There is absolutely no reason (short of a doctor's warning) why you can't indulge all day long on Christmas. But for those with young children, gigantic gatherings, and/or multiple households to visit on a single day of celebrating, starting out with a sugar and fat blitz might be less than optimal.
You need your energy, after all, for toy assemblage, chitchat with relatives, and daytime drinking - not to mention for enjoying all the other delicious treats to come.
On the other hand, no one wants to serve dry toast or egg whites from a carton on Christmas morning. It would seem almost antisocial - certainly antifestive. The idea, then, is to cook up a meal worthy of all the excitement of the day, but that's also wholesome enough not to require a nap immediately after its consumption.
Nathalie Richan, owner of Cafe La Maude in Northern Liberties, always keeps the health/flavor balance in her inventive brunch dishes, both at the restaurant and at home. For her family Christmas morning, she typically chooses a Lebanese-style meal, with hummus, olives, grilled halloumi cheese, labne (strained yogurt), foul moudamas (cooked fava beans) and pita, plus eggs prepared multiple ways. "It's a combination that always tastes good together and everyone enjoys the mezze style, where you can have a little of this and a little of that," she says.
At the cafe, one of Richan's most popular dishes is a Lyonnaise omelet. The basis of the dish is eggs whisked with a vibrant spinach sauce. Tucked inside are gently sautéed green vegetables (any combination of asparagus, broccoli, fennel, or Brussels sprouts) tossed in a creamy tahini sauce, the whole plate topped with slices of avocado. The green color makes it a fun dish for Christmas and the ingredients offer protein, iron, plenty of fiber, and healthy fats - i.e., good sustenance that won't kill your appetite for yule log later.
Eggs tend to be the choice in Little Spoon Cafe chef Lauren Geary's household. "I usually make a frittata with whatever ingredients I have on hand - kale, broccoli, any of the brassicas - and caramelized shallots and a bit of sherry vinegar." She serves the frittata along with a salad of local greens. Occasionally, there will be leftover pierogi in the Christmas Day mix, but Geary likes to keep breakfast light.
Red Owl Tavern chef Jorge Chicas makes healthy cooking a priority in his kitchen. His Christmas Day morning might start with some traditional foods from his native El Salvador (beans, tortillas) as well as an egg white omelet filled with quinoa and fresh herbs and topped with a salad of spinach, tomatoes, and feta cheese. "I make sure my kids understand that it's important to eat healthy and fresh foods - we try to make a habit of it, and as a result, they really appreciate these dishes," he says. A side dish of simply roasted potatoes (perhaps gussied up with barbecue spices) and a fruit-and-yogurt parfait for his daughter completes the meal.
A simple way to go for a hot-cereal-approving crowd is to serve oatmeal or another cooked grain. Chicas' restaurant recipe is extra easy and ideal for busy holidays - it involves simply bringing Irish steel-cut oats and water to a boil and cooking for one minute, then letting the mixture sit overnight in the fridge. In the morning, just 10 to 15 minutes of simmering on the stove brings it back up to a cozy temperature and makes the texture even creamier.
At the restaurant, Chicas offers dried fruit and a choice of sweetener (maple syrup, brown sugar, and honey). At home on the holiday, it could be served as an oatmeal bar with little bowls of toppings, including nuts or nut butter, fresh fruit, milk of any kind, coconut, applesauce, granola, flax or chia seeds, and spices like cinnamon and cardamom. The make-your-own approach adds a measure of fun to the proceedings and takes an everyday breakfast up a few notches in specialness. At the same time, the family gets slow carbs to carry them through to the ham.
Some households expect Christmas waffles and pancakes, and there are plenty of ways to make these treats a little more nutritious without compromising on their appeal. A popular Internet cooking trend right now is making two-ingredient pancakes from mashed banana and egg (the ration is one banana to two eggs, and the two ingredients doesn't include butter or oil for the pan, and syrup, jam, or powdered sugar for serving). The end product is gluten-free, quick to whip up, and easily customizable with fruit and chocolate chips. Make them small for best results and easy flipping. They will go over well if the crew enjoys banana pancakes.
At Little Spoon Cafe, Geary's carrot cake waffles deliver the flavor of dessert in a light, crispy package. The batter, which can also be used for pancakes, incorporates carrot shreds, walnuts, and currants with a very small amount of sugar. Served with plain syrup, they're elegant and fun enough to impress. Toppings of pistachios, dried cherries, or even candied carrot shreds can add interest and texture. And, of course, if the crowd is clamoring for a little more indulgence, Geary's lemon-scented buttercream (made with low-fat or full-fat cream cheese) can be judiciously dolloped on top. Or out-and-out slathered. Hey, it's a special day.
Serves 2 to 3
Tahini Yogurt Sauce
1/4 cup yogurt
3 tablespoons tahini
½ garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons water
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups washed spinach
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup mixed cilantro and parsley
1/4 cup cold water
Salt and pepper
2 cups mixed chopped fresh green vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, fennel, Brussels sprouts, green beans)
1/2 sliced avocado
1. Make tahini yogurt sauce: Combine yogurt, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, and water. Add salt and pepper to taste. Can be made two days ahead.
2. Make the spinach sauce: Combine spinach, garlic, herbs, and water in a blender. Season to taste and set aside. Can be made two days ahead.
3. Heat a saute pan and add olive oil. When hot, add vegetables and saute for 5 to 6 minutes or until just soft, then add the tahini sauce and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
4. Whisk together eggs and spinach sauce. Heat a pan over medium heat and add olive oil. When hot, add eggs and cook for 4 minutes or until set. Flip the omelet and add vegetables. Cook for another 4 minutes or until set. Fold the omelet over the filling.
5. To serve, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, cut the omelet into two or three portions and serve with sliced avocado on top.
Per serving: 331 calories, 18 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 24 grams fat, 329 milligrams cholesterol, 211 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.
Carrot Cake Waffles
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cloves
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/2 ounce chopped walnuts
1/2 ounce dried currants
8 ounces butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese (low-fat or regular), room temperature
½ pound confectioners sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1. To make the waffles: Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, and milk. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and then stir in the carrot, walnuts, and currants. Allow mixture to rest for 15 minutes while you heat the waffle iron.
2. Pour half the batter into waffle iron, spreading it gently. Close the lid and cook until waffle is golden and crispy, following manufacturer's instructions. (Batter should yield 8 square waffles).
3. If using frosting, combine ingredients, whisking until smooth.
4. To serve, plate each waffle and top with maple syrup, frosting, or both.
Per serving: 520 calories; 15 grams protein; 43 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams sugar; 35 grams fat; 143 milligrams cholesterol; 548 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.
- From Lauren Geary of Little Spoon Cafe