Christmas

70 Non-Traditional Christmas Dinner Ideas That Are Twists on Classics

Break out of your (and your loved ones') comfort zone this Christmas.

November 29, 2021
Photo by Jenny Huang

Looking for nontraditional Christmas dinner ideas? You’ve come to the right place. I took this assignment very seriously and rounded up 70 recipes that will surprise—and satisfy—your guests (promise). There’s something for everyone, including plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. From appetizers to main courses and sides, plus plenty of sweet finishers, these holiday dishes make the expected, unexpected.


Our Best Non-Traditional Christmas Dinner

1. Instant Pot Short Ribs With Roasted Seaweed Gremolata

If you’re hosting an intimate Christmas dinner, cook short ribs in an Instant Pot. The multi-cooker makes prepping dinner a breeze, so you can actually spend time in the living room enjoying the company of your guests. A crunchy seaweed breadcrumb topping makes this preparation of short ribs a little less than traditional, but entirely comforting and special.

2. Slow-Cooker Pork Shoulder With Brown Sugar & Balsamic Glaze

Want to know the secret to cooking a delicious Christmas dinner? A slow-cooker! Why? Because you can set it in the morning or early afternoon, throw everything in a pot, and away you go, back to the present opening. This sweet and smoky pork shoulder is ready to serve a crowd, and pairs best with a comforting side dish like polenta, roasted butternut squash, or not-boring green beans.

3. Scaccia Ragusana

This isn’t stromboli, but it’s stromboli-inspired, which is reason enough to serve it for Christmas. Oh, and it’s vegetarian too! Start by making the dough, which is made with a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour; once it’s fully mixed, kneaded, and has risen, roll it out into a rectangle and fill it with tomato sauce, thinly sliced white onion, provolone cheese, and fresh basil.

4. Lasagna With Any-Greens Pesto & White Beans

Lasagna is a traditional Christmas dinner recipe (or, in my family, Christmas Eve) but what makes it less-traditional for a holiday meal is adding layers of homemade pesto with any greens that you have on hand (Kale! Swiss chard! Basil! Parsley!) and white beans in place of a ground meat blend.

5. Parmigiano Reggiano Cheesecake

Some people like sweets for dessert, and others prefer a nice glass of port with a selection of cheeses. This cheesier-than-ever cheesecake offers the best of both worlds for a not-so-traditional Christmas dessert.

6. Stovetop Green Bean Casserole, Veganized

There are a couple things that make this green bean casserole recipe less than traditional. For starters, you may want to serve this as a side dish for a holiday dinner that isn’t Thanksgiving (the audacity!). But there’s also a dairy-free cream of mushroom soup that’s entirely made from scratch using cashew cream and mixed ’shrooms .

7. Garlicky Fan Rolls

These are not not traditional, but they’re no Parker House Dinner Rolls. There’s garlic powder in the dough and both fresh and powdered garlic in the herb butter.

8. Burnt Broccoli Farro With Smashed Olives

Quick-pickled red onions, crumbled feta, sautéed broccoli, and smashed castelvetrano olives are a surefire way to get your guests to care about a farro side dish.

9. Garganelli with Lobster and Caramelized Fennel Purée

Pasta is not just for weeknight dinners (say it louder for the people in the back). When you combine a pasta shape as special as garganelli with poached lobster and a creamy fennel sauce, it instantly becomes worthy of a holiday meal.

10. Salt & Vinegar Mashed Potatoes

Even if you want to serve a non-traditional dinner menu, we know that you don’t really want to forgo serving mashed potatoes, just for the sake of being different. So why not make the side dish that everyone knows and loves but with a snack food twist?

11. Sheet-Pan Cranberry Crisp

Move aside apple crisp! Come November and on, we’re all about consuming cranberries in every form, particularly if they’re baked with an equal amount of brown sugar streusel topping.

12. Pot Roast With 40 Cloves of Garlic

Fork-tender pot roast for Christmas isn’t all that exciting or inventive. But pot roast with 40 cloves of garlic inspired by the classic chicken dish—now that’s something to talk about!

13. Deviled Eggs with Spicy Tomato Jam and Pistachio Dukkah

Surprise guests with deviled eggs that are far from the same old, same old. For starters, the whipped yolk filling is made with Greek yogurt instead of mayo and a whole host of earthy spices like caraway, cumin, and coriander seeds. A smoky tomato jam (which you can make in advance!) is the unexpected final flourish.

14. Lobster Diavolo

Lobster and plump Roma tomatoes sound like the soundtrack to summer, which is maybe why I, and recipe developer Merilll Stubbs, adore serving it in December for a holiday dish.

15. Coconut Vegan Cheesecake Bars With Nut Crust

There’s no real cheese in these friendly bars; just lots and lots and lots of real coconut flavor (and a little bit of maple syrup for good measure, too. After all, it is the holidays!).

16. Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter Vinaigrette, Walnuts & Pecorino

Is this the most “out there” Christmas side dish on this list? No. But is it the most delicious? Quite possibly, yes!

17. Pork Shoulder Ragu

Somewhere in between bolognese sauce and pulled pork is this absolutely perfect (pork-fect?) ragu that we love to serve with a bold pasta noodle like pappardelle for an impressive Christmas main course that won’t have you begging for mercy from the kitchen gods.

18. Broccoli Rabe Gratin

What makes this side dish stand out among more traditional casseroles and gratins is, yes, the use of broccoli rabe, but also the fact that the recipe only calls for three ingredients total (plus salt and pepper).

19. Ancho Chili-Cinnamon Chocolate Bark

For dessert, or a quick hostess gift, homemade chocolate bark has some serious heat.

20. Brown Rice Horchata

Whether you drink it on its own, or use it as a replacement for oat or almond milk in coffee, this subtly spiced beverage is a delicious addition to any holiday spread.

21. Corn Cake

“Think of it as a cross between buttered cornbread and yellow layer cake—perfect for a birthday or just-because party or bad day,” writes Emma Laperruque. As an ode to everyone’s favorite holiday side dish—corn bread—we also think it’s quite lovely as a Christmas dessert, too.

22. Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon

For some reason, beef bourguignon never quite makes it to the center of the dinner table. Maybe you think it’s too fussy or too French (is there such a thing?) or too vintage (again, is there such a thing?). This year, we’re embracing the unconventional with one modern twist: cooking this classic beef stew in an Instant Pot!

23. Speedy Shrimp With Horseradish Butter

Looking for an easy recipe to kick off your Christmas feast? Instead of the usual shrimp cocktail, cook this fiery scampi-inspired sauté, which comes together in just five minutes.

24. Gingerbread Ice Cream

Think outside of the box this year! “This ice cream steals all the best flavors—molasses, ginger, punchy-warm spices—from holiday cakes and cookies,” writes Food Editor Emma Laperruque.

25. Potato Croutons

They’re the secret to a salad that everyone will actually want to eat.

26. Cauliflower Paprikash

This Eastern European dish is traditionally made with chicken, but for a new classic, swap in an entire head of cauliflower instead.

27. Apple Cider and Cardamom Roasted Pears

The very best of every Christmas pie is the filling. Here, halved fresh pears are roasted with maple syrup, apple cider, fresh lemon juice, and ground cardamom for a warm and cozy dessert.

28. Hot Chocolate & Halva Pudding

"The cake crust is thick yet so soft it gives away easily as you sink your spoon inside. Underneath lies a pool of chocolate gold produced by what can only be called magic and is flecked with crumbly pieces of sesame halva–a dense Middle Eastern candy. This is best served as soon as it exits the oven, while the chocolate sauce is still swimming. And if you’ve had a really bad day, add a scoop of ice cream for good measure,” writes recipe developer Benjamina Ebuehi.

29. No-Bake Pistachio Mini Cheesecakes

The things that make this cheesecake dessert non-traditional are the things that make it one of our favorite holiday recipes: it’s no-bake and is served in individual portions, making it easier than ever to entertain.

30. Blistered Green Beans & Sweet Potatoes With Tahini

“Sauteed, roasted, mashed, casserole-d, marshmallow-topped—the possibilities are endless for these two ingredients,” writes Assigning Editor Rebecca Firkser. This time around, she let the flavor of in-season vegetables shine and only dressed them up with lemony tahini sauce.

31. 30-Minute Roast Chicken

Your new, go-to method for cooking roast chicken involves spatchcocking (it’s not as scandalous as it sounds). To do this, butterfly the bird and flatten its backbone; doing so will allow the meat to cook in half the time for an easier-than-ever Christmas meal.

32. Flourless Pecan Cake

You’ve heard of flourless cake, and you’ve surely heard of pecan pie. But have you ever heard of a three-ingredient cake that gives you two desserts in the form of one epic finish for your Christmas dinner?

33. Shaved Cauliflower, Fennel, and Beet Salad with Parmesan Dressing

“Sometimes, salads are just a way to eat more cheese. Bring on the feta crumbles, goat cheese blobs, and pecorino shards. This dressing cuts to the chase with lots of ground parmesan, chock-full of umami,” writes Food Editor Emma Laperruque of this winter-ready salad.

34. Cottage Cheese & Chive Rolls

Listen, I love packaged crescent rolls as much as the next person but sometimes, you want a little something more. How about these savory dinner rolls, in which the dough is taken to the next level with cottage cheese and chopped chives?

35. Porchetta-Spiced Roast Chicken

The flavors of roast pork—fennel seeds, black pepper, chile flakes, oregano, rosemary, and garlic—are rubbed all over a spatchcocked chicken for a centerpiece-worthy bread.

36. Wild Rice Salad With Sweet Potatoes, Arugula & Aged Cheddar

This isn’t just a big bowl of greens. There’s wild rice, maple-glazed roasted sweet potatoes, toasted almonds, dried cranberries, thinly shaved cheddar, and a zesty balsamic vinaigrette.

37. Food-Processor Pistachio Cake With Raspberry Cream

No stand mixer here! This moist, nutty cake with a raspberry-rippled whipped cream is prepared in a food processor. Plus, the subtle green cake and pink-speckled cream are Christmasy.

38. Martha Stewart's Instant Pot Beef Stew With Dijon & Tomato

A bowl of beef stew can take the chill off even the most wintery day. This one employs tangy Dijon mustard to unite all the other ingredients—beef chuck, onions, mushrooms, carrots, and tomatoes. Our editors recommend serving it with mashed potatoes or crusty bread, a green salad, and a bottle of full-bodied red wine, say our editors.

39. Festive Red Fruit Compote

“Highlighting winter fruits like pomegranate and citrus, and warming spices ginger and cardamom, results in a bold-flavored and brightly colored compote that will add warmth and cheer to any grey winter day,” says recipe developer Amy Chaplin. Use it to top cheesecake, porridge, or even as an accoutrement to a roast turkey or pork tenderloin.

40. Black Pepper Pear Crisp with Salted Oat Streusel

Frankly, I’m always team crisp or crumble over pie. You get all the same delicious spiced fruit flavors with way less fuss and precision.

41. Herby Mushroom Stew

With just as much meatiness and might as a beef stew, this vegan mushroom braise is cozy and satisfying. Oh, and its aroma will immediately invite your guests into the kitchen and say “what’s cooking, good looking?”

42. Sticky Pomegranate & Black Pepper Chicken Wings

No one would expect to be served chicken wings on Christmas, even as an appetizer, but a pomegranate glaze makes them feel like just the thing your feast was missing all along.

43. Vegan Stuffing With Mushrooms & Nori

Stuffing (or, technically dressing since it’s cooked outside the bird) doesn’t always need to be made with Italian sausage, apples, cranberries, and any other popular wintery mix-ins. Change it up with this umami-blasted version that gets a serious savory edge from roasted nori, nutritional yeast, a lot of garlic, and two kinds of mushrooms.

44. Sheet-Pan Croquembouche

If there’s one holiday dessert that’s a total showstopper, it’s Croquembouche. But if there’s one holiday dessert guaranteed to cause you blood, sweat, and tears, it’s Croquembouche. This sheet-pan version is manageable enough that any home baker can tackle it for Christmas.

45. Gochujang-Glazed Holiday Rib Roast

A standing rib roast always has a wow factor, but when it’s glazed with classic Korean ingredients like gochugaru (red pepper powder) and toasted sesame oil, it may very well become the best thing you ever made.

46. Sweet Potato Rum Cookies

On the American Christmas dinner table, there’s often a sweet potato side dish (maybe it’s roasted, maybe it’s mashed, or maybe it’s puréed) and there’s spiked eggnog too. But you know what there never, ever is? A crowd-friendly dessert that combines the two into one treat. Until now, that is.

47. Fruitcake-Inspired Brownies

We are so over hearing that no one likes fruitcake. We know that isn’t true because you, our readers, voted this recipe the best holiday confection on Food52.

48. Sour Cream & Chive Cauliflower Purée

“Imagine your favorite potato chip flavor—sour cream & chive—meets an ultra silky, buttery take on mashed potatoes,” writes recipe developer Olivia Mack McCool. But then, it gets even better. They’re not mashed or riced or smashed—they’re blended!

49. One-Pan Lentil Gratin With Sweet Potatoes & Mustard-Chèvre Crumbs

A vegetarian gratin that doubles as a main dish or a side? We’re listening.

50. Gingerbread Sweet Rolls

Start your morning with the spiced rolls that rival the satisfying sweetness of cinnamon rolls. You can make the dough on Christmas Eve (because you’ve got downtime, right?) and then shape and bake the rolls while the children are still nestled all snug in their beds.

51. Vegan Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Parsnip and Potato Mash

For a non-traditional but entirely welcome take on the English classic, swap in mushrooms and lentils in place of the usual ground beef or lamb mixture.

52. Glazed Marmite & Honey Chicken With Lemony Potatoes

Recipe developer Emanuelle Lee writes “marinating chicken in a mixture of Marmite, honey, vinegar, and olive oil makes for a delicious roast dinner, especially atop lemony crispy potatoes.”

53. Sweet Potato–Apple Rosti With Leafy Greens & Sour Cream

A rosti is shredded potato pancake that’s a little bit like a giant latke, which is as good as it sounds. Instead of russets and onions, use sweet potatoes and apples for a nontraditional take. Put it down for an appetizer, turn your back for one minute to pour a mug of mulled cider, and when you turn around, it’ll be gone.

54. Radicchio & Pickled Radish Salad

So you want to serve a salad, but once that feels special and doesn’t resemble a haphazard WFH lunch. This fantastically festive array of pickled radishes, endives, purple radicchio, watermelon radishes, and apples should do the trick.

55. Raw & Caramelized Brussels Sprouts With Salty-Sweet Pepitas

“Featuring cooked and raw Brussels sprouts, bright and sweet pomegranate seeds, caramelized shallots, and toasted sweet and salty pepitas, this salad is a visually appealing and deeply flavorful side dish to serve at any Thanksgiving or holiday dinner,” writes recipe developer Murielle Banackissa.

56. Basal Mahshi (Sweet & Sour Stuffed Onions With Chicken)

Mahshi is the general term for stuffed vegetables and here, white onions are filled with a combination of dark ground chicken, basmati rice, pine nuts, spices, tomato paste, and pomegranate molasses.

57. Lemony Whipped Goat Cheese With Crispy Prosciutto & Pomegranate

Good-quality goat cheese doesn’t need much accessorizing, but it’s the holiday season so we’re going all out with crispy prosciutto, pomegranate seeds, and fresh thyme.

58. Creamy Kimchi Gratin

There’s a blast of flavor from gochugaru, pickled jalapeños, Mexican-style cheese, prepared kimchi, and anchovies in this revamped gratin.

59. Italian Combo Salad With Mortadella & Provolone

Order up! This colorful, textural salad has every spicy, briny, creamy element you could imagine—there’s Castelvetrano olives, fennel salami, mortadella, provolone, pepperoncini, cucumbers, and Little Gem lettuce.

60. Martha Stewart's Whole-Lemon Pound Cake With Pomegranate Glaze

In my wildest dreams, I could never have created a dessert so beautiful and fragrant for the holidays. Of course, leave it to Martha to bake one.

61. Parmigiana di Finocchio (Fennel Parmigiana)

If I had it my way, snowflakes would be made of Parmigiano Reggiano and we’d all be filling our bookshelves with cheese globes. Unfortunately, expectations are often different from reality, but this fennel dish topped with cheesy breadcrumbs is pretty close.

62. Toasted Farro & Antipasto Salad

My fiancé's big Italian family will expect to see a huge antipasto spread for Christmas. In fact, it’s kind of a requirement. But we don’t think they’ll be too upset with this grain salad.

63. Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s pie isn’t exactly a traditional Christmas dinner, but it hits the spot on a cold December night (ideally with a backdrop of falling snow), so there’s really no reason not to serve it.

64. Vegan Mushroom Pie With Melted Leeks & Herbs

Brinda Ayer, Food52’s director of content, knows that there are plenty of home cooks in search of a meatless main course that carnivores will enjoy too. “The secret is in the flavor-rich filling: Meaty mushrooms meld with mellow miso and savory herbs, then splash around with a bit of white wine and vegetable stock,” she says.

65. Bryant Terry's Citrus & Garlic-Herb Braised Fennel

No one will ever expect braised fennel to be the star of the show on Christmas Day (and they definitely won’t expect it to taste as good as it does).

66. Red Velvet Cookies

No one—and we mean absolutely no one—will be upset to see that the usual chocolate crinkle cookies have gotten one very merry upgrade.

67. Cream of Brussels Sprouts Soup With Crispy Bacon

No one would be surprised to hear that there’s Brussels sprouts on the Christmas menu this year, but this time, they come in the form of a luxurious soup and are topped with more crispy sprouts and bacon.

68. Baked Brie With Honey-Glazed Cinnamon Apples & Pecans

What’s old is new again. Baked brie feels very '90s and honestly, we’re okay with that. Sweet-spiced apples and glazed pecans give it festive flair.

69. Slow-Cooker Whole Squash With Spelt & Feta

All of your Christmas cooking conundrums—what to feed for a crowd, I don’t have enough oven space, how do I time my meal properly—can be solved with a slow-cooker.

70. Miso Caramel Tarte Tatin

Out of all the recipes on Food52—all of them!—this one was voted your favorite recipe starring butter, so you know it’s going to be good.

What is your favorite under-the-radar recipe to serve for Christmas? Let us know in the comments below.
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  • AntoniaJames
    AntoniaJames
  • Btaz
    Btaz
Staff Writer, Food & SEO

2 Comments

AntoniaJames December 24, 2021
We're taking advantage of the lovely weather we're having to grill some gorgeous steaks from Rancho Largo beef - from cattle raised in the wild grasslands and canyons of Southeast Colorado. https://www.rancholargo.com/ ("Where the land matters just as much to us as the food we put on the table.") We get these via Skypilot Farm here in Boulder County. Nigella Lawson's olive oil chocolate cake for dessert: https://www.nigella.com/recipes/chocolate-olive-oil-cake served with no-churn ice cream made from our local Longmont Dairy's eggnog and fresh cream (part of my weekly delivery). Sides from vegetables from the winter farmers market - order online, pick up on Sunday. Negronis by the fire pit while we're grilling. Happy Holidays, everyone! ;o)
 
Btaz November 29, 2021
I am horrified you promote live cooking of lobsters when the research shows how cruel this practice is . They suffer horrific pain. Do some research . Disgusted