Holiday Cooking, Vegan-style, Part 1

Let’s face it, vegan food can be bland, weird, or just plain inedible.

Part of this mediocrity comes from (some) vegan chefs’ unforgivable penchant for using inappropriate foods to “substitute” for non-vegan components. For example, replacing protein-y eggs with completely unrelated substances like applesauce or cornstarch.

There also persists an equally enjoyment-defeating assumption that vegans want low-fat foods or sweets with whole-wheat flour. Sweets are for indulgence, not for health, I say!

Furthermore, vegans tend to be unreliable when it comes to recipes. Being desperate for food options, they’ll rave about sub-par fare.

So what kinds of holiday deliciousness can you make for vegans that actually tastes good enough that you don’t need to preface dinner with “it’s vegan, don’t judge me?”

I’ll leave you with a couple recipes below, and feel free to post your own, but here are some general rules for vegan cooking:

1. Always have a hearty, protein-rich course so your guests leave full. Use beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, quinoa or whole grains (but not in pie crust).

2. The holidays are no time to skimp on richness, so use fats a-plenty. Olive oil is great (yawn), but why not think about mustard, coconut, peanut, or sesame oils? Use avocados, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, macadamias, filberts, chestnuts. People who are allergic to tree nuts can usually eat peanuts or cashews, and vice versa.

3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Some already-vegan foods – guacamole comes to mind – succeed without that extra shake of nutritional yeast or whatever.

Best Brussels Sprouts
Non-vegans always ask for this recipe. It’s a keeper.

Parsley-Caper Sauce (makes ½ cup):
Recipe adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

½ cup finely chopped parsley
2 tbsp small capers, rinsed
1 finely chopped shallot
1 large lemon
1/3 cup mild olive oil
1 tsbp white wine vinegar
Salt

Wash the lemon well, particularly if it’s not organic. Grate about 1 tsp of the zest, then cut lemon in half and squeeze out 2 tsp of juice. Combine zest and juice with remaining ingredients, stir vigorously, let sit for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust vinegar, juice and salt as needed. Set aside.

Sprouts:

1 pound of Brussels sprouts
1 cup of Walnuts, broken or loosely chopped
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

Trim remaining stems off the sprouts and slice into halves. Steam until bright green and nearly fully soft, perhaps 5 minutes. If don’t have a steaming device, just skip to frying them.
In medium-heat frying pan, heat oil, add steamed sprouts. When they begin to brown, add the walnuts, stirring periodically until all the sprouts are lightly browned.
Remove from heat, add sauce. Serve hot or room temp.

Cuneiform Bean Soup – feeds 6+
This is a variation on Italian bean soup, but with quinoa, which looks like tiny unreadable alphabet script.

Ingredients:
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil
1 white or yellow onion
2 1/2 tbsp fresh, loosely-chopped rosemary
4 whole, fresh sage leaves
2 large, chopped carrots
½ smallish celery root, peeled and sliced. Or two celery stalks, chopped
1 large potato (any kind, Russets are nice)
6 garlic cloves, loosely chopped
3/4 cup quinoa
10 brown mushrooms, sliced
1 ½ cups completely cooked beans: cannellini, navy, great northern, or mixed
Handful finely chopped parsley
1 cup chopped ripe tomatoes (canned are better than fresh if you can’t find ripe ones)
Salt, a lot, to taste
Pepper, to taste

Soup stock: In a large pot on medium heat combine 2 tbsp oil, onion, the sage, and ½ tbsp of the rosemary, stirring regularly until onions are translucent. Add carrot, celery, garlic, potato, 2 tsp salt, and 8 cups water. Bring to boil, lower to simmer 30 minutes uncovered. Strain, keeping only the liquid.

Meanwhile, rinse the bejeesus out of the quinoa. If you’re so inclined, you can actually boil it in a little water for 30 seconds and strain. This eliminates the bitter outer coating.

In a small frying pan, fry up the remaining 2 tbsp rosemary in 1/3 cup oil on low to medium heat until the leaves start to brown. Set aside to cool, then strain out leaves, retaining fragrant rosemary oil in a little pitcher or cup to use as soup garnish.

When the stock is complete and strained, add back in the quinoa, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, and parsley into pot. Bring back to a boil, and then lower to simmer until the “tails” are sticking out of the quinoa. Add pepper and plenty of salt to taste.

Garnish after serving.

Check back tomorrow for brownies, and pie crust that doesn’t suck!

Do you have a favorite vegan holiday recipe? Email us, or post it below.

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7 Comments

  1. the first couple of paragraphs were pretty insulting. are you vegan?

  2. Allen

    Thanks for the vegan recipes, but I think you’ve gone a little over the top with your assessment of vegan food. Food preferences are hard wired when we are young, so if you grow up eating processed, bleached white flour instead of whole wheat you will probably that whole wheat bread tastes funny. Similarly, kids from Amazonian tribes who are not used to milk chocolate bars often think that Snickers taste gross.

    But tastes change. The more people eat healthful, whole foods the more they grow to enjoy them and the more they tend to prefer them over the processed junk that has little more nutritional value than cardboard.

    Plus, saying that vegan food is always bland, fat free and flavorless neglects the fact that Oreo cookies, Fritos, Coke, Cracker Jacks and tons of other foods that even meat eaters enjoy are completely vegan. And without vegetable flavorings and seasonings like ketchup, BBQ sauce, marinades, breading, etc., chicken, beef and other meats are pretty darn bland and disgusting.

  3. Anrica

    Deva – I am vegetarian now, was vegan for four years and have been vegetarian for 14.

    Allen – good points. The idea was to coax non-vegans and vegans alike to cook yummy vegan food, and maybe get some recipes out of people? Not to sum up everything about American food culture.

    A large proportion of non-vegan food is also bland or inedible, too, I absolutely agree.

  4. Amy

    I have to agree. This started out really harsh and definitely came across as insulting. Love the recipes though. I’ve added them to my stash of things to try!

  5. Dunno what desperate vegans you know who rave about sub-par food! My vegan friends and I host amazing parties and I’ve never eaten better in my life.

  6. Whit

    As a vegetarian, I’m insulted by how you’ve characterized vegan food and substitutes in vegan foods. If anything’s bland, it’s your writing and over-generalizing.

  7. JC

    Get Ready to Kickstart Your Health in 2010!

    Based on research by Neal Barnard, M.D., one of America’s leading health advocates, this TOTALLY FREE program is designed for anyone who wants to explore and experience the health benefits of a vegan diet.

    http://support.pcrm.org/site/PageServer?pagename=21day_vegan_kickstart

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