In my column for the 2015 holiday issue of Vegan Health & Fitness magazine I share some personal reflections on holiday feasts as well as some tips & ideas for really thriving as a vegan during this time of year. Also included are tips for those hosting vegans! I also reached out to some chefs & food bloggers for their tips & recipe references including The Gourmet Vegan, Vegan Miam, Wild Plate, Hell Yeah It’s Vegan, Chef Chloe Coscarelli, Healthy Happy Life by Kathy Patalsky, Dreena Burton & Ordinary Vegan. I really love this piece & thank you to all the chefs & bloggers for your contributions! Enjoy!
Originally appeared in the Holiday 2015 (Nov/Dec) issue of Vegan Health & Fitness magazine
Thanksgiving 1999, Big Island of Hawai’i. I was in university and a vegetarian, along with 2 out of my 3 roommates. We were excited for our feast and assured a vegan acquaintance who I had invited that there would be plenty of food for him to eat. I was dedicated to my own vegetarian ways but in retrospect, realized that I really didn’t know or take the time to understand what being vegan meant in terms of what he would and would not consume as well as why he had made those decisions.
I had plenty of vegetable and grain dishes laid out but incorporated animal based dairy in almost every one- melted butter on this vegetable dish, drizzled cheese on that one. As my vegan acquaintance circled the table, I could see a mounting frustration in his expression as I rattled off how I had made everything. When he stormed out, leaving before the feast even began, I shrugged it off. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I didn’t take personal offense to his anger and felt a little shocked that such seemingly minute issues like butter on brussels sprouts would cause him to react so strongly.
Fast forward 16 years to the present and I now understand. I now find myself in the same viewpoint as this vocal and passionate vegan guest of mine many years ago. I now know to show up with vegan options to spare as well as proceed with caution and inquiry when I am assured by non vegans that there will be options for me. Back in 1999, my guest did show up with a vegan pumpkin pie which I regrettably never had the chance to taste. These days, it’s very safe to say I will never have a vegan leaving my feasts for lack of options.
While some vegans may be surrounded by others through all the holiday festivities, many are not and can find themselves as the lone one amidst a group who doesn’t understand why they won’t, for example, eat dairy products, among many other things. It can not only be comforting but practical to be prepared with a few dishes and holiday gatherings are the ideal place to share the deliciousness and variety of plant based cooking.
Since going vegan, I have already learned a great deal about food. I have learned to allow vegetables to shine as rightful culinary stars of their own. I have learned to dive into the wealth of food blogs and cookbooks, my own repertoire of dishes I love and am comfortable with making expanding as I do so. I have learned that some people may be very resistant to try a dish when it’s presented as vegan, but eventually may come around and actually find out that vegan food can be very delicious.
To expand this piece beyond my voice and tips I have gleaned from my own experience, I also reached out to several vegan chefs and food bloggers to ask for their suggestions as well as recipe references to share for the holiday season. My hope is that this piece will be interesting and resourceful for long time vegans as well as those new to the lifestyle and transitioning. I also hope it serves as something of interest for vegans to pass on to non-vegan family members and friends who may be interested in learning more about how to accommodate their vegan guests. Enjoy!
TIPS FOR ATTENDING GATHERINGS, PARTIES & FEASTS
Make a dish
This is probably the first thing anyone will think of to be prepared as well as be a friendly guest! You don’t need to be a master chef but it is a great idea to test recipes ahead of time if you can. Veganize a family favorite to share how your family’s beloved dishes can also be delicious vegan style.
Order or buy a dish
I love cooking and baking but always like to know where the go-to spot is for delicious vegan baked goods or dishes locally. Some people are pressed for time or simply want to buy something professionally prepared to take to a feast or party. If you are going to another city to celebrate, put in the time beforehand to research where you can order a fabulous vegan pie or a grocery store where you can pick up one of the different varieties of delicious vegan holiday roasts on the market. Field Roast’s Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute is one of my favorites and there are a number of other delicious ones to choose from.
Bring your favorite vegan beer, wine or other beverage
If you drink and plan to share, bringing your favorite vegan beer and wine is a great move. I love spreading the word about the website Barnivore and using it to check whether various wines or beers are vegan friendly. It’s a great resource to turn others on to as well!
Let your host know ahead of time if possible
Letting your host know ahead of time can allow you to gauge how prepared they might be to accommodate you. You might find that the host has numerous other vegan guests planning to be in attendance and is excited to accommodate everyone. Or you may find that your host is really not clear on what veganism is, giving you the opportunity to prepare as you see fit.
Be open and prepared for questions
Feasts, parties and other gatherings can be a pivotal moment to share important information about key moments that compelled you to go vegan but can also hold the potential for uncomfortable or even contentious questions or discussion points. Offering to have talks with people and share resources (literature, stories, documentary tips, etc) with them later if they are curious to discuss vegan issues can be a way to relay a willingness to communicate. I talk about veganism quite a lot and am still learning to balance a sense of openness to discuss vegan lifestyle with a healthy ability to set boundaries when I need to.
HOSTING A VEGAN
To make this piece more inclusive, I have included some tips for non-vegans to aid in being more receptive and prepared.
Understand what veganism is
As my opening story shared, I was once a vegetarian who had no idea what veganism really entailed! When I turned vegan and made the commitment to eliminate all animal based products from my diet and lifestyle, I had a transitional period that involved a lot of surprise and even shock as I learned how many products often surprisingly contain animal based dairy or some other animal based ingredient. It can be a frustrating experience to have a guest who will not eat anything you made so if you want to accommodate them, reach out to them beforehand to brainstorm ways you can make them feel welcome. Be open to experiencing how good vegan food can be. My husband is not vegan but understands what it is to cook vegan. He is my go to guy for grilled tofu, among other vegan dishes.
Understand that veganism is not ‘just a diet’
Some non-vegans view veganism as just another diet and restrictive form of eating. Understand that while some are primarily vegans in the way they eat (and perhaps not an entire lifestyle), many are vegans in more ways than just dietary. Also, for vegans there are no “cheat” moments. Holidays are not a time for us to say, ok, I’ll have that slice of meat “just this once.” Understanding this might help any host not feel rebuffed when a vegan guest will not cede to urgings to eat something “just this one time.”
Surprise them with a vegan centerpiece dish
One of the most touching stories I ever heard was from a longtime vegan friend of mine whose non-vegan family surprised her at Thanksgiving by forgoing a turkey completely and instead having a vegan holiday roast as a centerpiece. This is a beautiful and inspiring story of a family acting from a place of great compassion and I know for my friend this was a momentous occasion. Be inspired by such stories and even if you are not ready to have a vegan centerpiece, see how you can incorporate other vegan dishes on the menu.
Consider it a culinary adventure
It is standard to have many vegetable sides at the holidays but consider veganzing them so they can accommodate everyone. Many tasty holiday favorites- wild rice, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts and more- can be prepared with absolutely no dairy and taste absolutely fantastic. Google recipes with “vegan” added to get tips on how vegans cook up their holiday favorites. In doing all this you might also find that you already prepare many of your holiday dishes vegan style, which will be fun news to share with your guests!
Consider the little things
Something as small yet thoughtful as having non-dairy creamer for a coffee drinking vegan guest can be really appreciated. My favorite is Califa brand’s Almond Creamer but there are many others to choose from. Another great small consideration would be to shift to vegan butter for your dishes. Earth Balance products can be found in most grocery stores and their buttery spreads and baking sticks are popular items for vegan baking and cooking. Any accommodation you make for your vegan guests is an effort of thoughtfulness for their comfort and ability to enjoy your feast or party even more!
TIPS & RECIPE REFERENCES FROM CHEFS & FOOD BLOGGERS
I sent a series of questions to a number of chefs and food bloggers across the USA. Enjoy their delicious recipe references below, as well as their resourceful tips for really enjoying the holidays as a vegan!
Do you have any tips for vegans for the holiday season?
“My best tip for vegans during the holiday season is to embrace the holiday! The star of the Thanksgiving table has always been the sides in my opinion. This is one time of year where building a meal out of sides is something to look forward to and there are tons of vegan recipes to add tweaks to holiday classics from Stuffing and Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows, to Green Bean Casserole, Biscuits and even a vegan Gravy!” -Chloe, http://www.chefchloe.com/
“If visiting family, bring 2-3 of your own vegan dishes – a main, simple side or salad, and a dessert. It may feel like a lot of prep to do 3 dishes, but often components or full recipes can be prepped a day or more in advance. Be sure to bring a dish even if the host says there will be vegan items for you to eat. It can be easily confused, and it’s better to have something. Plus, extra good food is always appreciated.” -Dreena, http://plantpoweredkitchen.com/
“My first suggestion is if you’re invited to a non-vegan holiday gathering, volunteer to bring some delicious plant-based dishes to share. I have found in the past that people really enjoy a healthy option. If you are the host, don’t feel guilty about serving healthy, plant-based food. Nothing says I love you more. You might also want to make it a potluck so everyone gets to eat what they want.” -Nancy, http://www.ordinaryvegan.net/
“To make things easier for my host, as well as myself, I will usually offer to bring something. In most cases, I bring both an entrée option and a dessert, with plenty of each to share with others. Most hosts will appreciate the offer, especially, if they aren’t too familiar with making vegan (or gluten-free) dishes. This also has the advantage of showing others how delicious your way of eating can actually be! I personally take great delight in “wowing” people with my vegan creations, especially a vegan sweet treat or dessert, as often there aren’t many vegan options in this area (other than fruit, of course). Also, I find that many people are curious about how these vegan items taste, and other guests are eager to try them, and therefore, I make sure that the items that I bring have a lot of visual appeal, as well as lots of flavor.”-Beverly, http://veganchef.com/
“Get involved. If you’re not good in the kitchen, get involved by helping with the shopping and finding good vegan alternatives for some of those traditional recipes others will be making over the holidays. The other option is to be actively involved in helping to plan and prepare dishes. Even when we celebrate the holidays with non-vegans, vegan side dishes can often outshine the meat on the table. It’s always nice to think of others around the holidays; so if you’re hosting, make sure you’re aware of any allergies, intolerances or dietary preferences.” Rika and Doni, http://veganmiam.com/
Do you have a favorite dish from your cookbook or food blog that’s great for the holiday season?
“My favorite dessert to make over the holidays would have to be my pecan pie. It’s almost identical to the pie I grew up eating, and you’d never know that it’s vegan!” -Claryn, http://hellyeahitsvegan.com, Recipe: http://hellyeahitsvegan.com/best-vegan-pecan-pie/
“One of my most popular holiday recipes is my “Festive Chickpea Tart” from my cookbook Let Them Eat Vegan. It’s delicious served on its own or with a vegan gravy or cranberry sauce. For dessert, our family’s favorite is “The Great Pumpkin Pie” from my newest book, Plant Powered Families.” -Dreena, http://plantpoweredkitchen.com/
“This holiday season I’m making our Root Vegetable and Fennel Soup that we shared on Vegan Miam over the summer. During the warmer months we serve it cold with crisp, fresh vegetables but in the winter it’s really comforting when served hot with some crusty bread or croutons. It’s a hearty, versatile soup that can be made year-round and like many soups, it’s even better leftover.” -Rika and Doni, Recipe: http://veganmiam.com/recipes/root-vegetable-fennel-soup
“My favorite holiday dish is definitely my vegan mushroom gravy over cauliflower mash. The recipe is available on my blog and always steals the show during the holidays.” -Nancy, Recipe: http://www.ordinaryvegan.net/vegangravy/
“My favorite sweet treat to make during the holiday season is my Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Vanilla Bean Icing. The recipe can be found in my cookbook Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen. It is perfect paired with holiday tea or lattes.” -Kathy, http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/
“I love my recipe for Pomegranate Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pumpkin Soup. Super simple and so full of flavor.”-Chloe,
“One of my favorite recipes to make from Wild Plate during the holiday season are the “Dark Chocolate Amaretto Truffles” They are to die for and melt in your mouth with each bite. I like to present them on a silver platter with each truffle placed on red or white rose petals. People go crazy over them and are always shocked they contain no refined sugars, no dairy, and are totally vegan raw!” -Laurel, www.wild-plate.com
“It would have to be my Tofu, Spinach and Cashew Plait. This gets amazing feedback and is perfect for special occasions. The finished dish also looks so spectacular.”- Danny, http://www.theveganhousehold.com/) Recipe: http://www.theveganhousehold.com/mains/tofu-spinach-and-cashew-plait
“As an Irish gal, my favorite dish hands down is the mashed potatoes, and I make them so many different ways! In our book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Living (Alpha/Penguin, 2005 1st edition), which I co-authored with (my husband) Ray Sammartano, I included a great mashed potato recipe with several variation suggestions.” -Beverly
Do you have a favorite vegan cocktail (or non alcoholic) beverage for the holiday season?
“My favorite vegan cocktail during the holidays has always been eggnog! When I started a plant-based diet, it was one of the first vegan recipes I developed. To achieve that smooth creamy consistency, I prefer an almond, cashew or coconut milk base. There’s a great recipe in Wild Plate that uses traditional spices to create that eggnog flavor we all love including; cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg. Punch it up with a little rum, bourbon, or brandy or enjoy fireside as a non-alcoholic cocktail!” -Laurel
“My favorite holiday alcoholic beverage is a Pom-prosecco. You just add a generous splash of pomegranate juice to a glass of champagne or prosecco. Fresh pomegranate juice works best! I accent the drink with fresh lime sometimes.” -Kathy
“I don’t drink alcohol, but I do love festive drinks. At holiday gatherings November through January, you’ll find me sipping my Cashew Coconut Nog. I really think this nog is better than most store-bought kinds. Friends tell me it’s great spiked, too!” -Claryn, http://hellyeahitsvegan.com/cashew-coconut-nog/
“The Berry Sangria we serve at by CHLOE is the perfect holiday beverage. We use our Merry Prankster Juice by CHLOE which is packed with watermelon, prickly pear and lemon. It’s easy to make for a group, has a little white wine and vodka in it and is garnished with berries. Light and easy to drink and the color is beyond gorgeous on your holiday table spread.” -Chloe,
“We love the seasonal flavor of cranberries around the holidays. Make a quick cranberry simple syrup and mix with vodka and St. Germain. Finish with club soda for a spritzer or shake and serve straight up in a martini glass or over ice in a highball glass. The sweet-tart cranberries and floral St. Germain are an irresistible combination.” -Rika and Doni
Do you have a favorite dish from another vegan chef/food blogger that’s great for the holiday season?
“The Baked Thanksgiving Risotto by Nava Atlas, taken from Vegan Holiday Kitchen. I wouldn’t be without this book.” -Danny
“If I need a dessert, I am definitely going to The Vegan 8 (http://thevegan8.com/). Brandi specializes in vegan food with only 8 ingredients and her no-bake chocolate mint tart is an outstanding holiday dessert and it is only contains 8 ingredients.” -Nancy
“I turn into a bit of a cookie monster around the holidays and spend hours both baking and un-baking vegan cookies and treats. One of my go-to recipe books to use is Erin Mckenna’s Baby Cakes series. Her books cover all the classics including snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, and are vegan and gluten-free!” -Laurel
“I’d recommend the Seitan stuffed with Walnuts, Dried Cranberries and Mushrooms at Susan Voisin’s Fat Free Vegan Kitchen Blog. Much like the Festive Chickpea Tart, this dish becomes a centerpiece for your holiday table – with familiar, comforting holiday flavors. Susan is a brilliant recipe developer.” -Dreena
“I have become a fan of Deliciously Ella’s recipe for Chickpea and Sundried Tomato Focaccia. It’s a great recipe for the holidays. You can make a batch of it to keep on hand all week while entertaining family and friends, serve it with salad for lunch, with hummus and spreads as a snack before dinner or as the perfect sandwich bread for leftovers.” -Chloe
“I love the Vegan Eggnog Cheesecake from Susan Voisin’s Fat Free Vegan Kitchen blog.” -Beverly
“Here’s an oldie but a goodie: Might Miso Gravy from How it All Vegan. It was actually the very first gravy recipe I tried after going vegan, and every omnivore I’ve served it to has agreed that it’s fantastic, period. Ten years later, this one still holds up!” -Claryn
Thank You to all chefs & food bloggers who contributed to this piece! Can’t wait to try out your recipes & thank you for being such a great inspiration!
Happy Holidays, Gathering Time & Feasting All!!!