How to Host a Healthy Dinner Party
It’s January and all your friends are trying to stick to their New Year’s resolutions; people are off the booze and are generally trying to avoid any form of socialising in a bid to stay healthy.
But being healthy doesn’t have to make life dull, and I’m going to let you in on some secrets about how to throw a dinner party that is so delicious people won’t even notice it’s good for them! My catering company, Made by Margie, specialises in healthy dinner parties, so this is something I know a thing or two about.
I think a lot of the time people end up serving too much food at dinner parties. People feel pressured to do their best Domestic Goddess impression and quite often that means serving five courses finished off with cheese and washed down with buckets of wine and sugary cocktails. Over-eating is definitely the primary culprit for making a dinner party unhealthy.
I don’t think it’s always necessary to serve three courses for a dinner party. I love serving nibbles to people when they arrive and hand them round as everyone gets chatting.
If you do want to go down the three courses route, however, I think it’s important to choose things that are light and lovely but don’t automatically scream “this is healthy!”. Dinner parties are meant to be enjoyed and you don’t want people to feel like they are at a WeightWatchers convention.
Soups make a great starter, particularly now the Arctic conditions have set in. They are far more popular than you would believe and you can make a hearty and comforting soup without it being laden with cream. This quick and easy chilli and butternut squash soup is sure to go down a treat with your guests.
To make enough velvety soup to feed 4 people you will need:
- 1 butternut squash – not too small
- 850ml hot vegetable stock – homemade is best, but boiling water with 3 teaspoon of bouillon is definitely okay too, I promise
- Small pinch of dried chilli flakes
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- Salt and pepper
- Sunflower oil
- Sprinkle of seeds
- Little baby rocket leaves
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Preheat your oven to 200C.
- Peel and chop the butternut squash into small chunks. Top Tip: the smaller the chunks the quicker they will cook. Discard any seeds.
- Place on a baking tray with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil and throw in the peeled garlic clove too. Season.
- Pop into the oven and cook for about 20 minutes until they are soft when you poke them with a knife. For a deeper, caramelly taste – and if you have the time – cook for a further 10 minutes and they will start to brown and release a beautifully sweet flavour.
- Once the squash is roasted, tip the contents into a blender or food processor. Add the hot stock but keep a little, about 200ml, back. Blend until smooth and creamy. If it’s too thick, add more stock/water until it’s a thick soup consistency. You may have to do this in batches.
- Add a small pinch of chilli flakes – but be careful, a little goes a loooooooong way.
- Taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary and judge the heat of the chilli.
- Now, scoop into bowls and top with a sprinkling of seeds and a few baby rocket leaves. As a final flourish, add a little drizzle of olive oil.
For the main course, I would plump for something fresh and lovely like chicken or white fish. Both are so good for you and are great sources of lean protein.
Try to be creative with your side dishes, and don’t just go for potatoes! I love serving main courses that consist of a main dish and then lots of lovely salads and sides which people can help themselves to. For example, I would serve roasted chicken thighs with lots of roasted vegetables with pesto stirred through them. Perhaps a side salad of lentils with garlic and lemon and then a crunchy green salad with a zingy beetroot dressing. No heavy carbs there, but lots of filling and delicious goodies that won’t leave people wondering where the potatoes are.
You do have to think about who is coming to the dinner party, though, and what the general vibe will be. Sometimes you will want to make one thing that you can plate up and really wow people with. In this case, I always try to think of ways I can make my favourite things a little bit healthier and more delicious. So, I would always opt for sweet potatoes over white ones, I would always plump for brown rice over white, and so on.
For a one-dish main course, my garlicky mushroom and brown rice risotto with parmesan and truffle oil is a real winner. Brown rice takes a little longer to cook than white rice, but don’t let that put you off. I’ve made this lots of times and have found that par boiling the brown rice a little beforehand means that the risotto is much quicker to cook; in fact, it’s even easier than a normal risotto! The cornstarch helps to give it the luxurious creamy feeling of a traditional risotto.
To make enough risotto for 4 people you will need:
- 1 cup short grain brown rice (or brown sushi rice)
- 2 cups water
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, finely diced
- 350g mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 gloves of garlic, crushed
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- ½ cup white wine
- 1 ½ cups chicken broth, room temperature
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
- Handful of grated Parmesan cheese
- Spoonful of mascarpone
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- Handful of chopped parsley
- Truffle-flavored olive oil (optional…but highly recommended!)
- In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the rice and water. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
- Whilst you are waiting for the rice to cook, you can get on with frying your mushrooms. Simply pop a little oil in a frying pan and then add the sliced mushrooms and fry until gorgeously golden. Top Tip: You might have to do this in batches, because if you crowd the pan the mushrooms go sad and soggy and you will never get them golden. Towards the end of the cooking, add the crushed garlic and then a squeeze of lemon juice. Season and then tip into a bowl and set aside for later.
- Now you can turn your attention to the rice. Remove the pan from the heat and leave it covered. At this point, the rice will not be completely cooked and there will be some water in the pan. That’s exactly how you want it!
- Now take a pan and, over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and fry until it begins to soften. This normally takes about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and keep stirring for 1 to 2 minutes. When the wine comes to a simmer, add the rice (along with any of the rice water that is in the pan). Give it a really good stir.
- Add the chicken broth and give it another stir.
- Now, bring it back to a simmer and leave to cook. Make sure you stir frequently to stop it all sticking to the pan. Carry on cooking until the liquid has thickened and reduced. This will take about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the cornstarch mixture, then cook for another minute.
- Stir in the parmesan and the mascarpone.
- Tip in your marvellous mushrooms and then have a taste. Season as necessary with salt and pepper and stir in the chopped parsley.
- Drizzle with truffle oil for a truly decadent finish.
In my eyes, a dinner party isn’t a dinner party without pudding. And just because you are being healthy doesn’t mean you cant indulge. No siree! Chocolate is always a winner, and the good news is that if you stick to chocolate with a cocoa content of over 75% it really isn’t bad for you (in moderation). Try to avoid refined sugar, opting instead for a lower GI sweetener such as coconut sugar or maple syrup. I love making a pudding that tastes amazing, without using the traditional ingredients of butter, cream and sugar. It’s so fun to watch people eating something they love and then not believing that it’s not bad for them!
For a truly wonderful end to any dinner party, wholesome or not, this healthy version of a salted caramel chocolate tart will knock your socks off!
To make 6 mini tarts, or one big one, you will need:
For the crust:
- ¾ cup macadamia nuts (brazil nuts, almonds or pecans would work too)
- ¼ cup ground almonds
- ¼ cup buckwheat kernels
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
- Pop everything into a food processor and pulse.
- Once it resembles a wet sand, tip into tart cases and press gently.
- The crust should fill the bottom and up the sides of the tart cases.
- Pop into the fridge for half an hour or so to firm up.
For the salted caramel layer:
- ½ cup almond butter
- ¼ cup coconut cream
- ½ cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
- Pinch of sea salt flakes
- Simply mix everything together in a bowl. It should be gorgeous and thick.
- Now spoon into the chilled tart cases and return to the fridge.
For the healthy chocolate ganache:
- 3 tablespoons cacao
- ¼ cup melted coconut oil
- 1 ½ tablespoons maple syrup
- ¼ cup coconut cream
- Sea salt flakes for sprinkling on the top
- Mix the cacao, melted coconut oil and maple syrup in a bowl. Give it a really good stir, it should combine easily. If it doesn’t you can gently heat it, but this isn’t normally necessary. Then add the cream and stir well.
- Spoon on top of the caramel and sprinkle with a few sea salt flakes.
- Chill until ready to eat. Heavenly!
Finally, send everyone off with bellies full of fresh peppermint tea to help with digestion, to reduce any bloating, and to help them get a lovely night sleep.