The roots of harvest festivals go back to when people first grew food. Jewish people celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles, ancient Greeks feasted in honour of the harvest goddess Demeter, and ancient Romans celebrated the goddess of grain, Ceres.
Holidays can be especially tough if you are a vegetarian or vegan. People associate specific foods with certain holidays, and those foods are as much a part of the holiday season as any other part of the observance. Thanksgiving serves turkey, Easter serves lamb, and Christmas serves all of the above plus eggnog.
But, you can create new traditions! It helps if you take the point of view that what’s new today will, with time, become tomorrow’s tradition. If I am serving non-vegetarian guests, I plan to serve vegetarian foods with which they are already familiar.
Take for example the suggested menu for this article:
- Squash soup is dairy-free and can be prepared the day before, which leads me to another good tip. Prepare for a special event well in advance and spread out the work several days in advance. Be in charge. Divide your tasks. Don’t try to do everything at once.
- Vegetarian Moussaka contains eggplant and mushrooms with a béchamel sauce. Moussaka is traditionally made with lamb but with this flavour-packed recipe, it would be an afterthought. You can easily prepare a vegan béchamel sauce with olive oil instead of butter, and good-tasting nutritional yeast or dairy-free cheese in place of regular Parmesan. Always read your cheese labels. It is important that they use non rennet-coagulating ingredients when they make cheese. Microbial enzymes are used in place of rennet.
- Butternut Squash is baked and filled with a stuffing delicious enough to eat as a side dish, and the cranberry sauce is a terrific condiment for lots of main courses.
- No-bake pumpkin pie is a no-brainer. Agar-agar flakes should be an essential staple in everyone’s natural foods kitchen. It comes in clear bars and white flakes. In Asian grocery stores you will find agar-agar has added food colouring. You may like the colour (green, blue, red) but not the presence of food colouring! Agar comes from the ocean and when combined with kudzu, a starch, it will jell your pie much faster.
I have always found that by spreading out the work, I will be in a better position to handle any minor problems that may happen. Draw up a grocery list and buy the ingredients you need ahead of time. A day before the meal buy fresh fruits and vegetables and other perishable groceries. Find your tablecloths and ensure they are clean. (I never iron anything. Especially napkins.) Pick out the music you want to play. Chill your wine. Prepare any parts of the meal that will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two. Food, especially vegetarian food, needs to be presented with an eye to aesthetics. Appealing bowls and platters, fresh fruit garnishes, edible flowers, sprigs of fresh herbs, a dusting of cinnamon, powdered sugar or cocoa add a new element of enhancement. Presentation counts!
Enjoy the holidays, create new traditions, and eat lower on the food chain.
Squashes and pumpkins make a wonderful base for a soup, especially during the winter season. Paired with carrots, these vegetables give the soup a sweet, satisfying flavour that is enriched with the addition of a good quality olive oil.
(Makes 6-8 servings)
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cups butternut squash or pumpkin, peeled and diced into ½ inch pieces
- 2 large carrots grated
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger (1 inch piece)
- 8 cups vegetable stock
- ¼ tsp grated orange zest
- ¼ cup parsley, chopped
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
This can be a signature main course. People often mistake the baked pieces of eggplant for meat. They spear one on their fork, tell you how delicious it is, and keep on eating. You could turn this into a vegan dish by using olive oil instead of butter and Daiya cheese instead of Parmesan. Leftovers are great served on top of a slice of toasted rye bread. (Serves 6.)
- 3 eggplants, sliced ½” thick
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 12 cups sliced mushrooms (about 2 lbs)
- One 5 oz-can tomato paste
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 tsp tamari sauce or salt
- ¼ cup dry red wine or mirin
- ½ cup Red Star Nutritional Yeast Flakes (very tasty)
- ¼ cup organic butter
- ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour (for a gluten-free alternative try Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour)
- 1¼ cups 2% milk or plain rice or almond milk
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- Pinch nutmeg
- 3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 2 cups thinly sliced washed leeks
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp minced fresh gingerroot
- 2 stalks celery, sliced
- 2 portobello mushrooms, chopped
- 1 cup organic corn kernels
- ½ cup tamari
- 5 cups cubed whole wheat or gluten free bread
- ½ cup chopped fresh herbs (parsley, basil, and thyme)
This festive dish uses tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans and has a nutty flavour. It has a higher nutritional content than tofu and is easier to digest. In health food stores, you’ll find tempeh packed into a cake that’s easy to slice and cook with, making it an excellent high protein alternative to meat. (Makes 6 servings.)
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 8 oz organic tempeh, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 cup coarsely chopped fennel
- 2 stalks celery finely chopped
- 1 cup red seedless grapes, halved
- 1 oranges, peeled and sectioned
- 2 tart apples, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 2 cups spinach leaves, washed
- ½ cup tamari-roasted almonds
- ½ cup yogurt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup fresh orange juice (juice of 2 oranges)
- 1 tsp Dijon Mustard
- ½ tsp organic grated orange zest
What would Thanksgiving be without the traditional pie? Here’s the recipe from my 1961 edition of Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook.
- Unbaked 9-inch pie shell
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp molasses
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ginger
- 1-2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cloves or allspice
- 2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin, strained
- 1-1/2 cups milk, light cream or evaporated milk
Lacinato kale stands apart from other greens. It has long, crinkled green leaves, whose colour intensifies with cooking, and is a very beautiful dish to serve. (Serves 6-8.)
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp minced garlic
- 2 lb kale, washed, center ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced
- ½ cup water or vegetable stock
- ½ cup organic raisins
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper