Holiday gatherings don’t have to be all about gravy and roasted meats.

With an ever-growing number of people looking for health-conscious food, parties offer the ideal opportunity to share dishes that emphasize the healing power of plants with your friends and family.

To help you craft a holiday menu that includes a healthy dose of plant-based dishes, I contacted local chefs and cooking instructors who have a reputation for preparing meals that combine great taste with loads of nutrition. Here they share their favorite vegan and vegetarian dishes perfect for any festive table.

You’ll notice the use of superfoods — including sweet potatoes, cranberries, mushrooms, nuts and beans — is a common theme in these recipes. While these recipes range from hearty, savory main dishes to sweet, decadent desserts, all are based around plants.

This means you don’t need to give up flavor to gain proven health benefits this holiday season.

MAPLE DIJON PAPAYA STEAKS

From Maggie Knowles and Elizabeth Fraser, owners of Kids Gone Raw, kidsgoneraw.com.

Here is an amazing recipe that looks exactly like a grilled salmon but is papaya. We cover it with a dijon honey sauce. It is so elegant and our new favorite dish to surprise people with at a party. This is inspired by Alissa Cohen’s papaya steak recipe.

Serves six

1 papaya, peeled, seeded and carved to look like fish/salmon

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup coconut aminos (soy sauce)

1 to 2 tablespoons mustard (see mustard recipe below)

2 teaspoons chopped sage and rosemary

Arrange carved papaya on a platter. Whisk together maple syrup, coconut aminos and mustard and pour over papaya. Sprinkle herbs on top of papaya and place in a dehydrator. Dehydrate at 105 degrees for 3 hours, basting the steaks with the sauce approximately every half hour. Add a little more coconut aminos if needed.

Sweet and spicy mustard:

Makes 16-oz. jar of mustard.

1/2 cup mustard seeds

3/4 cup cashews

4 pitted dates

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup water or more as needed

Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Stores great in a jar in the fridge for three weeks.

CRANBERRY-BRAISED TEMPEH

From Lisa Silverman, Five Seasons Cooking School, fiveseasonscookingschool.net

A sweet-and-sour crimson cranberry glaze complements the nut-like taste of tempeh in this main dish. Tempeh is made from whole, cooked soybeans.

Serves eight

Four 8-ounce packages tempeh

3 cups fresh cranberries

4 cups unfiltered apple juice 

1/2 teaspoon salt

Four pieces of 1-1/2 inch orange peels studded with cloves

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)

2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger

1 tablespoon mirin

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Pinch cayenne

Fresh rosemary sprigs for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Steam tempeh for 20 minutes.

While the tempeh steams, wash cranberries and place them in a small saucepan with apple juice, salt, orange peels, maple syrup and shoyu. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.

In the last 5 minutes add ginger, mirin and the spices. Take out orange peels and blend the rest of the ingredients together.

Slice steamed tempeh into triangles. Place in baking dish and pour cranberry glaze over tempeh. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

To serve, arrange tempeh on a platter and garnish with rosemary.

INDIVIDUAL PORTABELLO BOURGUIGNON STUFFED SQUASH

From Chris McClay, Modern Vegan Cooking School, modern-vegan.com

Mix up the varieties of squash. The more interesting looking, the better.

Serves six

Six squash 6 inches in diameter, such as carnival, kabocha or bora bora

2 pounds portabello mushrooms, halved, then sliced 1/2-inch thick

1 leek, the white part only, sliced thinly

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 medium carrots, sliced into 1/4-inch half moons

1 celery root, peeled and diced into generous 1/4-inch pieces

10 cipollini or white boiling onions, peeled, ends cut off, otherwise left whole

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary

1 teaspoon dried sage

1 cup drinking-quality dry red wine

2 cups vegetable stock

1/4 cup tamari or Bragg Liquid Aminos

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 1/4 cup cold water until diluted

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the cap of the squash by stabbing the squash in a circle 2 inches down from its top. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds and innards of the squash and discard. Place the squash upside down along with the lids in two separate baking dishes filled with 1/2 inch water. 

Bake for 40 minutes or until the squash are tender. Test by poking with a sharp knife.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add half the mushrooms to the dry pan, covering the bottom, searing them until they begin to release their liquid. Cook 2 minutes longer and remove from the skillet. Set aside. Repeat with the other half of the mushrooms.

Using the same skillet, add the leeks and garlic and saute for 10 minutes, or until translucent, adding a tablespoon or two of water to keep from sticking. Add the carrots, celery root, onions and portabellos that you set aside, along with the bay leaves and dried herbs, and saute for another 3 minutes, adding another tablespoon or two of water to prevent sticking.

In the order written, add the additional ingredients except for the parsley, salt and pepper. Lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, just until the veggies are tender.

Add the cornstarch mixture and simmer for another 5 minutes until thickened.

Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the bourguignon in the squash bowls with their lids and garnish plates with remaining parsley.

MUSHROOM PATE

From Toni Fiore, host of the VegEZ online vegan recipe series and co-host of Delicious TV’s new “Vegan Mashup” television series, delicioustv.com

This succulent pate is a holiday favorite. So full of rich savory flavor, you’ll have to convince dedicated vegetarians they aren’t actually eating meat. Indulge without overindulging.

Serves six

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3-1/2 cup crimini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (mixed parsley and thyme work very well)

15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Salt and pepper to taste

Truffle oil, optional

Extra slices of mushroom for garnish

Toast the walnuts in a small cast iron skillet until nicely crispy.

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over low heat, then add the onion and saute slowly, until it’s soft and transparent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high and add the toasted nuts, the mushrooms, garlic and herbs. Cook until the mushrooms are softened and the liquid is mostly evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Season the mushroom mixture well with salt and pepper, then place the mixture with the drained, rinsed beans in a food processor. Process or pulse until the texture is smooth — but be careful not to process to a liquid.

Spoon the pate into a small bowl and chill for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

Just before serving, if desired, pour a small amount of truffle oil over the pate and spread on crackers or fried tempeh triangles.

SMOKY ROASTED SWEET POTATOES WITH BLACK BEANS AND CASHEW CREAM

From Michelle Goldman, Sea Change Cooking, seachangecooking.com

Serves six

1 bunch of chard

3 cups dry black beans or two 14-ounce cans black beans rinsed and drained

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon salt

11/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

2 teaspoons smoked paprika (I prefer Gryffon Ridge) or 2 teaspoons chili powder

2 tablespoons olive oil

FOR CREAM:

1 cup of cashews

1/2 cup hot water

1 cup canned coconut milk

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon sugar

PREPARE BLACK BEANS:

Soak 3 cups black beans overnight. Rinse, drain and set aside.

Place beans in large sauce pan. Add water to pot so water covers beans by 2 inches. Add bay leaves to pot. Bring water to boil and maintain rolling boil on medium-low heat for 40 minutes. Drain and season with 1 teaspoon salt. (If using canned beans, warm drained and rinsed beans in stock pot over low heat and season with salt.)

While beans are cooking, brush sweet potatoes with olive oil and toss with smoked paprika or chili powder. Spread in casserole and roast at 400 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes, or until soft.

Remove stalk from chard and slice stalk cross-wise into 1/4-inch pieces. Tear chard leaves into smaller pieces. Place stalk on a bottom of a steamer basket and place leaves on top. Steam for 8 minutes. Remove chard from steamer basket, keeping chard stalk separate from chard leaves.

Place a bed of chard leaves on each plate.

Toss chard stalk with sweet potatoes and beans. For each serving, place 1-1/2 cups sweet potato and bean mix on top of steamed chard leaves.

FOR CREAM:

In blender, place 1 cup cashews in 1/2 cup hot water. Add 1 cup canned coconut milk. Mix to smooth. Small nut pieces will remain. Place mixture in saucepan. Dissolve 1 teaspoon cornstarch in 2 teaspoons hot water, add to cashew mixture. Add 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat over low heat, stirring frequently, 5 minutes.

Pour 1/4 cup cream over each plated serving of bean and sweet potatoes.

SWEET POTATO SOUFFLE

From Kitty Johnson, vegan health educator along with her husband and retired surgeon, Dr. Gaylen Johnson

Serves six

4 medium sweet potatoes

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup milk – may be soy or nut milk

1 tablespoon light molasses (not blackstrap)

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Wash sweet potatoes and pierce with a fork.

Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until sweet potatoes are soft and juices are appearing.

Cool, peel and mash sweet potatoes. Add remaining ingredients. A food processor works well to combine all ingredients.

Pour into a casserole dish and top with chopped walnuts.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

RAW BERRY PARFAIT

From Susan Lebel Young, author of the forthcoming book, “Food Fix: Ancient Nourishment for Modern Hungers”

To eat plant-based during the holidays, I fill up at home on lots of colorful fruits and veggies, and I don’t arrive at any party hungry. Here’s a simple, raw, delicious dessert adapted from “Thrive Foods” by Brendan Brazier.

Serves six to eight

2 cups raw cashews

6 cups water

1/4 cup agave nectar or sweetener of choice

1 cup ground flaxseed or granola

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced strawberries (or mixed berries or other fruit)

Soak cashews for 6 hours in 4 cups water. Drain and rinse (I sometimes soak and sometimes I don’t. With a really powerful blender, the cashews get ground up well in either case.)

Blend cashews, 2 cups water and agave nectar to a creamy consistency.

In a large glass bowl or among individual parfait glasses, spoon in a dollop of cashew cream, cover with a thin layer of flax or granola, then arrange a thin layer of strawberry (or fruit) slices.

Repeat with one, two or more layers. Serve chilled.

CRAZY DICK’S LEGAL SWEET POTATO CRUNCH

From Rich Curole, owner of Crazy Dick’s Cajun Foods, crazydickscajunfoods.com

Serves six to eight

FILLING:

1 to 2 teaspoons Crazy Dick’s Hot or Smoky Cajun Seasoning

3 cups cooked and mashed sweet potatoes

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup almond milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 cup butter (melted)

TOPPING:

1 cup chopped pecans

1/3 cup all purpose or whole wheat flour

1/3 cup honey

2-2/3 tablespoons butter (melted)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake sweet potatoes on baking sheet for 45 minutes or until cooked thoroughly and tender throughout. Chop pecans in food processor, then mix in flour, melted butter and honey in that order. Set aside.

Once sweet potatoes are safe to handle, cut into small chunks (leaving the skin on) or scoop meat of potatoes into food processor. As sweet potatoes are mixing, add applesauce, almond milk, vanilla, cinnamon, melted butter and Crazy Dick’s Cajun Seasoning.

Place sweet potato filling in 8-by-8 baking pan or similarly sized casserole dish.

Lightly warm pecan topping, then spread evenly across the sweet potato filling.

Lower oven to 350 degrees and bake for 35 minutes, until topping is golden to dark brown. Scoop to serve as a side or cut into squares to serve as dessert.

 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila