Happy Holidays to all! As I was preparing and enjoying Thanksgiving dinner it occurred to me the need to share all of the easy and accessible ways to veganize traditional holiday dishes. As my family typically has a traditional American Thanksgiving I had to keep all of the main dishes nearly identical to how they always have been and I added in a couple new things to the menu as well. I think everyone was a little surprised at how easy it was for me to make a few simple substitutions without sacrificing the integrity of any of the feast, really, anyone can do this! With so many more holiday festivities just around the corner I thought I would share my favorite tips, no recipes per se because I really like showing people how to make things your own, trust your inner chef and go with the culinary flow.
Let’s start with appetizers, I love having a nice cheese plate out but if you are vegan (or have guests who are) a good idea is to splurge on a really nice plant-based cheese and crackers, these range between $10-15 (Miyoko’s brand or Kite Hill to name a couple great brands) but are well worth it for a special occasion. I think almost everyone loves some version of hummus but rather than have just basic hummus and pita I like to amp it up a bit and make a simple olive tempenade, pesto, grill up some ciabatta slices and have some nice olives out too. Olive tempenade is one of the simplest things you can make that olive lovers will go crazy for this is how: purchase a variety of pitted olives from your local olive bar (Sprouts, whole foods, mother’s all have them) throw these in your blender or food processor with some fresh thyme, a squeeze of lemon, a little olive oil ( if necessary) and pulse until desired consistency. Of course you can purchase any of these ready-made but making them yourself is really an entirely different thing and well worth the effort, brace yourself though your guest will want to come back to your house every year!
For the main course it is really all about the sides for me but if you are a fan of the various different vegan roasts out there which can be a great option, from my experience with these you need to add some quartered onions, potatoes and carrots to the baking dish along with the roast as they tend to need this flavor and moisture. As for the mashed potatoes, always a classic and frankly it isn’t a holiday without them, plus they are super easy to convert to a vegan friendly version by simply boiling the potatoes as you normally would (I prefer red potatoes), mashing them with a little Earth Balance buttery spread, add in some cashew cream (yes you will have to make this advance but it’s so worth it!) in lieu of heavy cream, minced fresh parsley and voila! Green beans with toasted almonds: toast up some silvered almonds until golden, clean up your green beans and get a sauté pan ready with some earth balance or olive oil if you prefer heat over medium-high heat and add your green beans. Sauté until green beans are crisp-tender, take off heat, add almonds and season with salt and pepper. Stuffing, one of my favorites on the table this I will leave up to the individual (just please don’t use Stovetop, you are better than that!) the only real difference here is using a vegan butter or olive oil instead of the traditional butter, usually I would lean towards the olive oil but since it’s a special occasion I do prefer the buttery taste of Earth Balance. Cauliflower Au Gratin, now this is my own addition and I wouldn’t have it any other way; it is delicious, creamy and a crowd pleaser. Nope, no recipe here but it really is not difficult; start by cutting your cauliflower into bite-size portions and toss with olive oil and salt/pepper, roast for about 15-20 min at 375. While that is roasting dice up some leek or onion, a couple cloves of garlic and sauté these with a little olive oil until onion is translucent. Mix the leek/garlic mixture with the roasted cauliflower. Now for the creamy-cheesy sauce that ties this whole thing together: it all starts with a basic roux (butter, flour) here I used Earth Balance again, about a half of a stick and melted it over medium heat in a saucepan, then while whisking constantly with one hand sprinkle in your all-purpose flour gradually about equal amounts to your butter ratio, then you can start adding in unsweetened soy milk still whisking until mixture is desired consistency (about 1 1/4 cups soy milk), it should be thick but not glue-like. Take the saucepan off the heat and then I added in some fresh minced sage and thyme but feel free to use any herbs of your choosing, nutritional yeast, vegan cheddar style shredded cheese and salt/pepper. No, I do not typically use vegan shredded cheese but again, it’s a special occasion. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower/leeks, top with panko breadcrumbs and bake at 350 for 20 min. YUM. My family had no idea this was even vegan! Cranberry sauce should always be plant based so not much to add here except I always make it fresh using real cranberries and I add a little orange zest. I haven’t found a dish that I could not replicate in a vegan way, the basic idea is to use a vegan alternative in place of the dairy product i.e. earth balance or an oil instead of butter and things like cashew cream or even unsweetened soy creamer instead heavy cream, the more you can make yourself the better your dish will turn out. Things like fresh herbs and spices add the depth of flavor that you really want to achieve.
It’s time for dessert! I was beyond elated when my vegan pumpkin pie turned out and was actually better than conventional, pies have never been my strength so this was a true triumph for me. For this one I recommend following the recipe and I feel this pie deserves it’s own post so I will be posting the recipe following this post, hope you give it a try!