Thursday, November 3, 2011

Low Carb Holiday Buffet

If your holiday buffet features large chaffing dishes filled with au gratin potatoes, heaps of stuffing, fiesta corn, and cheesy macaroni, you're not offering much to anyone on a low carb diet. If your guests have to walk away with just a couple slices of turkey and a few celery sticks, you're not going to feel too good about that. If you're planning a buffet this year, you might want to figure out how you can make all your guests happy, even the ones on a low carb diet. Let's take a look at several dishes that go well on a healthier holiday buffet.

Pretty Proteins

Starting with the main event, you can certainly roast a turkey and slice the meat, put it on a platter, and call it good. Or, you may want to present an alternative. Thin slices of turkey make the perfect “wrap” instead of using tortillas on a low carb diet. Cold turkey slices wrapped around blanched asparagus with a piece of cheese is a classic that many people look forward to on a buffet. You can change this classic up a bit by changing the vegetable to broccoli, spinach, or even cucumber. Put together a variety of wraps with different cheeses, herbs, and seasonings.

A hot alternative is to first roast your asparagus or other vegetables, then add cheese and wrap in the turkey slices. Now coat your turkey rolls with finely crushed pecans or almond meal, then lightly fry them and serve hot. And, don't forget ham slices and prosciutto can also be used for wraps.

Another protein we love on buffets is seafood. Aside from the classic bacon wrapped shrimp, what else can we do to make our holiday buffet special? Of course you can serve small salmon filets that have been oven roasted or grilled to perfection. Cut the filets into finger food size for easy serving and have a dill sauce on the side. Coat the salmon in a ground pecan meal and fry for a sweet crunch.

Salmon and cucumber is a combination that gets rave reviews on any buffet. But, rather than sandwiches with bread, why not make something a bit simpler and low carb diet friendly. Put canned salmon, smoked or not, in your food processor with lemon juice, cream cheese, and seasonings and process until nice and fluffy. Then, serve on thin cucumber slices, either round, cut lengthwise, or on the diagonal.

Crab meat, shrimp, or other seafood is a great way to add protein to your buffet table without adding a lot of carbs. Celery sticks are a very diet friendly way to “serve” cold protein dishes. Chop the seafood, mix with mayonnaise or cream cheese, and seasonings, stuff the celery sticks and you have a tasty, protein rich food that also provides some very good carbs. Or you can marinade crab meat or other seafood in an oil and vinegar dressing and serve in a ceviche style dish for something entirely different.

If you want a hot main dish made with seafood, try forming patties or “cakes” out of the seafood, add onion, sweet red pepper, and celery, then crack in an egg, mix, and, instead of adding bread crumbs, add almond meal until mixture is sticking together, but not too moist. Then form your patties, about two to three bite-size, and quickly fry in a good oil. Serve each little cake on top of a leaf of romaine lettuce or other sturdy green like kale for a simple main dish that is easy to eat and very tasty.

Don't forget the vegetarians in your low-carb main dish buffet menu. Black bean burgers are one option that is relatively low in carbs but very high in protein. You can use a mix of dried, cooked beans, put them in the food processor, add your celery, onions, and flavors, and blend until you can form patties. Add cilantro and other deep flavors to make them more interesting. Add in an egg to help the mixture hold together, then form your patties and fry. Serve just like you did the crab cakes.

Tofu is a also a welcome addition to the buffet table when vegetarians and vegans are looking for a filling dish to enjoy. The trick is learning how to cook and present a good tofu dish. To begin, completely dry the tofu by pressing down firmly serving-size pieces with a heavy weight between clean towels. Once dried, you want to fry the tofu, and then marinade it in the flavors you want to present. When the tofu has absorbed the flavor, it's time to stir fry and toss into a hot or cold dish for your buffet. Roasted veggies are a perfect option, as well as mixed greens, shredded cooked cabbage, and nuts. Use your imagination and several different marinades to make your tofu dishes interesting and delicious and your guests will be very pleased.

Satisfying Sides

This is normally where the difficulty starts. Since we often think of sides at a holiday dinner as the starches and carbs, it's hard to imagine what we can do to get away from that whole thought. The trick may be tweaking the classics, but you may also need to try entirely different dishes than you are used to.

Since sweet potatoes are high in carbs, and sweet potato casserole with the marshmallow topping is off the charts, you may think you have to avoid this classic entirely. But, there are ways to make even sweet potatoes more diet friendly. Start by thinking small. You don't want to eat even a cup of sweet potatoes on a low carb diet. However, by making little sweet potato fritters, using almond meal for the binder, you can enjoy a couple bites of this holiday traditional food without being too concerned. You may also want to temper the sweet potato mixture with a bit of pureed pumpkin to lower the carb count even further.

You can do the same thing with white potatoes if you wish. Just make small potato puffs, reducing the high carb count of the potatoes by adding Parmesan cheese and cream cheese to the mixture. Bind with almond flour and even an egg for a real flavorful bite. Be sure to add chives or green onions for an even prettier look and delicious flavor.

Macaroni and cheese is a no-no on a low carb diet due to the pasta. However, you can make a cheesy alternative that will satisfy even the most diehard mac and cheese fan. Steam cauliflower, lightly mash, then mix in a cheesy white sauce until you reach a desirable consistency. Put in the oven in a casserole dish and top with a buttery faux breadcrumb topping, using almond meal instead of the breadcrumbs, cooking until golden brown on top. Set out on your buffet and watch it disappear even faster than your old mac and cheese did.

What do you like about the traditional green bean casserole? The creamy sauce and crunchy fried onions, right? Go ahead and make a white sauce using almond flour instead of wheat flour, that's step one. Then cut sweet onions up into thin wedges, drizzle with olive oil, toss with almond meal, and roast until browned slightly. Quickly cook your fresh green beans, then add all the ingredients together and toss well. You have all of the elements of the classic green bean casserole without all the carbs.

Another option is to create a fun green bean wrap. Start by blanching your beans. Peel a large onion, and drop in the blanching water for a few seconds, just until you can separate the layers. Remove one layer, slice to lay open, then put some beans inside, add a dollop of cream cheese or goat cheese, and season as you like, then roll up and dredge in almond meal or crushed nuts. Lay seam side down on a baking sheet and bake in moderate oven, roasting until onion is nicely browned. Serve your little green bean casserole bundles hot with a little creamy dipping sauce.

There are numerous options for healthier, low carb buffet offerings at your holiday buffet. The trick is to look at the ingredients you can have on your diet in any main dish or side dish, then pick apart the recipe and get creative. The great thing about a holiday buffet is that everyone expects something a little different from a regular sit-down dinner. So have fun with it and enjoy!

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