Pleasing Every Palate

BY Fanny Slater

A gluten- and dairy-free menu for planning a familiar holiday feast

It’s Thanksgiving or Christmas day and the parade of platters begins. There are heaps of gooey steaming hot mac and cheese. There are savory stacks of bread cubes tangled with butter and spices and baked to perfection. There are baked floury desserts sliced in every shape and size.

While many faces around the table are giddy with delight not everyone’s eyes are wide with anticipation.

In every large gathering chances are there are a number of guests with dietary restrictions. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports nearly 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity. A 2014 Harris Poll states 60 percent of adults in the United States say they restrict at least one nutritional component from their diet. Sugar salt and dairy join gluten at the top of the list.

In holidays past gratifying visitors’ appetites was a much more simplified process. It was the decision to scallop not mash the potatoes. It was the choice to roast not saut? the green beans. It was swapping skim milk for whole. Now that so many folks bring to the table complex dietary conditions there’s much more to take into consideration.

It seems every group has at least one person with a limited diet. While some cases are mild like minor wheat sensitivities the other end of the spectrum is far more severe — like nut allergies and Celiac disease. Even those who are merely cautious about what they put in their bodies — raw dieters vegans pescatarians flexitarians (yep that’s a real word) — can require their own particular dietary accommodations.

So what does this mean for cooks preparing meals for holidays or any special occasion? Modern-day hosts have to get creative when preparing their plates. From Paleo to macrobiotics and everything in between count on at least one guest with a special request.

But with so many beloved dishes starring those no-no ingredients (namely gluten and dairy) how does one navigate toward a still-tasty spread? Four local food authorities share their secrets strategies and of course their recipes to help entertainers knock off every guest’s holiday socks.

Vegan Seasonal Soup

For an opening course Nikki Spears chef/owner at Sealevel City Gourmet suggests starting with her Thai-inspired vegan soup featuring spicy chilies freshly carved pumpkin citrusy lemongrass and creamy coconut milk. Sealevel City Gourmet an eclectic casual diner inconspicuously nestled into a strip mall on Kerr Avenue between Wilshire Boulevard and Wrightsville Avenue features a menu with gluten-free and vegan choices. Spears — founder of long-time Wilmington favorite Nikki’s Sushi — is the wizard behind the curtain of culinary magic. After selling the prosperous Nikki’s chain she moved on to establish Sealevel now known as a favorite alternative eatery in town offering revamped comfort-food favorites to meet the needs of those with dietary restrictions.

“My inspiration for promoting gluten-free and vegan food is my father’s wife ” Spears says. “When she discovered her multiple food sensitivities I wanted to create a place where she had a lot of freedom of choice.”

Spears lives for the challenge of duplicating popular recipes without relying on animal products. For a starchy-sans-gluten side try her garlicky quinoa tabbouleh with lemon and bright grassy mint.

Thai Pumpkin Lemongrass Coconut Soup

Recipe courtesy of Nikki Spears Sealevel City Gourmet

Soup ingredients:

1 kabocha squash (Japanese pumpkin) or other pumpkin

1 ginger root washed

10 garlic cloves

2 medium onions peeled and sliced

1/4 cup coconut oil

3 carrots peeled and trimmed

5 cups coconut flakes

3 quarts water

1 handful of Thai chilies sliced thin

2 16-ounce cans regular coconut milk


Chopped cilantro

Crushed peanuts

Steamed rice

Sliced scallions


Tip: The home cook should start two days in advance. Do the shopping at Saigon Market and cut and peel all the vegetables and clean and prepare the herbs in advance.

Using a small thin-bladed sharp knife pierce the pumpkin at its equator. Rock the knife rolling the pumpkin and cutting down toward the board in small increments until it is halved. Use a spoon to remove the seeds and membranes. Peel green skin lightly and gradually to remove just the tough outer skin. Make parallel cuts along the flat edge to cut bite-sized pieces. Cut up whole pumpkin into large dice.

Peel the ginger with a spoon or small sharp knife. Save ginger peels. Slice the root into disks across the grain. Finely chop in food processor set aside. Chop garlic in processor set aside.

Trim tops and bulbs of lemongrass to expose tender stem. Thinly slice entire stalks with sharp chef’s knife.

Put cleaned washed trimmings ginger peels and carrot trimmings in small pot cover with water and simmer on medium heat 45 minutes to make a stock.

Place coconut flakes in 3 quarts water and simmer for 20 minutes let cool. Process softened flakes in blender with some cooking liquid and strain to make coconut milk. Cover strained solids with water and boil 20 minutes to extract more oils and milk. Discard solids.

Strain vegetable stock into large stock pot. Add both cans of coconut milk the chopped ginger garlic and sliced lemongrass. Put on low flame. Add pumpkin pieces and homemade coconut milk.

In separate skillet cook sliced onions and carrots in coconut oil add vegetable stock when browning begins. Simmer until tender. Puree in blender with a little vegetable stock and strain into big stockpot (off the heat). Add sliced Thai chilies.

Season with salt and agave for sweetness; adjust with coconut milk if too spicy.

Garnish with cilantro crushed peanuts steamed rice and scallions before serving.

Quinoa Tabbouleh with Lemon and Mint

Nikki Spear’s tabbouleh is made with organic rainbow quinoa lightly steamed and seasoned with equal parts chopped parsley fresh organic mint a clove of garlic chopped cucumber and tomato lemon extra-virgin olive oil salt and pepper.

A Side of Nutritious Comfort Food

Next is the mack daddy of all sides: mac and cheese. When feeding a gluten-free vegan who says “no thanks” to noodles and “no cheese please ” this mac no cheese may seem like an impossible feat. Chef and baker Allison Pastore from Wilmington’s Lovey’s Natural Foods and Caf? has the solution.

She prepares her Good Karma Mac with gluten-free elbow macaroni and two flavors of Daiya — a delicious dairy-free alternative to cheese. By incorporating her standard mac and cheese seasonings like tangy Dijon mustard and a hearty sprinkling of paprika she preserves this decadent dish’s familiar flavors.

Her other twist on this traditional side: fresh cauliflower sweet grated carrots and crunchy bell pepper that sneak in a little nutrition along with an unexpected crunch. A tip for smooth serving: cut this dense dish into lasagna-like squares for effortless pan-to-plate transportation.

Can’t find Daiya? Head to Whole Foods for a container of Kite Hill. Their plant-based products are dairy-free and come in a variety of flavors and spreads.

Good Karma Mac

Recipe courtesy of Allison Pastore Lovey’s Natural Foods and Caf?


3 Tbsp Earth Balance vegan spread

3 Tbsp brown rice flour

2 1/4 cups unsweetened almond rice or soy milk

1 1/4 cups nutritional yeast

5 cups Daiya shredded cheddar (for mixture)

3 Tbsp Dijon mustard

3/4 Tbsp garlic powder

3/4 Tbsp onion powder

3 1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

3/4 cup tomato paste

3 cups gluten-free elbow macaroni

1/4 cup sliced black olives

1 cup sliced cauliflower

1 cup sliced broccoli

1 cup grated carrots

1/2 cup minced bell pepper

2/3 cup Daiya jack cheese (for topping)

2 tomatoes sliced


Melt the Earth Balance spread in pot over medium heat. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour and milk until the clumps are gone. Add the nutritional yeast and 5 cups shredded cheese to the pot and whisk well. Add the Dijon garlic powder onion powder paprika salt and pepper until the sauce thickens about 5 minutes. If the cheese sauce is too thin add more flour to achieve desired thickness. Set the sauce aside.

Follow the package instructions for cooking the macaroni. Drain the cooked noodles and then combine them with the vegetables. Add the cheese sauce and mix well.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly grease a 9-inch by 13-inch casserole dish and then fill it with the macaroni mixture. Gently press down. Place the sliced tomatoes over top and sprinkle with the Daiya cheeses. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

To Prepare a Gluten-free Option with Dairy Cheese

Recipe courtesy of Pat Bradford


4 Tbsp butter

3 raw eggs beaten

1 can condensed milk (not sweet)

5 cups shredded cheddar (or a mix of shredded cheeses)

1 medium white onion chopped fine

1 green pepper chopped fine

1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

1/4 tsp fine red pepper

small sliver of fresh habanero pepper chopped very finely


Heat the butter over medium heat on the stove top until melted. Turn down the heat to very low. Fold in the raw eggs and remaining ingredients. Stir until the mixture thickens. Set aside. Follow the above directions for cooking the gluten-free macaroni topping with cheese and baking.

Scratch-made Stuffing

What goes better with carbs than more carbs? Now that there are so many types of gluten-free bread available stuffing can still remain a staple on the holiday table.

With a background in Low Country cuisine Chef Dean Neff of downtown Wilmington’s newest hot spot PinPoint Restaurant knows how to put a Southern spin on things. He starts with scratch-made cornbread and mingles this masterpiece with oniony leeks and lots of fresh herbs. For a vegan-less group opt for the butter as it’s the most traditional route. For those dairy-free folks olive oil does the trick.

PinPoint is on point when it comes to piling on the bold flavors so Neff isn’t done yet. His stuffing suggestions include aromatic additions like dried apricots and toasted chestnuts. For an over-the-top eruption of flavors blend in pimento cheese and prepare for a standing ovation from guests.

Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing

Recipe courtesy of Dean Neff PinPoint Restaurant

Serves 6

Cornbread Ingredients:

2 cups buttermilk

2 eggs

2 cups cornmeal

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tsp baking powder

3 Tbsp melted butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a mixing bowl mix all ingredients except 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Heat a small-medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Add the cornmeal batter and bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Stuffing Ingredients:

4 quarts cornbread croutons

in 1-inch cubes lightly tossed in melted butter and toasted at 375 degrees until golden brown and crisp but still slightly soft in the center

3 Tbsp cold butter (substitute olive oil for dairy intolerance)

2 cups minced leeks

1 cup minced celery

1/2 of a medium-sized minced jalape?o

3 cups low-sodium stock vegetable or poultry

1 bay leaf

2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme

1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano

Black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large stockpot or Dutch oven over low-medium heat add the cold butter. Add the leeks celery and minced jalape?o and gently cook while stirring constantly (about 5 minutes or until the leeks and celery start to become translucent). Add the cornbread croutons and toss to coat with the melted butter leeks celery and jalape?o. Add the 3 cups of stock and the bay leaf and deglaze.

Transfer the crouton mixture out of the pot and into a baking dish. Add the fresh herbs season with salt and pepper and transfer into the oven to bake uncovered for 12-15 minutes or until the top surface has become golden brown and crisp.


Apple-smoked bacon

Crisp hominy

Crispy fried sage

Dried apricots

Pimento cheese

Roasted turnips

Toasted chestnuts

Pan-fried mushrooms

Sweet and Safe Final Course

With gluten-free flour now a standard in grocery store aisles baking up wheatless treats as a home cook has become a much less daunting task. However when staring at a packaged product it is difficult to determine what will hold up and which mix will crumble under the pressure. For all things pie Carolyn Atkinson of Flying Pi is the queen of the oven. Determined to make a Thanksgiving finale that tastes as good as her indulgent originals she took on a mouthwatering mission. Searching shelves high and low she gauged which gluten-free gingersnaps could meet her expectations and form the perfect dietary-friendly pie.

As most expert bakers would she threw in the dish towel and started from scratch. The end result: homemade ginger-molasses cookies crushed and crumbled with pecans and melted butter for an idyllic crust. For a Southern spin on the filling she whips delicate sweet potatoes fluffy cream cheese and woody maple syrup. One sinful slice could trick wheat eaters in a heartbeat.

Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Ginger Molasses Pie

Recipe courtesy of Carolyn Atkinson Flying Pi

Cookie Crust Ingredients:

3/4 cup organic coconut oil melted

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 Tbsp molasses

4 cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup finely ground pecans

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup sugar

Sweet Potato Filling Ingredients:

2 sweet potatoes (skin-on) baked until soft

2 eggs

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp maple syrup

3 Tbsp softened cream cheese

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground clove

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger


Cream together the oil and sugar. Add in the vanilla molasses and eggs. In a separate bowl sift together all of the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and then fold in the nuts. The consistency should be that of a scoopable cookie batter.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Scoop the batter onto a parchment-lined pan about 2 inches apart and bake for 12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool.

Pulse about eight cookies at a time in a food processor with the butter and sugar until you have crumbs that will hold together. Press the crumbs into a pie pan and blind bake for 10 minutes.

With so many substitution options on hand in markets today throwing together a holiday feast to satisfy everyone’s needs is easier than it seems. For nut allergies sunflower or pumpkin seeds offer a similar crunch. Exchange butter for coconut oil and applesauce for eggs. Lose the lactose for almond or soy milk.

Thanks to vast product assortments and these four chefs’ imaginative minds there’s a plate to please every palate.