Whether you’re hosting or attending a holiday party this year, one thing is certain: someone at the gathering is bound to have a dietary restriction. People are more aware of what they are eating than ever. The information we have available these days about the food we put into our bodies is vast and amazing.
Some of us are learning for the first time that we are gluten intolerant; others are finding peace of mind in veganism. Some folks have known they’ve had food allergies all of their lives, while others are just figuring it out. No matter your dietary needs, you should be able to enjoy holiday meals — and conscious hosts and guests would do well to consider inclusivity when making the goods.
While I’m certainly not a trained chef by any means, I’m a foodie who loves to entertain. I’ve learned to cook in a way that pleases the wide variety of tastes in my social circle. As a vegan, it is important to demonstrate to my loved ones that going cruelty-free doesn’t have to mean sacrificing flavor! Here are four recipes from my own kitchen that have won the hearts of guests, friends and family.
All of these recipes are vegan and gluten-free. Some are soy-free and nut-free, as well. I hope these help to make the holiday table in your home more inviting — and let me know what you liked best!
1. Creamy Cashew Macaroni and Cheese
Where I’m from, the South, macaroni and cheese is THE holiday food. In my family it was a tradition, and which relative made it best was always a friendly debate. To me, it is the ultimate comfort food and the quintessential dish to share with those you love. This version is my baby. It’s always a hit and creates a tangy, smoky macaroni that pairs beautifully with proteins prepared in sweet sauces like BBQ or “honey” glaze. (To keep these recipes truly vegan, “honey” should be understood as any honey alternative. This could be agave nectar, bee free honey (my favorite), maple syrup, or coconut aminos.)
A bonus to this recipe is that if you leave out the shredded cheese, liquid smoke and turmeric, you have the perfect base for a Vegan Alfredo! Just add some parsley, oregano and black pepper and you’re good to go.
½ cup of vegetable stock
1 box of gluten-free pasta
½ cup cashews
½ cup water
4 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ tablespoon of salt (more to taste)
½ tablespoon liquid smoke
½ tablespoon red pepper flakes
½ tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ tablespoon turmeric
3 cups vegan shredded cheese (optional)
Put the vegetable stock in a small saucepan and heat it over medium heat. In a separate pot, begin boiling water and prepare your pasta according to the box instructions.
Using a food processor, mix the cashews and water until they’re smooth. (A high-powered food processor will make faster work of this, but if you don’t have one, boiling the cashews first for 10 to 15 minutes should soften them up enough for a basic blender.)
Mix the nutritional yeast, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, liquid smoke, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar and turmeric into the food processor and blend into the cashew mixture.
Take the contents of your blender and empty them into the boiling vegetable stock. Mix everything well for a few minutes. You should see it begin to thicken.
Once it thickens a bit, turn the heat down to low and add your vegan shredded cheese (if you want to — it will still taste cheesy without it, but this step will ensure that it tastes just like the dairy version that your guests remember). Stir until it’s all melted.
Slowly scoop your sauce over the noodles, turning and coating them in small batches to ensure that everything is mixed well. This is where I’d encourage you to take a taste and see if you want to add any last-minute salt.
Enjoy! If you’re an overachiever, you can always pour it into a pan, cover it in more shredded vegan cheese, a few handfuls of crushed gluten free crackers, a sprinkle of salt, sweet paprika and dill, then bake for 10 minutes for that Southern style. (This is how I differentiate my day-to-day macaroni from Macaroni Holiday Style — but again, totally just a bonus for those who want to take it to the next level.)
2. Thanksgiving Skewers
Sweet and savory in one dish? Sign me up! These little guys are easy to make, and who doesn’t love potatoes? They’re perfect for an appetizer or side dish, and if you’re like me — always worrying that someone is going to mar the much-awaited potatoes with that terrible gravy spoon — serving your potatoes skewer-style both ensures potato safety and tastes great to boot!
1 sweet potato
1 russet potato
2 bell peppers
¼ tablespoon salt
¼ tablespoon garlic powder
¼ tablespoon black pepper
¼ tablespoon cinnamon
¼ tablespoon red pepper
¼ tablespoon oregano
Pinch of rosemary
¼ tablespoon white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon “honey”
1 tablespoon melted Earth Balance
1 package skewer sticks
Chop your potatoes and peppers into medium pieces. You want them to be hefty enough to be skewer-able without falling apart, but light enough to not break the skewers.
In a small dish, mix the olive oil, salt, garlic powder, white wine vinegar, rosemary and oregano. In a separate dish, mix the “honey,” Earth Balance, red pepper and cinnamon.
Take a baking pan and prepare it with the oil of your choice. Set the oven to 350 degrees F.
Take the russet potatoes and coat them in the first mixture of olive oil. Place them in the baking pan on one side.
Coat the sweet potatoes in the “honey” mixture and place them next to the russets.
Lightly salt the peppers and place them on the other side of the baking pan.
Bake everything for 30 to 45 minutes, checking potatoes every 10 to 15 minutes. At the halfway mark, take the pan out and turn everything. (You may need to bake them for longer and that’s OK! Just keep an eye on your peppers so they don’t get too charred.)
Take everything out and prepare your skewers. I like to go sweet-pepper-russet. But really, who am I to tell you how to arrange your salty and sweet? You do you!
3. Beets, Greens and Apples
A good friend of mine introduced me to a version of this dish many years ago and I’ve been playing around with it ever since. This is a simple and easy dish that hits just the right notes of earthy, sweet and sour. Beets are an under-appreciated vegetable, but they’re packed with nutrients. Paired with the health benefits of kale and garlic, this dish can help give your immune system a little support after all that traveling.
2 large red beets
1 bunch of kale
2 sweet apples
Whole cloves of garlic to taste
2 cups walnuts (optional)
½ cup “Green Goddess” dressing (optional)
½ cup melted coconut oil
Chop beets, apples and kale into fork-sized pieces. Prepare garlic cloves — they should be intact but peeled.
Prepare a baking pan with the oil of your choice and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Toss all chopped vegetables and fruit in the melted coconut oil. Mix in walnuts (optional).
Bake for about an hour. Check your beets. When they’re tender, they’re ready.
Top with Green Goddess dressing (optional — it adds a bit of tanginess if you like that! I personally do, but it still tastes great without it. Note that some kinds contain egg.)
Watch people’s preconceptions about beets fade away into oblivion.
4. BBQ Tofu
You might want to make a little bit extra! This is always the first dish to run out when I host holiday parties. There are lots of easy BBQ sauce recipes available and tons of cheap and delicious ready-made BBQ sauces at the grocery. (I leave this up each person to decide, seeing as some of us prefer it sweeter, some a bit more sour.) The sweet heat of these tofu squares plays really well with the Cashew Mac and Cheese, but also can liven up any plate alongside anything warm and starchy like potatoes, crusty bread, or stuffing.
1-2 blocks of tofu (depending upon the number of guests)
½ cup BBQ sauce of your choice
1/4 cup “honey”
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt to taste
Nutritional yeast to taste
Prep your tofu. The best way to do this is to lay the block between two paper towels, then take a heavy book and place it on top. Allow it to press and drain the tofu for about 20 minutes.
Cut tofu into squares. The thinner you’re able to make them, the crispier the outsides will be.
Take a frying pan and add the oil of your choice. Throw a handful of salt down on the pan. Place the tofu flat on the pan and heat over medium heat. Don’t touch it after this for a good 4-5 minutes. Allow it to brown.
Flip tofu and repeat. Add paprika, BBQ sauce and hot sauce. Watch for it to thicken. Once it begins to thicken, add “honey” and nutritional yeast. When thick and beginning to caramelize, you know it’s ready!