The Dishes Gail Simmons Turns To For Holiday Gatherings - Exclusive

A big part of what makes the holiday season so merry and bright is the chance to gather with loved ones and celebrate, especially with the friends and family members you don't see as much throughout the year. It's also the time for gift exchanges, office holiday parties, and potlucks galore. While exciting, it can be overwhelming, especially when you've got the added responsibility of preparing food to entertain a crowd.

But take it from an expert like Chef Gail Simmons, who says it doesn't have to be as complicated as it seems — the key is perspective. At the end of the day, the holidays are about "the gathering and the enjoyment of being able to be together again more so than anything else."

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Simmons officially gave all the home cooks out there permission to do "whatever makes your life easiest in the kitchen" this holiday season. Whether you "want to own it and be the host and entertainer ... and have people come over where they don't have to do a thing," or, like Simmons, "love a potluck because it relieves a lot of stress," Simmons says to turn to your favorites and keep it simple. She shared some of her current favorite go-to dishes for holiday season gatherings.

Her go-to soup for the cold weather season

There's nothing that says cozy, simple, and seasonal during the cold weather months like soup. "The changing of seasons, this is the beginning of what I call soup season," Gail Simmons told Tasting Table, adding, "I'll be making soups and stews for the next six months, until March, because that's the easiest way for me to entertain." One of the best things about soup, according to Simmons, is that it can be made ahead "the day before or the morning of, and then all you have to do is reheat it."

In particular, Simmons has one healthy, savory soup that she uses to nourish, please, and warm everyone up as the temperatures keep going down. "I always make, around this time of year, this barley and chicken stew with tons of leeks and carrots and lemon and lots of herbs." Simmons uses lemon, dill, and tarragon to brighten up the soup, and it comes together with minimal effort. Start by searing the chicken, followed by the vegetables, then add chicken stock and simmer until all the flavors come together. Finish with herbs and fresh parmesan cheese. It's an "easy, cozy way to entertain and make the most of all the produce that's in the market right now," said Simmons.

A grain salad makes for a quick and mess-free potluck option

When it comes to holiday potlucks, Gail Simmons says there are a few things she keeps in mind to make the process more festive than frustrating. "I definitely want to always make something that's the most transportable, easy to cut and divide and eat," she said. While she admits "soup isn't always great for a potluck," she's got other go-to dishes up her sleeve to bring to the party.

More recently, Simmons is throwing together a Greek-style grain salad that makes for a great counterpart to all the heavy dishes that tend to grace holiday tables. She described it as "a big quinoa salad. I made it like a Greek salad but with quinoa. I had olives, and feta, and roasted peppers and roasted tomatoes." Yet again, this is another dish Simmons says she can make "all in advance, toss it up, bring the dressing and pour it on, [and] let it marinate for a few minutes before" serving it up and calling it a happy holiday.

For the latest from Gail Simmons, follow her on Instagram. Plus, find recipes and more on her website.