Vegetarian Holiday Recipes:
My coziest recollections of childhood and family are instantly evoked by the combined aroma of poultry seasoning and homemade bread fresh from the oven. The winter holidays of my youth were warm, savory, and sweet—truly the best of times—and food and fragrance are intimately associated with their memory.
Later, as parents, my wife and I have done our best to perpetuate those precious gustatory traditions, hoping to instill that same delicious richness in our children’s memories.
Times have changed, and with them our family’s attitudes about food and life. Our holiday sensorium is still delectably rich, and I still bake “stuffing bread”—a fairly plain loaf enhanced with onion, black pepper, and store-bought poultry seasoning—from my mother’s decades-old recipe, but our culinary traditions, like our daily lives, no longer include eating any kind of meat.
Vegetarianism has been less of a challenge in the kitchen than it has been over the back fence. Our nonvegetarian friends, when first confronted with the concept of a meatless diet, tended to view it as a stoic discipline: they envisioned their usual dinner plates, removed all the meat, and imagined that what remained was what vegetarians had to settle for. Beans, grains, fruits, herbs, nuts, and vegetables were side dishes, not “meaty” enough to provide adequate substitutes—especially for the traditional holiday turkey.
The meat-free recipes on the following pages testify to the fact that vegetarianism is not a form of deprivation, and also that vegetarian cooking doesn’t necessarily aim to imitate meat with nonmeat ingredients (although the Vegetarian Holiday Roast might serve that purpose). In moving closer to the bottom of the food chain, our family has found not only spiritual, nutritional, economic, and ecological satisfaction—any one of which would be reason enough to make the change—but we have also broadened our palette of colors, textures, and flavors. Herbs and spices have become foods to eat for their own sake rather than generic powders at the end of an ingredients list. We’ve found that their flavors come into their own in the milder contexts of grains, beans, and tofu; they rise above, blend with, and enhance the subtleties of vegetable, nut, and seed oils; and they assault the olfactory receptors with fragrant, pungent variety. This is my favorite form of aromatherapy.
Although birds’ eggs and mammal milk clearly are not plant-based foods, many vegetarians include one or both in their diets. As with meats, the choice whether to eat eggs and/or milk is personal, and the reasons for either decision are legion. All the recipes in this article are made without eggs or dairy products except the Pumpkin Ravioli and the Winter Squash Herb Bread, which contain both, and the Mushroom Gravy, which contains butter.