Holiday Guide: A vegetarian holiday meal
For many, the aroma of roasting meat evokes the warmest holiday memories. Traditional dishes of lamb, beef and fowl have fed families in America for generations, and are the focal point of holiday meals across the world. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s have all historically relied on such foods as main courses at festive gatherings. Beloved as they are by many, however, these winter menus keep at least one group of celebrants out in the cold.
Vegetarians and vegans (who consume no animal products) often struggle to feel comfortable at meat-centric events. It goes without saying that the glazed ham or roast goose that brings most of the family running will not have the same effect on an animal rights advocate. Those who eschew meat on other grounds, too, often feel underwhelmed by the prominent role of meat in holiday menus.
Whether you are a confirmed herbivore or just want to experiment with festive vegetarian dishes this season, Alameda offers several sources of fresh, meat-free ingredients to get you through the holidays.
Alameda Natural Grocery (1650 Park Street; 865-1500) is a certified green business with a mission of food sustainability and social responsibility. Randy Owczarzak is the general manager of the store, the produce section of which is 99 percent organic. To craft a vegetarian-friendly holiday menu, he first suggests simply substituting meat-free ingredients for those called for in conventional recipes. For example, Owczarzak said that high-quality vegetable broth, while not the flashiest of foods, can make the difference in flavor of meat-free soups, stuffing, sauces and other holiday staples.
Another idea is to turn a gourmet salad into the focal point of a meal. (See below for his two festive, filling salad suggestions.) Owczarzak also encourages home chefs to get creative with garnishes like gourmet nuts and fresh fruit condiments.
“It kills me when people go out and buy expensive things when they can make them better at home,” he said. “Instead of paying several dollars a pound for candied walnuts, throw some walnuts in the oven, toast them for five minutes, then add sugar to a pan until it melts. Add the nuts, coat with the sugar mixture, and you’re done.”
He takes the same approach to cranberry sauce. “You can buy it in a can … or you can buy half a pound of cranberries and cook them down with half a cup of orange juice,” he said. “The juice sweetens the berries, takes away the bitterness, and there is no need to add extra sugar.”
At Dan’s Fresh Produce (2300 Central Avenue; 523-1777), life-long Alamedan Dan Avakian and wife Megan sell locally sourced fruit, vegetables and gourmet specialty items to home and professional chefs. Between 1998 and 2005, Avakian and fellow produce expert Mark “Guido” Ferro co-hosted “The Produce Pair,” a radio show for shoppers looking to expand their veggie know-how. Avakian now stars as “The Produce Man” on 1220 KDOW on Wednesday and Thursday mornings, and writes regular columns for the Alameda Sun and Alameda Magazine. Avakian’s website lists hundreds of vegetable-based recipes, including several that were designed specifically for the holidays.
Along with veggie side dishes, Alameda Natural Grocery’s Owczarzak suggests trying a meat-free dish like the one made by Field Roast, a line of gourmet vegan sausages, roasts and patés. The company’s grain-based, soy-free Celebration Roast is filled with a sausage-style stuffing made from butternut squash, apples and mushrooms. Other products on the market are made from seitan, soy, or mushroom protein.
Local markets Nob Hill Foods (2531 Blanding Avenue; 814-8800), Safeway (2227 South Shore Center, 863-9000; 867 Island Drive, 521-4833) and Encinal Market (3211 Encinal Avenue #C; 522-4848) also carry natural foods selections that support meat-free holiday shopping.
The Internet is clearly a limitless source of recipe ideas, and some websites in particular can help with meat-free meal planning. Owczarzak recommends Vegweb.com, Vegsource.com, and Vegetarian Times for ingredient lists, extended menus and other useful tools.
With a bit of creativity, it seems more than possible to whip up new culinary traditions in which everyone will feel welcomed.
Alameda Holiday Vegetarian Menu
Kale, Orange and Red Onion Salad (Randy Owczarzak)
Slice a head of fresh organic kale. Add mandarin oranges, sliced red onions, and red wine vinegar. Garnish with candied walnuts.
Red cabbage and Persimmon Salad (Randy Owczarzak)
Slice a head of organic red cabbage. Add red wine vinegar, cumin, dried apricots and sliced Granny Smith apples. Mix and enjoy!
Celery Root Mashed Potatoes (Chef Gregg Prawdzik from Dan’s Fresh Produce)
(Courtesy of The Produce Pair)
Serves 4-6 people
Many people love roasted garlic in their mashed potatoes. Here is a less popular idea but definitely my favorite way to serve mashers. Because it is Thanksgiving, this recipe is not shy about the use of butter and cream.
2 lbs. Russet or Kennebec potatoes
1 large celery root
2 oz. butter
1 cup cream
1.5 tsp. prepared horseradish or 1 tsp grated fresh horseradish
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and chop potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Prepare celery root the same. Add butter and cream to a small saucepan and keep warm. Add potatoes and celery root to a pot and cover with cold water. Make sure they are fully submerged. Cover and place on low heat (you do not wish to boil the potatoes or they will absorb too much water and turn into mush). Cook until fork tender drain.
I prefer to use a food mill or potato ricer at this point to process the potato and celery root. If you use a regular masher utensil, be sure not to overwork the potatoes and add half the cream and butter before mashing. Do not use a mixer.
Add remaining cream, butter, horseradish, salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to incorporate.
‘Celebration’ Roast Pasty with a Cranberry Chutney Vegetable Mélange
(Courtesy of Field Roast Grain Meat Co.)
European puff pastry stuffed with Celebration Roast and a seasoned mélange of carrots, celery and red bell peppers with curry and a combination of cranberry sauce and chutney.
1 lb. Celebration Roast
1 puff pastry sheet
1/3 cup celery, julienned
1/3 cup carrots, julienned
1/3 cup red bell pepper, de-seeded and julienned
1 tbsp. oil
1/2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tbsp. chutney
Salt to taste
Thaw out puff pastry sheet if frozen. Prepare mélange. Sauté celery, carrots and red bell peppers with oil in small frying pan on medium heat. Add a pinch of salt. Turn heat down to low and cover, cook slowly for at least 15 minutes until vegetables are soft and wilted, stir occasionally. Add curry powder and cook for another 2 minutes. Add cranberry sauce and chutney, stir and take off heat. Let cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare puff pastry. Smooth rough edges and folds using a little water and your fingers. Be careful not to overwork dough. Cut puff pastry sheet into a 7” by 6” rectangle.
Place a third of the mélange in a pile in the middle of the pasty. Place a thick slice of Celebration Roast on top of the vegetable mixture. Fold the edges of the puff pastry towards the center and seal by pinching with your fingers and using water as needed.
Turn pasty onto baking sheet so that the side with the folds becomes the bottom. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Vermont Pumpkin Maple Pie (Dan Avakian of Dan’s Fresh Produce)
(Courtesy of Dan’s Fresh Produce)
Makes two pies
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 cup pure Vermont Maple Syrup
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
2 cans evaporated milk or 1 qt. cream
Mix well in a big bowl. Pour into two 9″ pie plates in a half-baked and cooled pie shell. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes longer or until knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for two hours. Refrigerate for two more hours and serve.
For a purely vegan version, use 20 oz. of silken tofu in place of the half and half and 4 ½ teaspoons of ENER-G culinary egg substitute instead of the eggs.