Holiday Feasting, In the Plant World

February 11, 2014

Holidays can be challenging on many levels, but if you really want to throw your family into a tailspin, tell them that a vegetarian, or worse…a vegan, will be joining you for your holiday feast. My most amusing conversations have come from the panicked inquiries of hosts wondering what in the world to cook for me during the one season of the year seemingly dedicated to stuffing things, including ourselves.

Well, the truth is that the holiday season is my favorite time to host get-togethers and dinners. The harvest is in; the abundance of our fields is in full, lush ripeness and the weather has cooled enough to inspire me to light the oven once again. And I suppose I like a challenge. I love putting a yummy and elegant meal on the table and watch my guests enjoy it and not realize…until the very end…that they haven’t missed the meat…or dairy…or poultry…or sugar.

While any combination of dishes can work for your own unique feast, this is my favorite. In fact, it’s become our very own tradition for a variety of holiday celebrations.

Golden Sweet Potato Biscuits
Lusciously moist and delicately sweet, these biscuits will quickly become a tradition on your holiday table.

Makes about 16 biscuits

1 1/2 cups sprouted whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup semolina flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
generous pinch sea salt
generous pinch ground cinnamon
3-4 tablespoons avocado oil
1/3 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 cup, smoothly mashed, cooked sweet potato
2 tablespoons maple brown rice syrup
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecan pieces

Preheat oven to 375o and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine flours, baking powder and soda, salt and cinnamon in a mixing bowl and whisk briskly. Cut in oil with a fork or pastry cutter to form the texture of wet sand. Add the apple juice, sweet potato and rice syrup, mixing to form a soft dough. Fold in pecans, working to incorporate them into the dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead in just enough flour so the dough loses its stickiness. With floured hands, press the dough into a 2/3-inch thick rectangle. Using a glass or cookie cutter, cut the dough into 16 biscuits, re-forming dough as needed to use it all. (Note: when cutting the biscuits, do not turn the cutter, simply press straight down into the dough. Turning will remove air from the biscuits, leaving them heavy). Arrange cut biscuits on lined sheet about an inch apart. Bake 15-18 minutes or until the biscuits puff slightly and they spring back to the touch (or a toothpick inserted comes out clean).

Transfer to a serving plate and serve hot.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
Nothing accents the delicate sweetness of the biscuits, nor kicks off a great feast, quite like a creamy, rich, yummy soup. And this one is just amazing…biscuits or not…feast or not.

Makes 5-6 servings

extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
sea salt
2-3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, diced
6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup until tender, thinly sliced (soaking water reserved
10-12 ounces button mushrooms, brushed free of dirt, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mirin or white wine
4 cups unsweetened almond milk
3 teaspoons sweet white miso
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a soup pot and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in potatoes, a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes more. Stir in shiitake and button mushrooms, a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute more. Add shiitake soaking water, mirin and soymilk, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook until mushrooms are quite tender, about 25 minutes. Remove a small amount of hot broth and dissolve miso. Stir back into soup and cook over very low heat, uncovered, for 3-4 minutes to activate the enzymes in the miso. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
A lovelier and more unique holiday salad is not to be had. Light and fresh, but rich enough to be decadent, this is a symphony of flavors and textures that makes any occasion just a bit more special. And easy? With only five ingredients, it doesn’t get more simply elegant.

Makes 5-6 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 cup toasted pistachios
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Juice of 1 fresh lemon

Tip the ends off the Brussels sprouts. Slice each sprout in half lengthwise and using a sharp knife, slice them very thinly. You may use a mandolin for this but watch your knuckles and fingers, please. Bring a pot of water to a boil with a generous pinch of salt. Blanche sprouts and drain well. Place shaved sprouts in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Place pistachios in a hot dry skillet and pan toast until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

To serve the salad, drizzle with about 2 tablespoons oil, a generous pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Toss to coat. Just before serving, toss in pistachios and serve.

Note: You may also tip the sprouts and remove each leave, shaving only the centers and make another version of this salad.

Cranberry Chutney
No sweet jelled sauces out of a can for your loved ones…not when a fresh cranberry chutney is this easy to make. And since you can prepare it the day before, everyone wins.

Makes 6-8 servings

12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed well
1-2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, diced
grated zest of 1 orange
juice of 1 orange
1/2 cup unsweetened, dried apricots
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
pinch sea salt
3-4 tablespoons brown rice syrup

Place all ingredients, except brown rice syrup, in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover and reduce heat to low, cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 25 minutes. Remove cover and add rice syrup to taste. Continue cooking over low heat, uncovered, about 10-12 minutes more. The chutney will thicken. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before transferring to a jar. Seal tightly and chill completely. Before serving, bring chutney to room temperature.

Kabocha Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing
Ah, finally, the centerpiece dish of the feast. It seems that tradition dictates that something be “stuffed” during holiday feasts, so some very clever vegetarians came up with the idea of baking the stuffing in a hearty, sweet winter squash. Since then, many variations on the theme have emerged, each more delicious. Here’s one of mine.

Makes 8-10 servings

2 medium kabocha squash, tops removed jack-o-lantern style, seeds removed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons barley malt
sea salt

1/2 cup wild rice, rinsed very well
1 1/2 cups spring or filtered water
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 red onion, finely diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
8 ounces tempeh, coarsely crumbled
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup dry white wine
2-3 cups firmly packed, shredded whole grain, sourdough bread
1-2 cups fresh orange juice

Preheat oven to 375o.

After hollowing squash, whisk together oil, barley malt and a pinch of salt. Using your fingers, rub the mixture over the outsides and insides of the squash. Place them in a baking dish, replacing the caps. Add water to accumulate about one half-inch. Cover with foil and bake until the squash pierces easily with a fork, but is still firm, about 45 minutes.

While the squash bakes, make the stuffing. Place wild rice and water in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 35 minutes. Set aside.

Place a small amount of oil, garlic, and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in celery and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in tempeh and dried basil and sauté until tempeh begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, wine and season to taste with salt. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove cover and cook until all liquid has been absorbed.

Place bread in a mixing bowl and add cooked rice, sautéed vegetables and tempeh. Slowly add orange juice, mixing well until a soft stuffing forms. Don’t make it too wet.

Stuff each squash abundantly and replace in baking dish. Lay caps in baking dish next to squash, not on top. Cover with foil and bake until squash is quite tender, 35 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the squash. Remove from oven and allow squash to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a serving platter.

Note: Extra stuffing can be pressed into an oiled baking dish and cooked, covered for 35-40 minutes. Remove cover and brown the top before serving.

Herb-Scented Roasted Potatoes
It seems that holiday tradition calls for delectable roasted potatoes and these will never disappoint.

Makes 6-8 servings

1 pound fingerling potatoes, halved
2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves pulled from stems
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 375o.

Place potatoes in a mixing bowl with rosemary. Drizzle generously with olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat and arrange on a baking tray avoiding overlap. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and return to oven to brown for 10-15 minutes.

Streusel Topped Pumpkin Pie
What’s a holiday feast without pumpkin pie? Not the same, truly. Give this one a try for a twist on a traditional favorite.

Makes 8-10 servings

2 cups pureed pumpkin (cooked fresh or unsweetened canned pumpkin)
pinch sea salt
2 cups unsweetened organic almond milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
generous pinch ground cinnamon
scant pinch allspice
3 tablespoons agar flakes
2 tablespoons kuzu or arrowroot, dissolved in small amount cold water

pie crust
1 1/2 cups sprouted whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
pinch sea salt
1/2 cup avocado oil
spring or filtered water

streusel topping
1/2 cup sprouted whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
pinch sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons avocado oil
3-4 tablespoons brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 350o and lightly oil a deep-dish glass pie plate.

Place all filling ingredients, except kuzu, in a saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, whisking frequently, until agar is dissolved, about 20 minutes. When the agar is dissolved, whisk in kuzu mixture and cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Make the crust by combining flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in oil with a fork or pastry cutter to create the texture of wet sand. Slowly add water, mixing until dough gathers into a cohesive ball. Roll out between 2 sheets of parchment, creating a thin round that is about an inch larger than the pie plate. Transfer piecrust to pie plate and fit into crevices without stretching, allowing excess to hang over the edges. Fold excess crust up over the rim and using your fingers, crimp into a decorative edge. Pierce in several places with a fork and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.

Spoon filling evenly into crust and set aside.

Make the streusel by combining flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a mixing bowl. Fold in pecans, oil and rice syrup and mix until a crumbly mixture forms. Sprinkle generously over the pumpkin filling, covering completely.

Place the pie on a baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 30-35 minutes, until the edges of the filling are set and the topping is browned and crunchy. Transfer pie to a cooling rack and allow to stand for 15-30 minutes before slicing. Makes 8-10 servings.