The feast of the seven fishes is a common Christmas Eve tradition that originated in Italy. That inspired me to create a feast of seven grains menu for a fun plant-based spin — perfect for guests who are vegan or vegetarian. Try these four dishes, including two appetizer/side dishes, an entree and a dessert. Find the rest in my "Celebrate Vegan" cookbook or head over to Urban Vegan for more meat-free options.
Brown rice Christmas maki (makes 8 rolls)
Sushi for Christmas? These rolls are green and reddish — perfectly Santa-appropriate. Serve two per person for a fun, festive appetizer. Don’t be upset if you are a sushi newbie and you have to sacrifice your first roll. Go easy on yourself: sushi masters weren’t made in a day.
- 2 cups brown rice, cooked, fluffed with a fork
- 1-2 T rice vinegar
- 4 nori sheets
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced (Prepare avocado just before assembling sushi or it will turn brown)
- ½ cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, drained (If you’re fat-phobic you can use dried, reconstituted in water)
- Pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, for serving
- Optional additions: whole scallion, asparagus, cucumber strips
Stir the rice vinegar into the rice. Keep stirring until it becomes sticky, almost like rice “dough.” The amount of vinegar you need will vary depending on where you live, how dry the rice is, etc. Try not to fret too much about it. As long as it’s sticky, you should be fine. Let the rice cool completely at room temperature.
Lay a sheet of nori on a bamboo sushi mat (Or on a piece of wax paper, if you’re a sushi newbie)
Spread rice over the nori sheet, leaving a half-inch piece of nori at the top uncovered.
Place a slender strip of avocado close to the bottom of the nori sheet. Next to it, as close as possible, place a slender strip of sun-dried tomatoes. If using more veggies, add them, keeping them as close to their neighbors as possible.
Here comes the fun part: roll! Start at the bottom edge nearest you, and slowly and methodically roll toward the uncovered edge, using your bamboo mat (or waxed paper) to help press everything together tightly. Seal the uncovered edge with a tiny bit of water and set the roll aside for at least 10 minutes.
With a very sharp, serrated knife, cut the roll into 6-8 pieces.
Gussied-up tabbouleh (makes 8 servings)
This meatless mainstay is all dressed up for Christmas. I added a bit of lemon zest to brighten the flavors and further enhance the dish’s inherent freshness. And instead of soaking the bulgur in water, I soak it in veggie broth for an added layer of flavor.
- 1 cup dry bulgur
- 1½ cup vegetable broth
- Small punch of Italian parsley, chopped (about 1 cup)
- Small bunch of mint, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2-3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small onion or 1 small bunch of scallions, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup grated carrot or carrot pulp leftover from juicing (optional)
- Juice of 1 small organic lemon
- Zest of one small organic lemon
- 4 T extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional additions: finely chopped black olives, capers, raisins, toasted pine nuts or sunflower seeds
In a medium bowl, soak the bulgur in the broth for 30 minutes.
Mix the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Stir the plumped bulgur into the ingredients in the large bowl.
Chill or serve at room temperature. Variation: Use orange, mandarin, Clementine or tangerine juice and zest instead of lemon.
Entree: Polenta cutlets with basil aioli
Who doesn’t love a good cutlet? This is an easy, nontraditional way to prepare polenta — and a surreptitious tactic to get the little ones (and finicky adults) to eat their greens. With a nod to the season, the slightly sweet basil aioli is a highbrow and festive complement to the kale’s slight bitterness.
- Large bunch of kale, trimmed and finely chopped — about 3 cups (You may substitute spinach, collard greens or chard)
- 1 T olive oil, plus oil or cooking spray for frying cutlets
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 2-3 T water or vegetable broth
- 1 cup soy or rice milk
- 3 cups veggie broth or water
- 1 cup cornmeal
- ½ tsp salt
- 1/2 cup vegan mayonnaise (I recommend Vegenaise)
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 slice bread, crumbled
- 3 T fresh basil, lightly chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare greens: Heat 1 T oil in a large. Non-stick sauté pan. Sauté the garlic over medium-low until translucent, taking great care not to burn. Add kale (or collards) and cook until soft, about 20-30 minutes (about 5-10 minutes for spinach or chard). Add water or broth as needed to help steam-cook the veggies. Set aside.
Prepare polenta cutlets: Mix milk, broth, greens and salt in a large saucepan, bring to a boil. Whisk in cornmeal, a bit at a time, taking care not to form any lumps. Turn heat to low and whisk continually until mixture is extremely thick. Switch to a wooden spoon when the whisk becomes unmanageable, stir until virtually all of the excess moisture evaporates, about 20-30 minutes, pour into a 9 x 13 pan and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This will make it easier to form into cutlets. Score into 10-12 even sections.
After polenta has set, heat some oil over medium high in a large frying pan. Remove two polenta squares. Place in pan and using a spatula, lightly tap down into a cutlet shape. Fry until golden brown, about 5-10 minutes, then carefully flip and cook the other side about 5-10 minutes. Serve immediately with the sauce of your choice.
Prepare aioli: Mix all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
Dessert: Banana-spelt bread (makes 10 servings)
You don’t normally think of banana bread as a dessert. But this recipe decks the halls with decadence — in the form of dark chocolate chips, cranberries and nuts. If that’s not enough for you, top with a scoop of chocolate or vanilla coconut milk ice cream.
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) vegan margarine, room temperature (I recommend Earth Balance)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 T non-dairy milk (such as soy, rice, coconut)
- 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 2 T soy flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup cranberries
- ½ cup toasted or untoasted nuts
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch pan.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and Earth Balance in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and milk and mix well. Mix in the mashed bananas, then add the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt, a bit at a time. Mix until just combined; do not overmix. If using optional additions, stir them in by hand now.
Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before inverting and removing from pan.
Need more ideas? Try re-purposing some of these vegan Thanksgiving recipes.