“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” — Charles Dickens

’Tis the season for celebrating and conscious cooks everywhere are busy in the kitchen. Familiar family recipes are cooked with care, and during this joyful and celebratory month we are reminded of the great and almighty power of love and our many blessings.

December may be full of sparkling holiday soirees, intimate dinners with friends or boisterous family gatherings. This glorious gustatory time is perfect for preparing luscious hors d’oeuvres, creative cocktails, delectable desserts and time-honored traditional treats. Indulging in rich and delicious ingredients is certainly appropriate during these festive days, but balancing the buffet table with healthy options will be appreciated by your holiday guests as well.

Natural and nutritious ingredients can be combined in a myriad of ways to create exciting, invigorating, party worthy recipes that will tantalize the palate and satisfy the senses! Fresh herbs add lovely flavor to dips, salsas, salads, egg dishes, soups and so much more. Combine light cream cheese or a log of goat cheese with finely minced garlic, plenty of fresh basil, tarragon, mint and parsley, along with grated orange or lemon zest and a splash of orange liqueur for a dazzling appetizer.

Rather than overindulging in salty, fatty, potato chips or buttery crackers, enjoy thickly cut cucumber slices, endive spears, celery stalks, brightly colored mini peppers, or hollowed out cherry tomatoes as a base for dips and spreads. Cucumbers are an excellent source of hydration during the winter to combat the dryness of overheated rooms. Containing multiple B vitamins, eating cucumbers may help diminish holiday anxiety and ease the damaging effects of stress. The water and fiber found in cucumbers can also aid digestive health, which can sometimes suffer during the holidays.

All fresh vegetables and fruits are an excellent option for conscious celebrations. Try this recipe for vibrant eggplant compote enlivened with tomatoes, onions, capers and red wine. Use cucumbers for dipping or lightly toasted baguette slices, and serve with a bright glass of bubbly champagne. Bursting with the antioxidant protection of vitamin C, while providing plenty of antiviral and antibacterial protection, this zesty Mediterranean-style starter delivers big flavor and big health benefits.

Celebrate the season by preparing a delicious life!

Christmas Compote

Makes about 4 cups

1 medium eggplant

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, very finely chopped

1 can diced tomatoes (14 ½ ounce size, with garlic, basil and oregano)

1/4 cup dry red wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons capers, drained

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Peel eggplant and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add eggplant and onion. Cook uncovered, over medium heat until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, red wine, vinegar, capers, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, for about ten minutes, until liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat and let cool. Place in a pretty bowl and store in refrigerator until serving time. Serve with cucumber or bread slices, or mini peppers. Can be prepared one day ahead.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook,” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teachers College.