How to Cook: Plant-Based Holiday Meals

Chef Olivia Roszkowski gives us tips for cooking a fabulous vegetarian holiday meal.
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The holidays may a time for indulging, but it is possible to create a memorable holiday meal that is entirely plant-based and highly nutritious. ‘Tis the season for root vegetables, dark leafy greens, and hardy herbs!

Vegetables Center Stage

When putting together your menu, feature vegetables prepared in a variety of styles, like roasted, pan seared, smoked, confit-ed and grilled.

Consider stuffing: Make a wild rice and cranberry stuffing with squash, apples, or sweet potatoes. (Try: Wild Rice-and Sage Stuffing with Crunchy Croutons)

Recreate traditions: Get creative! Make spanakopita with a creamy tofu-spinach filling, a sweet potato Shepard’s pie, or dumplings with caramelized mushrooms and rosemary. (Try: Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Shepherd's Pies)

Hearty salads: Try tossing grains with a warm vinaigrette, roasting or poaching pears, candying nuts, and roasting Brussel sprouts for a more festive spin on an ordinary, green salad. (Try: Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries)

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.

Pesto: Briefly blanch herbs in salted water and plunge into an ice bath. This will help preserve the bright green color. (Try: Dark Leafy Pesto)

Toppings bar: 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.

Umami is Everything

Meat, dairy or seafood-centered meals have the umami (Japanese term meaning “pleasant savory taste”) base inherently covered. Creating umami in plant-based dishes requires a bit more finesse. Try the below techniques.

Seasonings: Think smoked paprika, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, truffle oil or salt, cumin, aged balsamic, or caramelized onions.

Smoked component: 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. (Try: Mesquite-Smoked Almonds)

Homemade stock: Try using roasted root vegetables like carrots, or a local squash for extra sweetness. (See: How to Make Vegetarian Stock)

Consider Appearance

Your guests will eat with their eyes first.  Use colorful ingredients and garnishes to make your dishes pop.

Make Your Table Beautiful: Utilize interesting platters, mini gratin dishes, or flower centerpieces. Fallen leaves, rosemary springs, citrus fruits, apples or pears also make great decorations.

Don’t Forget the Hors d’Oeuvres

Try mini Caesar salads in endive spears, blini with cashew cream, or butternut squash soup shooters. (Try: Caesar Salad and Butternut Squash-Bartlett Pear Soup)

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 various well-known NYC restaurants, including The Mercer Kitchen and Momofuku Ssam Bar. Olivia is a master at root-to-frond cooking.