conscious eating

Plant-Forward Holidays
Festive Foods Everyone Will Crave
by Veronica Hinke

Foxys Forest Manufacture/shutterstock.com

A plant-forward menu can be one of the best gifts that a host can give this holiday season. It is also more likely than ever that guests will welcome a celebration menu filled with vegetables and fruits.

A 2023 survey by the International Food Information Council found that six out of 10 people reported eating a more plant-based diet to be healthier. “About 20 years ago, there might be one or two people at a party who followed a plant-forward diet. Now, we have to plan our menus to have more plant-based options,” notes Ojai, California-based dietician Sharon Palmer. “Even if only half of the guests follow a plant-based diet, my dishes are gone. Even the carnivores love them.”

Plant-Forward Eating
“When we think about plant-forward eating, what we are really going to do is add more vitamins, minerals and fiber and reduce the amount of calories that we consume,” says Sherry Coleman Collins, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Marietta, Georgia. “That is especially important during the holidays when we are inclined toward eating more calorie-dense foods that have more fat, sugar and salt. A plant-forward meal can naturally reduce some of that without losing the flavor and enjoyment of eating.”

All in the Presentation
The name of a recipe can make a difference. “Why even say vegan?” Palmer asks. “Research shows that using the word vegan loses the crowd. There are people who will immediately think less tasty. If you lead with a description and its flavors, people are much more interested in trying it.”

The Holiday Centerpiece
When planning a plant-forward meal, consider making it the spotlight of the celebration. “What replaces that focal point can come in a variety of different forms,” says Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a thought leader on the culinary, social, ethical and practical aspects of living compassionately and healthfully. “I think what’s missing for people isn’t just the meat. I don’t think people are thinking, 'I need my meat.’ I think they are thinking, 'This looks so unfamiliar and incomplete.’ So, how do we complete it?”

Patrick-Goudreau suggests a large acorn squash stuffed and baked with flavors and foods of the season, including grains (quinoa, millet, rice), cranberries and raisins sautéed with onions and seasoned with winter spices like cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. “That stuffed squash can be the focal point, not just on the plate, but also on the table,” she asserts. “Now the oohs and the aahs are about the squash as the centerpiece.”

Plant-based nutrition specialists and restaurateurs Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson were among the first to elevate plant-based menus in the 1990s to the flavor-filled, crave-worthy foods enjoyed today. They love a whole, roasted cauliflower that is frosted with cashew cream and cut into slices. “[Cauliflower] is the new white meat,” Pierson says. “It’s about sharing beautiful foods with friends and family.”

Part of the plant-based movement has been accomplished by incorporating more ingredients. “We are omnivorous, so we don’t naturally crave meat, but we do crave fat, salt, texture, familiarity and flavor,” says Palmer. “The recipes that I make for the holidays check all of those boxes. I always volunteer to bring the entrée. I try to think of something savory that’s also seasonal and matches the holiday menu.”

Delicious Plant-Based Starters
Minnesota-based Instagram influencer Kristi Erdal makes a plant-based holiday party snack that can double as a holiday gift. “It is important to have a nutritionally balanced meal, especially during the holidays, which tend to be more meat- and carb-forward with all the roasts and gravies,” she says. “My rosemary spicy roasted nuts are a party snack with savory, smoky, spicy and sweet flavors. A huge amount of fresh, chopped rosemary gives them an amazing flavor boost along with added health benefits. I have several favorite plant-forward recipes that I make during the holidays, including my jalapeño cranberry sauce and my kohlrabi slaw, but the nuts are the most popular.”

Palmer makes meatless appetizers that stand up to their classic meat-based counterparts. One of her favorites is golden beet vegan meatballs with almond sage cranberry cream. It is made with shredded golden beets and showcases flavors of the season like hazelnuts, flaxseed, sage and thyme. “They’re just so colorful, which is especially nice at holiday time,” she says. “More and more people are realizing that [plant-forward food] is going to be delicious. They’re not going to miss out. It’s going to be satisfying, colorful and amazing.”

Veronica Hinke is a food historian and the author of The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style and Titanic: The Official Cookbook. Learn more at FoodStringer.com.

Roasted Whole Cauliflower With Cashew Cream

photo courtesy of Bart Potenza and Joy PiersonYield: 4 to 6 servings

1 medium cauliflower
1 cup prepared vegetable broth Cashew

½ cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked overnight, or for 15 minutes in hot water (see Note)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp dried rosemary (or 1 tsp if fresh)
½ tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp if fresh)
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup prepared vegetable broth 
½ cup chopped thyme, parsley or herbs of choice for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Pour 1 cup of vegetable broth on the bottom of a baking dish.

Trim the cauliflower by removing the outer leaves. Wash the cauliflower. Cut the bottom, but leave the stem intact so it stands upright.

Place the cauliflower in the prepared baking dish on top of the broth. Roast uncovered for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, place the cashews, garlic, onion powder, herbs, oil and broth in a blender to make a paste.

After the cauliflower is roasted, keep it in the baking pan and use a spatula or a butter knife to “frost” it with ¾ of the cashew cream, like you would a cake.

Return the cauliflower to the oven and bake it until it is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Remove the cauliflower from the oven.

Drizzle the remaining cashew cream over the cauliflower and garnish with the ½ cup of fresh herbs.

Note: It is not necessary to soak cashews if using a high-speed blender. 

Serving Suggestions: Serve with all the holiday classics: sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes, wild rice, roasted vegetables and cranberry sauce. Can be served with sautéed mushrooms, gravy and cranberry relish. 

Recipe and photo courtesy of Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson.

Golden Beet Vegan Meatballs with Almond Sage Cranberry Cream

Recipe Golden Beet Balls w Almond Sage Crema - Sharon Palmerphoto courtesy of Sharon PalmerYield: 8 servings (3 veggie balls each)

Golden Beet Vegan Meatballs:
1 bunch fresh golden beets (about 5)
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (about 1 ¾ cups)
2 green onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped
½ cup fresh, chopped parsley
½ cup finely chopped hazelnuts
¼ cup ground flax seeds
½ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs (may use gluten-free)
1 tsp sage
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp thyme
½ tsp smoked paprika
¼ tsp black pepper
2 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp tahini
1 lemon, juiced

Almond Sage Cranberry Cream:
1 cup peeled, slivered almonds
4-6 Tbsp plain, unsweetened plant milk (soy or almond)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground sage
Sea salt (to taste, optional)
1 Tbsp fresh, chopped sage leaves
¼ cup dried cranberries

To make the vegan meatballs, trim the beets and scrub the outside surface, leaving the peels on. Using a food processor or a box grater, shred the beets.

Place the beans in a large mixing bowl and use a potato masher to mash them slightly to achieve a thick mixture with some lumps.

Add the beets, onions, garlic, mushrooms, parsley, hazelnuts, flax seeds, breadcrumbs, sage, tarragon, thyme, smoked paprika and black pepper. Mix together well.

Mix in the soy sauce, tahini and lemon juice—using hands to combine the mixture well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Form 24 golf ball-sized balls out of the mixture and place them evenly on the baking sheet. Bake the vegan meatballs on the top rack of the oven until golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Serve with the almond sage cranberry cream.

To make the almond sage cranberry cream, soak the almonds in water for 2 hours (or overnight).

Drain the water and place the soaked almonds in the container of a blender or food processor.

Add 4 tablespoons of plant milk, lemon juice, garlic, black pepper and ground sage, and process to make a thick, creamy dip. If too thick, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of plant milk as needed to create the desired texture.

Transfer the cream to a dish and stir in the fresh sage, cranberries and salt if desired. Garnish with additional freshly ground black pepper and fresh sage. NOTE: To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free breadcrumbs and soy sauce.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN.

Mini Curried Lentil Wellingtons

Recipe Curried Lentil Wellingtons - Sharon Palmerphoto courtesy of Sharon PalmerYield: 4 to 6 servings

Curried Lentil Filling:
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp water
1 medium carrot, chopped
½ cup brown mushrooms, chopped
½ cup frozen peas, thawed
1 Tbsp curry powder
¼ tsp black pepper
½ cup small green or brown lentils, uncooked
2 cups vegetable broth
¼ cup chopped walnuts

1 package vegan puff pastry, defrosted (1 pound 1.5 ounces cut into 8 5-by-5-inch squares)
½ cup water
2 Tbsp plant-based milk, plain, unsweetened

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil.

Sauté the onion and garlic for 4 minutes.Add water and stir.

Add the carrots, mushrooms, peas, curry powder and black pepper and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the lentils and vegetable broth, stirring to combine. Cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then remove the lid and allow to simmer for another 15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed and the lentils are tender but not mushy. Adjust moisture as needed by adding water if too much is lost to evaporation during cooking. Should achieve a moist texture, with no residual liquid.

Stir the walnuts into the mixture and remove from the stove.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Prepare the pastry by lining a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay out 8 puff pastry squares evenly over the baking sheet.

Fill the center of each pastry square with ¼ cup of filling.

Place water in a small dish. Moisten fingertips with water and swipe across the bottom two edges of each pastry.

Fold over the top edge of the pastry to line up with the bottom edge, forming a triangle.

Dip a pastry brush in a small dish of water and moisten the bottom edge of the pastry.

Using a fork, secure the top edge to the bottom edge of the pastry by pressing with the fork around the entire edge.

Place plant-based milk in a small dish. Dip a pastry brush into the plant-based milk and moisten the surface of the pastries with the brush.

Place in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 18 to 22 minutes.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN.

Herbed Lentil Patties with Mushroom Sauce

Recipe Herbed Lentil Patties with Mushroom Sauce - Courtesy Sharon Palmerphoto courtesy of Sharon Palmer Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 cup small green or brown lentils, dry
¼ cup quinoa
3 cups vegetable broth
1 medium carrot, shredded finely (about 1 cup)
1 small onion, chopped finely
¼ cup chopped fresh herbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup ground flax seeds
½ cup old-fashioned oats, dry
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp whole grain mustard
1 Tbsp soy sauce, gluten-free
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Mushroom Sauce:
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup diced mushrooms
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 cups plant-based milk, plain, unsweetened
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt (optional)
1 pinch black pepper
1 Tbsp reduced-sodium, gluten-free soy sauce

To make the herbed lentil patties, place the lentils and quinoa (or other ancient grain) in a small pot and add broth.Cover and simmer over medium heat about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender. Add additional water, as needed, to compensate for evaporation during cooking.

Drain any leftover liquid, transfer the cooked lentils and quinoa to a bowl and mash slightly.

Add carrot, onions, herbs, garlic, oats, flax, oregano and black pepper to the bowl with lentils and quinoa and mix well. Add mustard, soy sauce and vinegar and stir well to moisten all ingredients.

Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Press ½-cup lentil patty mixture into a measuring cup or scoop, place onto the baking sheet and flatten down to create firm, round patties about ½-inch thick. Form 8 patties with the mixture.

Place in the oven on the top rack and bake for about 40 minutes, until golden and firm. Remove and serve with mushroom sauce.

To make the mushroom sauce, while the lentil patties are baking, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saucepan.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and sauté for 3 minutes.

Whip together soy milk, flour, salt (optional), black pepper and soy sauce with a whisk in a small bowl until smooth with no lumps.

Pour the mixture into the saucepan and cook for about 8 minutes, until bubbly and thick.

Serve about 5 tablespoons of sauce per portion.

Note: Make this gluten-free by using gluten-free oats and substituting corn starch for the wheat flour.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN.

Creamy Leek Polenta

Recipe Leek Polenta - Colleen Patrick Goudreauphoto courtesy of Colleen Patrick-GoudreauYield: 4 to 6 servings

2 Tbsp nondairy butter, divided 3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), washed and thinly sliced
4¼ cups water (or half vegetable stock and half water)
1 cup coarse cornmeal (polenta)
¼ cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tsp salt, added gradually to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt 1 tablespoon of the nondairy butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat.

Add the leeks and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the leeks soften, stirring occasionally for 7 to 10 minutes.

Add the water and broth, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and slowly pour in the polenta while whisking simultaneously. Whisking is essential, otherwise the cornmeal will clump up. Continue stirring until the mixture is thick and creamy.

At this point, switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon and continue to stir. Add the nutritional yeast and salt and continue to stir until it is thoroughly combined and the mixture is thick and creamy.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon of nondairy butter. Cover and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and divide the polenta among plates.

Reprinted with permission from The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Healthfully and Living Compassionately by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Rosemary Spicy Roasted Nuts

Recipe RoastedNuts - photo by Kristi Erdalphoto by Kristi ErdalYield: 8 to 10 servings

2½ cups mixed nuts
⅓ cup pistachio nuts (optional)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 heaping Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp light brown sugar
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp kosher salt
¼ tsp fresh-cracked black pepper
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the nuts in a large mixing bowl and add cumin, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Mix and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the rosemary and stir occasionally. Cook until fragrant, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Make sure not to over-simmer until it burns, and do not bring it to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the maple syrup.

Pour the melted butter and rosemary mixture over the nuts. Stir thoroughly until mixed well.

Transfer the seasoned nuts into the prepared rimmed baking sheet. Using the back of an offset spatula, spread the nuts across the baking sheet evenly.

Bake for 20 minutes. Stir after the first 10 minutes.

Let the nuts cool slightly before transferring them into containers. They will harden and stick to the pan if they cool completely. Transfer to mason jars if gifting.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Kristi Erdal.

Vegetable Pot Pie

Recipe Vegetable Pot Pie - Colleen Patrick Goudreau photo courtesy of Colleen Patrick-GoudreauYield: 4 to 6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil or water for sautéing
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 orange sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
1 Tbsp dried tarragon
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
½ cup dry white wine
1½ cups vegetable stock
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour, whisked into a few Tbsp of water

Oil a 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Add the oil or water to a large sauté pan and turn the heat to medium-low. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Add the sweet potatoes, carrots, celery and fennel. Sauté, stirring often, until all the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes. If the water evaporates during cooking and the vegetables stick to the pan, just add a little more water or oil.

Prepare the cobbler crust while the vegetables are cooking.

Once the vegetables, especially the sweet potatoes, are fork-tender, add the tarragon, oregano, thyme, sage, garlic, salt and pepper, and cook for another two minutes. Give the vegetables another stir.

Pour in the wine, stock and flour/water mixture, and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened and reduced, about 8 minutes. If the initial broth begins to soak into the veggies, and they start to stick to the pan, add about ¼ cup veggie stock to deglaze the pan.

Stir, taste and add salt and pepper, as desired.

Transfer the filling into the prepared baking dish.

When ready to assemble and bake, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Spoon the cobbler dough on top of the vegetables. Plop them randomly on top of the vegetables. Bake until the cobbler crust is golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Serve hot right out of the oven.

Chive and Black Pepper Cobbler Crust:
1⅔ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp aluminum-free baking powder
¼ cup minced chives
½ tsp freshly ground pepper
½ tsp salt
⅔ cup nondairy milk, preferably unsweetened (soy, almond, rice,
coconut, hemp)
⅓ cup olive, canola or coconut oil

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, baking powder, chives, freshly ground pepper and salt until fully combined. It is important to never over-stir cobbler or biscuit dough because it could result in a dense final product, so always mix dry ingredients first, then add the wet items and stir just enough to combine.

Add the milk and olive oil and stir until the dry ingredients are just combined with the wet ingredients. The result is a sticky—not smooth—dough.

After applying on top of the pot pie to make the crust, any remaining dough can be used to make biscuits, baking them in a 425°F oven on a parchment-lined or greased cookie sheet for 8 minutes.

Reprinted with permission from The 30-Day Vegan Challenge: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Healthfully and Living Compassionately by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Fall Farro Bake

Recipe Fall Farro Bake - Courtesy Sherry Coleman Collins photo courtesy of Sherry Coleman CollinsYield: 4 to 6 servings

1 cup farro
4 cups winter squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 oz oyster mushrooms, chopped
2 cups kale, chopped
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup vegetable broth
½ cup parsley
2 tsp fresh thyme
1 pinch salt and pepper

½ cup buttery crackers, crushed
2 Tbsp melted vegan butter or olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Roast the squash until tender, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the farro in water according to the package directions.

In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté the onion, celery and garlic in olive oil until the onions are translucent and tender, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms and raise the heat to medium, cooking until they have released their liquid, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes more.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, including the roasted squash and cooked farro, and season to taste with parsley, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into a prepared casserole dish, cover tightly with foil and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Remove the cover and sprinkle with the topping ingredients, then bake until browned, about 5 minutes.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD.

Organic Sparkling Lemonade

ecipe Lemonade Kreminska - shutterstock 2012385635            Kreminska - shutterstock 2012385635Yield: 2 Servings

2 whole lemons
½ cup coconut sugar
3 Tbsp Let’s Do Organic Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk
2 cups water
2 cups ice, plus more if desired

Wash and dry the lemons. Cut off the ends, then quarter the lemons. Place all ingredients, except ice, in a blender and pulse 7 to 11 times until pulverized. Divide the ice into 2 glasses. Strain lemonade into the glasses over a fine mesh strainer. For a holiday variation and festive presentation, add fresh or frozen organic cranberries.

Recipe courtesy of Bart Potenza and Joy Pierson.


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