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How to Host a Plant-Based Holiday Dinner

Whether you have a table full of vegans and vegetarians, flexitarians or carnivores, Justin Cucci, Executive Chef of Vital Root restaurant in Denver, Colorado, and author of "The Edible Beat” cookbook, offers these easy tips and satiating alternatives for a happy and healthy holiday.

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Any time you try to approximate a meal with animal proteins its always important to layer flavors in a really thoughtful way. Use tamarin addition to salt. Salt alone doesn’t add a lot of flavor but when you layer tamarind with salt it enhances it so much. Miso is another great way to incorporate more flavor into dishes. To replicate the taste of dairy, try using nutritional yeast in place of cream or butter in your mashed potatoes or cauliflower.

A Turkey Alternative

A great option to offer your plant-based guests as an alternative to turkey is a vegan smoked ratatouille cassoulet. It’s hearty and can stand up on its own as the main entree. The important thing when you substitute a meat-based entree for a plant-based entree is that it’s filling, satisfying and hearty.


Use chipotle powder to give it the smoky flavor of bacon and lentils and chestnuts to mimic the meaty texture from sausage. It’s really important for stuffing to have a lot of dimensions and texture, so you have some room to get creative here. Try garnishing with roughly chopped smoked almonds.

Mashers (sans potatoes)

No holiday table is complete without mashers. Mashing together steamed cauliflower and coconut oil with a little salt is a simple way to have a buttery side dish. Of course, earth balance vegan butter also does wonders.
Related: Cauliflower Mashers Recipe

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is already a great vegan dish, but there’s potential to break away from the norm on this one. Bust out the Cuisinart and roughly pulse cored granny smith apples, whole blood oranges, and fresh cranberries. Add salt and pepper to taste, let it sit overnight to macerate and enjoy. It’s tart and bright and a great raw plant-based dish.


  • 3 parts cranberry
  • 2 parts orange
  • 1 part apple


Dried mushrooms are magic for use in gravy in place of meat. You don’t need to use turkey organs to achieve a well rounded savory gravy that’s meat-free and still very delicious.

Related: Porcini Gravy Recipe

Want to add shine, color and topping to your vegan rolls or bread?

Instead of an egg wash to add nice color while your bread is baking, brush on 1:1 coconut milk and maple syrup before going in the oven. Even sprinkle on chopped herbs on top or into the bread.


Just about every holiday dessert can easily be made vegan through a variety of methods. To mix it up this year, try making a vegan cheesecake. Utilize soaked cashews to make a cheesecake base even adding a little white miso paste for an added tanginess and cream cheese flavor.

Cucci recommends these dairy-free substitutions when making your desserts.

  • Flaxseed is a great egg substitute
  • Silken tofu is a great replacement for cream cheese, eggs, and dairy
  • Coconut milk is prevalent in vegan desserts

Try these holiday recipes from Chef Cucci