The BEST healthy dish for the holidays—with a fun American twist

Around the holidays, I enjoy adding apple cider and cranberries to my cooking to really help me get into the holiday spirit.

Not only are both ingredients bursting with health-boosting antioxidants, they’re also festive and tasty.

So, in a moment, I’ll share with you one of my favorite recipes that incorporate both…

Holiday rice pilaf.

But first let’s back up to discuss the interesting origins of this traditional dish…

This delicious, creative dish hails from ancient Persia

Traditional rice pilaf originated thousands of years ago in ancient Persia. In fact, many historians consider the Persian physician and scientist Avicenna (Ibn Sina) to be the “father” not just of modern medicine…but also of rice pilaf.

Avicenna documented how to make the dish in his 10th-century writings on medical science. (You can find my translation of his influential work, Avicenna’s Medicine, on my website.)

In my view, it makes sense that the “father” of medicine would also write about ways to prepare healthy meals, since a good diet is fundamental to good health. (For this same reason, I also regularly include lots of healthy recipes in my Daily Dispatch and Insiders’ Cures newsletter.)

Even today, pilaf remains the foundation of Persian cooking. To the rice, people often add:

  • Seasoned lamb—A delicious red meat option that has the healthiest fatty acid profile of any type of meat. In fact, moderate consumption of grass-fed, organic red meat (like lamb) can actually protect you against chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.
  • Nuts (like pistachios)—which help lower risk of dying from heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in this country!
  • Spices—which help add unexpected flavors and nutrition to your cooking.
  • Dried fruits, like dates, raisins, or figs—which count toward your daily target of five servings of fruits and vegetables.

Of course, wild rice also contains many healthy nutrients, including fiber, and essential minerals like potassium and magnesium (which both support low blood pressure). It also has about 30 percent fewer calories than brown rice…and 40 percent MORE protein.

(The term wild rice is a bit of a misnomer. First, because most varieties sold in stores today come from cultivated farms…not from out in the wild. Second, because it’s not even really rice! It’s a grass seed related closely to corn, wheat, barley, and bamboo. In fact, you can pop wild rice like popcorn!)

Now, the recipe I’m going to share with you today is for a modern pilaf with “American” ingredients. In fact, wild rice—which is native to North America—forms the basis of my holiday pilaf. So, to me, including it in your holiday celebrations stateside makes perfect sense!

In addition to wild rice, here’s what else you’ll need to make this festive and healthy side dish…

Holiday Rice Pilaf—with an American twist


  • 3 tbsps olive oil, divided
  • 2 tbsps white wine vinegar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves garlic, 1 chopped, 1 smashed
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 2 cups wild rice
  • ½ cup fresh apple cider
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil on medium heat in a saucepan.

  1. Add cinnamon and smashed garlic; cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add rice and toss.
  3. Add cider, water, and salt and pepper.
  4. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 16 minutes, until rice is tender. (Add cranberries during last 10 minutes of cooking.)
  5. Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat in a skillet.
  6. Add onions, ¼ tsp each salt and pepper, and stir and cook for 18 to 20 minutes, until onions are browned and tender.
  7. Add chopped garlic and cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes.
  8. Stir in parsley and vinegar.
  9. Add scallions, then add the onion mixture to the prepared rice and combine.

The recipe makes enough to serve six to eight hungry adults. I recommend serving alongside some wild-caught fish or seafood, or grass-fed and -finished meat. Or, you can use it as a stuffing for peppers, eggplant, or squash.

And—you might impress your guests this holiday season by sharing with them all the new research on the many health benefits of eating cranberries year-round. Just check out the November 2021 issue of Insiders’ Cures, my monthly newsletter (“The Thanksgiving table staple that fights tooth decay, reduces cancer risk, and more”). If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started!