when cooking for a crowd of diets is to focus on the season. Since we’re in the midst of late fall and winter, a host of vegetables are in season: squash, root vegetables, cauliflower, broccolini, among many others. “That’s the best thing to focus on as [you] plan your menu,” she says. “They’re fresher and they haven’t traveled as far, if you’re getting them at the local farmers market.”  

Keep Things Simple for Yourself

Once you hear that your cousin is vegan and your aunt is gluten-free, it’s easy to simply say: I’ll just make one vegan version and one gluten-free version. Amy advises against this. Instead, she says, “It’s better to focus on plant-based food and vegetables,” urging cooks to find the foods that overlap on these diets, rather than making twice as many dishes. 

Start with a Vegan and Gluten-Free Base

If you look a Venn diagram of foods, many of what overlaps happen to fall into both vegan and gluten-free categories. So Amy suggests that the centerpiece of the holiday dinner should be something that’s both gluten-free and vegan. “That’s already pleasing most people,” she says.

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Keep Dairy and Other Add-Ons Available 

Just because your cousin is vegan doesn’t mean that dairy has to be totally cut out of the meal. Instead, Amy proposes to keep a bowl of crumbled blue cheese or shaved manchego on the side, which can be added atop salads or roasted vegetables at the last minute. The same can be said of bread and butter.

Choose a Grain That’s Gluten-Free

If you’re crafting a grain-based dish, there are plenty of grains that can be swapped in that are gluten-free. Take for instance quinoa or brown rice or wild—these are all suitable solutions to replace barley, farro, and other gluten-based grains. 

Prepare Amy’s Cauliflower Bake as Your Centerpiece

Amy’s cauliflower bake is a main dish that’ll satisfy a slew of dietary restrictions. Florets of cauliflower are steamed and blended with pine nuts, olive oil, and a bit of nutritional yeast (which gives it a cheesy, umami flavor). The cauliflower gets whipped and becomes very fluffy—almost as if dairy is hiding inside. “It’s rich and hearty and it comes out of the oven golden and bubbling; it pleases everyone,” she says. The dish is vegan and gluten-free and can feature any mix of vegetables. Amy’s cookbook proposes a number of options, including French lentils tossed with tomatoes, kale, and capers, which is shuttled into the oven with the cauliflower and arises out of the oven crisped up and brown, just like a souffle. 

Excerpted from Whole Food Cooking Every Day by Amy Chaplin (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. Photographs by Anson Smart.

French Lentil Tomato Bake with Kale and Capers Recipe

These bakes, or casseroles, can be assembled as individual portions and stored in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to serve. Since both the filling and topping are already cooked, all you have to do is heat them thoroughly in the oven until browned on top.

French Lentil Tomato Bake with Kale and Capers

Serves: 6
  • ¾ cup (5 ounces / 140 g) French lentils, soaked overnight in 3 cups (720 ml) filtered water
  • One 2-inch (5 cm) piece kombu
  • 2 cups (480 ml) filtered water
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium (8 ounces / 230 g) onion, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 medium (8 ounces /230 g) leek (see Note, page 129), cut into ½-inch (1.25 cm) slices
  • One 14½-ounce (410 g) can diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup (¹/₃ ounce/ 10 g) fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 6 cups (8 ounces / 230 g) thinly sliced kale (tough stems removed)
  • 3 tablespoons (1 ounce / 30 g) drained capers in brine
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 recipe Cauliflower Bake Topping
  1. Drain and rinse the lentils and transfer them to a medium pot. Add the kombu and the 2 cups (480 ml) water and bring to a boil over high heat, then cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft. Remove from the heat and remove the kombu (compost it). Drain the lentils and set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  3. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until golden. Stir in the garlic and salt and cook for 3 minutes, or until the garlic is golden. Add the leek and cook for 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the tomatoes, cooked lentils, and basil, raise the heat to high, and bring to a simmer. Add the kale and cook just until wilted. Stir in the capers and balsamic vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Transfer the mixture to an 8-inch (20 cm) square or equivalent baking dish and smooth the surface. Spread the cauliflower topping evenly over the filling. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the topping has begun to set. Turn on the broiler and broil the bake for 3 to 6 minutes, until the topping is golden and browning in parts. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving.
  5. Once cooled, leftovers can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days. To reheat, cover and warm in a 400°F (200°C) oven until heated through.

Cauliflower Bake Topping Recipe

You can skip the nutritional yeast and the topping will still be delicious, but be sure to season it with extra salt.

Cauliflower Bake Topping

Serves: 4 to 6Makes: 4 cups
  • 1 large head (2½ pounds / 1.13 kg) cauliflower, cut into 1½-inch (4 cm) florets (about 8 cups)
  • ½ cup (about 2½ ounces / 75 g) raw pine nuts, cashews, or macadamia nuts
  • ½ cup (120 ml) filtered water if using a food processor
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons (½ ounce / 15 g) nutritional yeast, plus more to taste (see Note)
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  1. Set up a steamer pot with about 2 inches (5 cm) of filtered water in the bottom (the water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the basket) and bring to a boil over high heat. Arrange the cauliflower florets in the steamer basket, cover, and steam for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cauliflower is cooked through but not falling apart. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. High-Powered-Blender Method: Put the nuts, olive oil, yeast, and salt in a high-powered blender and add the steamed cauliflower. Starting on low speed and using the tamper stick to help press the cauliflower down, blend, gradually increasing the speed to high, until completely smooth and thick; use the tamper stick to keep the mixture moving and to scrape down the sides as you go. This will take a couple of minutes. Season with more nutritional yeast and salt to taste and blend to combine.
  3. Food-Processor Method: Put the steamed cauliflower in a food processor. Combine the nuts, water, olive oil, yeast, and salt in a regular upright blender and blend until completely smooth. Pour into the food processor with the cauliflower and process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Season with more yeast and salt to taste.
  4. The topping is ready to be baked on a filling of your choice, or it can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

Header image courtesy of Anson Smart.

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