xoFOOD: 5 Holiday Side Dishes That Will Make Your Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free, And Paleo Dinner Guests Extremely Happy

The idea is to make food that everyone wants to eat, not special food for every single special diet present at the table -- you’re not running a restaurant!
Publish date:
November 20, 2014
xoFood, Thanksgiving, Holiday Meals

Cooking a big holiday meal is a ton of work already without worrying about accommodating everyone’s dietary restrictions. My solution? Prepare as many dishes as possible that work for more than one dietary restriction, but are still exciting to eat for everyone.

With these dishes, it’s really not that hard. Here are the main points to keep in mind when planning a menu if gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian or paleo/primal eaters will be joining your holiday table:

Focus on vegetables as the star of different courses. Vegetables are OK for just about everyone’s diet. If someone has a specific allergy to a vegetable, they should let you know in advance.

Consider the coconut. Coconut oil and coconut butter are great replacements for butter in cooking, and coconut milk makes foods rich and creamy without dairy. And did you know that full-fat coconut milk can be whipped into a thick, creamy, “whipped cream” that everyone (even the biggest milk lovers among us) will clamor for?

Think simple swaps. The idea is to make food that everyone wants to eat, not special food for every single special diet present at the table -- you’re not running a restaurant! But if the graham cracker crust you usually use for pumpkin pie can be replaced with a delicious toasted almond crust, rendering the pie doable for the gluten-free friends at your table, it may be worth trying out.

Read on for my favorite holiday dishes, and please share yours in the comments!

Sweet Potato-Coconut Soup

This Thai-inspired soup is creamy and flavorful, but still light and refreshing enough to work as the first course of a meal. I like to serve extra sliced jalapeño and chopped cilantro on the side, so people can garnish with as much or as little as they like.

Recipe serves 6-8.


  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 15-ounce cans coconut milk
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 green jalapeño, seeded and diced, plus more for garnish
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 1 small (1-inch) piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in a large soup pot and cover. Bring to a light boil. Reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are very soft. Puree in a blender or food processor or directly in the pot using an immersion blender.
  2. Season with salt and pepper to to taste.
  3. Ladle into bowls and serve hot, with garnishes on the side for guests to add themselves.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Lemon

When it comes to just about every vegetable, when in doubt, toss with olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper, and roast at a high temperature until everything gets tender with crispy edges. This principle works exceedingly well with Brussels sprouts, rendering their outer leaves crispy, with a deep umami flavor. The major key here is to split them in half. It might take a little extra time, but the results are so worth it.

This method is also killer with cauliflower, broccoli or broccolini, cubed eggplant, and any and all root vegetables.

Recipe Serves 6.


  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cleaned and sliced lengthwise
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon (reserve a pinch of zest for garnish)
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine Brussels sprouts, garlic, olive oil, zest, juice, salt and pepper. Use hands to toss well.
  3. Spread mixture on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until sprouts shrink slightly and appear slightly charred on the outside. Taste for done-ness and cook slightly longer if a more-cooked sprout is desired.
  4. Garnish with reserved lemon zest.
  5. Serve hot or chilled (these are also great served cold, as a picnic salad).

Bacon-Wrapped Sweet Potatoes

This one’s for the meat-eating gluten-free or paleo peeps, but I’ve also made it with Light Life’s Fakin’ Bacon, made from tempeh, with great results! Just make sure to brush the tempeh bacon with plenty of coconut oil if you decide to use it.

Serve these as an appetizer, with toothpicks.

Recipe makes about 30 bites.


  • 2 tablespoon butter or coconut oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • a few grinds of fresh black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons honey or brown sugar
  • 2 medium garnet yams, scrubbed (leave the skin on), cut into about 30 chunks
  • 10 strips bacon, cut horizontally into thirds


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with foil and set aside.
  2. Melt butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the chili powder, salt, black pepper and honey or sugar. Stir well to combine.
  3. Add the yam chunks and stir well to coat them in the butter mixture. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, then transfer the sweet potatoes to a clean plate and allow to cool. Set the pan and its residual butter mixture aside for later use.
  4. Wrap each yam chunk with a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place seam-side-down on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all the yam chunks have been wrapped.
  5. Dip a pastry brush in the reserved butter mixture (there won't be much, but that's OK -- you'll only need a light coat) and brush the tops of each bacon-wrapped sweet potato bite.
  6. Bake the wrapped sweet potatoes for 40-45 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the sweet potatoes are tender.

Quinoa Stuffing

If you wanted to have an entirely vegetarian holiday meal, this recipe (which I originally found on would make for a wonderful entrée, stuffed into red bell pepper halves and baked.

My preference, however, is to offer this as a gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan, and paleo-ish (quinoa is not technically paleo, but many primal/paleo folks make an occasional exception for it) alternative to traditional turkey/bread stuffing. Feel free to swap in different vegetables and herbs, based on what you have on hand. Raisins, dried currants, or chopped dried pears or peaches would also work nicely in place of (or in addition to) the called-for dried apricots and dried cranberries.

Recipe serves 8.


• 4 cups vegetable stock

• 2 cups quinoa

• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 1 butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and diced

• 2 small zucchinis, cut into 1-inch cubes

• 1 bunch green onions, chopped

• 1 cup diced dried apricots


  1. Bring vegetable stock to a boil in a saucepan, reduce heat to low, and stir in quinoa. Cover pan and simmer until quinoa absorbs the liquid, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Cook and stir butternut squash and zucchini in the hot oil until slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir quinoa into the vegetables and gently mix green onions, apricots, cranberries, and parsley into the stuffing.
  5. Drizzle with lime juice.
  6. Serve warm.

Vegan Pumpkin Pudding

This recipe, which I adapted from My Pantry Shelf’s similar one, is all the creamy goodness of pumpkin pie, without the crust. It also happens to be animal-product-free.

I used maple syrup here, since the flavor of it is so perfectly holiday-y, but if you prefer to use another sweetener, that’s fine.

Recipe serves 4.


  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup unsweetened pumpkin puree (canned is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch


1. In a mixing bowl whisk 1/2 cup of the coconut milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, and cornstarch until very smooth and creamy.

2. Pour the remaining coconut milk into a small saucepan.

3. Add the pumpkin puree, maple syrup, and salt to the saucepan and whisk to until smooth. Stir over medium heat, until mixture begins to bubble.

4. Reduce heat to low. Add the coconut milk and pumpkin pie spice. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes very thick.

5. Transfer the mixture into goblets or serving bowls, and cover with plastic wrap.

6. Chill until cold and set.

7. Serve topped with toasted, chopped almonds or pecans.