Written by Kristin Rugg.
As a natural foods chef, I spend most of my day creating menus and cooking healthy meals for my clients and their families. All of my meals are whole foods based, local as possible and often all-organic. But by the looks of the dinner parties, cocktail soirees and celebratory brunches I put on weekly, you’d hardly know the food I serve is all-natural, or heaven forbid- healthy. Because you see, although my clients are often already on the healthy train (or well on their way, by hiring me!) their guests often are not. It’s my job to create a menu that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters, and impress even the most hardcore fast food addicts of the bunch. So when Meghan asked me to do some posts on healthy entertaining, I agreed without hesitation- this is my area of expertise. My goal is to show you how to impress your guests with healthy food- no arguments or wrinkled noses in sight.
- Make it beautiful. People eat with their eyes first. So before even reaching for a fork, your guest is going to take that food in- and if it looks like a slop of green mess (insert gross bodily excretion reference here), they are probably not going to taste it- as delicious as it may be. Add some garnishes, put it on a beautiful plate and serve it with a smile.
- It has to taste good, too! Fancy dinners and cocktail parties are not the time to try out a brand new dish you saw on a blog online (yes, even if it’s mine!). Go with tried and true- the dish that you’ve made a gazillion times but makes you go “mmmmmm” every single time? That’s the one to serve to your guests. Guaranteed they’ll love it.
- Strive for balance. Everything on your menu should be balanced- if you’re serving a heavy cashew-cream sauce over pasta for your main, serve a salad before, a lighter appetizer or just simple fruit for dessert. Same goes if your entrée is a beautiful salad- that’s when you go for your decadent raw chocolate cheesecake to end the meal.
- Try out a themed menu. People are always impressed when I put together a full, whole foods based southern comfort food menu, or an Italian inspired meal with pizza, lasagna, tiramisu and the like- all authentic, healthful and delicious too. But don’t forget to try your theme recipes first!
- Go for simple switches over drastic changes. Similar advice is given on converting your family to natural foods in general, but switching up something simple in a meal- like Buckwheat over Arborio rice in risotto, or Quinoa instead of Bulgur in tabbouleh are better to start than swapping an entire meat entrée for tempeh.
This seasonal buckwheat risotto is one of my favorites to serve as a plant-based entrée at dinner parties. It’s hearty, filling and incredibly delicious- serve it with a light salad with a citrusy dressing to start and finish with a berry tart for a tasty spring meal with friends.
Yield: 4-6 Servings
- 1 cup mixed dried wild mushroom blend
- 1 ¼ cup buckwheat, dry (rinsed)
- 1 ½ tbsp organic butter or ghee, divided (can substitute coconut oil)
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- 1 small shallot, minced
- ½ medium yellow onion, chopped fine
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 cups vegetable stock
- ½ cup white wine (optional)
- 10 stalks asparagus, chopped to 1-2” pieces
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1 oz goat gouda or favorite natural cheese, grated (optional)
- sea salt and pepper, to taste
- To prepare mushrooms: Place mushrooms in a medium bowl. Cover with boiling water to just cover. Let sit for 15-20 minutes to re-hydrate. Drain, reserving liquid. Chop small and set aside.
- Place broth, wine and reserved mushroom soaking liquid in a medium sauce pot. Heat to a simmer.
- Heat ½ tbsp butter and olive oil in a high-sided saucier or sauce pot. Sautee shallot, onion and garlic until translucent. Add buckwheat and stir until coated with oil.
- Ladle broth/wine mix, one ladle-ful at a time into buckwheat mixture, stirring until liquid is absorbed. Repeat until buckwheat no longer absorbs liquid.
- About halfway through cooking, add mushrooms and stir well. Towards the end of cooking, add asparagus to just cook.
- When buckwheat is chewy but cooked through, remove from heat. Stir in lemon zest, goat gouda and season to taste. Serve immediately.
Chef Kristin Rugg Dovbniak is a Natural Foods Chef and Certified Culinary Nutrition Expert in the Greater Toronto Area specializing in all natural private chef services including personal chef, private parties and hands-on healthy living programs. For more healthy gourmet recipes, visit her blog www.cookbakenibble.com.