Many of us have menus and recipes that we rely on for holiday meals or parties year after year. And yet, with the abundance of winter produce available at this time of year, it’s a great time to try a few new recipes, too. With that in mind, I asked Lisa Gordanier, editor and recipe tester for our own Bounty From the Box: The CSA Farm Cookbook, to pick out some recipes and suggest both traditional and vegetarian menus for readers of this blog.

Gordanier lives in Seattle and came to her work with cookbooks following more than a decade as a chef, including six years at the highly regarded Herbfarm restaurant in Woodinville, Washington, considered a pioneer in the farm-to-table movement. She’s an avid gardener and is lucky enough to have a year-round farmers market in her neighborhood. (Just in case you’re wondering how a recipe tester manages to chop, measure, and whisk her way through some 360 recipes for a cookbook, Gordanier says that few cookbook authors have every recipe tested. Instead, they or their recipe tester prepare some of the recipes and know enough about cooking to assess and adjust the others.)

The diverse recipes in Bounty from the Box come from an equally vast variety of sources, from legendary chefs like Mollie Katzen (The Enchanted Broccoli Forest), Deborah Madison (Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), and UK-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi to well-known food bloggers like Molly Wizenberg (Orangette) and Amy Kim (Kim-Chi Mom). There are also many recipes from CSA farms and their members, and even from historical sources like the Library of Congress and a Minnesota small-town centennial cookbook.

The cuisines and dishes themselves are also diverse, ranging from American comfort food (Mexican Hot Dish) to exotic (Braised Water Buffalo with Chiles). But the one trait they all share is their use of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs in easy-to-prepare, appetizing ways that will inspire you in the kitchen.

Whole family around the Christmas Eve

Gordanier’s advice for deciding on a traditional menu for the December holiday season is to plan around a main dish other than turkey—perhaps a beef or pork roast, rack of lamb, ham, or roast chicken—and then pick side dishes aiming for contrast in texture, color, and flavors.

When planning a menu, it’s customary for cooks to take into account various factors, such as how many dishes can be prepared in advance and whether there are dietary restrictions and preferences to consider. Then there’s the matter of going traditional or flaunting tradition. One year, Gordanier chose the latter. She and her husband had just returned from a trip to India and decided to prepare a holiday meal for a family gathering of 10 with recipes from their travels.

“We worked for days to create a complex, spicy lamb curry, a rich prawn dish, homemade mango chutney, raita, and more. All went well until the conversation at the table turned to everyone’s favorite turkey recipes and about how much we loved and were craving traditional Thanksgiving foods. In truth, though everyone enjoyed the food on our plates, we all really wished we were eating the traditional meal. We had to laugh at ourselves, and to realize that we had bucked tradition too much.”

Below are Gordanier’s suggested menus for a traditional and a vegetarian holiday meal, each based on recipes selected from Bounty From the Box. Each menu is followed by her tips regarding the menu and recipes.

— A Traditional Menu —

Parsnip-Carrot Bisque or Ginger Squash Soup
Meat of Choice
Potato and Turnip Au Gratin with Leeks
Garlic Spinach
Fennel Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, Feta, and Sumac (optional)
Applesauce with Bourbon, Sour Cherries, and Hazelnuts — or — Pumpkin Pie with Spiced Walnut Streusel

Menu notes: Serve a small bowl of one of the two soups, to save room for the rest of the meal. The parsnip soup can be prepared ahead of time; add a pinch of cayenne to wake up the taste buds. The gratin is classic, but the turnips make it slightly unusual. The garlicky spinach recipe (from Bounty author Mi Ae Lipe) must be finished at the last minute, but it’s very quick if all the ingredients are assembled and ready to go. It’s beautiful and loved by everyone. If you are feeling ambitious, add the salad, with its great colors and refreshing tastes, and serve it on small plates. With the rich soup and gratin, you may want to omit the feta cheese from the salad. Finish the meal with the lighter or more decadent dessert, as you prefer.

StuffedSquash_DT_47215411

— A Vegetarian Menu —

Yukon Gold Potato Soup or Parsnip-Carrot Bisque
Winter Squash with Classic Bread Stuffing or Stuffed Squash
Potato and Turnip Au Gratin with Leeks
Garlic Spinach
Fennel Salad with Pomegranate Seeds, Feta, and Sumac
Applesauce with Bourbon, Sour Cherries, and Hazelnuts — or — Bartlett Pear and Black Pepper Pie

Menu notes: This menu is vegetarian, not vegan. Winter squash makes a beautiful main dish—stuffed halves or baked thick slices paired with a traditional bread stuffing or perhaps a more creative version of your own. Think sautéed mushrooms, nuts, chestnuts, dried cranberries, shreds of kale. For the squash, pick butternut, kabocha, or sugar pie pumpkin, which are all sweet winter varieties. If you are only serving a small group, consider the stuffed squash recipe, but omit the cheddar cheese since the soup and gratin are both rich. The side dishes and the fancy applesauce dessert are the same as for the Traditional Menu.

Mother Africa’s Spicy Kale and Yam

One more recipe recommendation: Ring out 2015 or ring in 2016 with a taste of Africa—Mother Africa’s Spicy Kale and Yam. This hearty dish combines kale, yams, and hot peppers and makes for a great main course for New Year’s Eve or a New Year’s Day brunch. The sauce for this dish can be made milder or hotter, according to your preferences.

Mother Africa’s Spicy Kale and Yam, served with rice, and Abba’s African Hot Sauce

Menu notes: What better way to start a new year than with an unusual dish such as this? This recipe features yams (or more accurately, sweet potatoes, as true yams are not commonly available in America) in a way you’ve probably not experienced them. The sauce is versatile to boot, great with scrambled eggs, tacos, or whatever else you want a hot sauce for.

Remember that Bounty from the Box makes a great holiday gift, either for yourself or for someone you love—especially if they are making New Year’s resolutions to eat better and live more healthfully. The book might be a little large to fit into a stocking, but it sure makes a fantastic reference for many holidays—and seasons—to come.

Here’s to a safe, happy holiday and bountiful New Year!

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About the author: This week’s blog post comes from Martha Wagner, a Portland, Oregon-based food writer, gardener, and passionate advocate for sustainable living, wellness, and organic agriculture.

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