Maybe you’re a long-time vegetarian holiday host looking for some inspiration for something new — or maybe this will be your first year hosting a plant-based holiday meal. Either way, planning a meat-free feast that will keep everyone talking until the new year is easy when you keep these four essential points in mind.
1. Put Vegetables Front-and-Center
When putting together your menu, feature vegetables prepared in a variety of styles, like roasted, pan seared, smoked, confited and grilled. Seasonal produce can also make an appearance in classic dishes like dressing and stuffing. Try a wild rice and cranberry stuffing with squash, apples, or sweet potatoes. Get creative in reinterpreting nostalgic dishes to fit your plant-based holiday menu. Make spanakopita with a creamy tofu-spinach filling, a sweet potato shepherds pie, or dumplings with caramelized mushrooms and rosemary. Don’t forget about hearty salads. I like tossing grains in a warm vinaigrette, roasting or poaching pears, candying nuts, and roasting Brussel sprouts for a more festive spin on an ordinary, green salad.
2. Never Underestimate a Good Sauce — Or a Few
It’s great to have several sauce options for your guests to choose from. Try relishes, gravies, or savory marmalades that will complement your dishes. For a flavorful pesto, briefly blanch seasonal greens in salted water and plunge into an ice bath. This will help preserve the bright green color. When making a classic like latkes, prepare creative garnish options like cashew cream, chive oil, fennel-pear marmalade, cranberry balsamic reduction, or homemade apple sauce, and set out a toppings bar where guests can customize.
3. Remember, Umami Is Everything
Bringing the savory, satisfying quality of umami to your plant-based holiday meal makes all the difference. Creating umami can require a bit of finesse. Start with seasonings. Think smoked paprika, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, truffle oil or salt, cumin, aged balsamic, or caramelized onions. Adding a smoked element can also elevate your plant-based holiday meal. Whether you want to invest in an indoor smoker, smoking gun, or purchase a good quality liquid smoke in a bottle, try “smoking” one component of your meal for that extra punch of flavor. Mushrooms, olives, chestnuts, popcorn or nuts are great places to start. Making your own vegetable stock will also add a depth of flavor to your recipes. Try using roasted root vegetables like carrots, or a local squash for extra sweetness.
4. Make It Pretty
Your guests will eat with their eyes first. Use colorful ingredients and garnishes to make your dishes pop. Utilize interesting platters, mini gratin dishes, or flower centerpieces. Fallen leaves, rosemary springs, citrus fruits, apples or pears also make great decorations. Salads in endive spears, blini with cashew cream, or butternut squash soup shooters can all be fun ways to play with color, shape, and proportion on the table.
Chef Olivia Roszkowski is a graduate of NGI’s Chef’s Training Program and a full-time instructor. Olivia holds a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and Behavior from Columbia University and has worked at well-known NYC restaurants, including The Mercer Kitchen and Momofuku Ssam Bar. Olivia is a master at root-to-frond cooking.