Plants Shine in Holiday Feasts

Published on : 11/21/22
  • This Thanksgiving, we’re grateful for the passing of the days when vegetarians and vegans suffered through family holidays, munching iceberg lettuce while everyone else feasted on roast turkey and glazed ham.

    Now, a fresh mindset and younger generations — more mindful of sustainability and health than any before them — are shaping what we serve for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and other celebrations. And it’s inspired our creativity. 

    “It’s not just ‘here’s a pile of vegetables as an afterthought,’” says Chef Jason Casassa, Senior Manager of Culinary Development for Sodexo North America. “We’ve come a long way when it comes to our vegan and vegetarian cooking.” 

    Gen Z (ages 13-25) and millennials (26-41) are embracing plant-based eating to support their health and shrink their carbon footprints, among other motivations. Fifty-eight percent of Gen Z believe the climate crisis will impact their diets and 25% believe the next industry obsession could be Zero Carbon Footprint Meals, according to youth-focused consumer insights company Cassandra. 

    Ten percent identify as more than one race. Their diversity also makes them more adventurous and sophisticated as they seek out global flavors that reflect their own cultures and embrace others. At least 35% of Gen Z consider themselves foodies; they also love nostalgic comfort foods and see food as a connector between people. 

    So … want to wow the vegans, vegetarians, veggie lovers and everyone else at your table this holiday season? 

    Here, Chef Casassa shares several Mindful plant-forward recipes, easily converted to vegan, as well as general cooking tips for going plant-based. 

    Balsamic Roasted Root Vegetable Salad 

    This vibrant dish combines fresh parsnips, carrots, red onions and sweet potatoes roasted in balsamic vinegar, with beets, lettuce, edamame, tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. Topped with a homemade stone ground honey mustard dressing, it’s a holiday fan favorite at his table, Casassa says. “They’re asking for it every year now.” 

    To go vegan, simply swap agave for honey in the dressing. 

    For another creative salad, consider Edamame Nut Salad, with baby spinach, romaine, Granny Smith apples, almonds, cranberries, toasted sunflower seeds and edamame, topped with creamy poppyseed dressing. To make it vegan, replace the dressing’s mayo and sour cream with nondairy yogurt and add a little tahini for flair. 

    Cauliflower Steak and Coconut Quinoa Bowl 

    This colorful bowl brings together Moroccan-flavored cauliflower, arugula and roasted butternut squash and peppers with a curry and coconut-infused quinoa, drizzled with a mouthwatering lemon tahini-spiced Greek yogurt dressing. 

    Cauliflower is a comfort food, less “polarizing” than — say — eggplant, Casassa says. “You can get a little bit of crunch to it.” It’s perfect when you crave something filling and hearty. Mediterranean flavors have also grown in popularity, he adds. “It’s approachable and on trend.” 

    To make this recipe vegan, replace the Greek yogurt with nondairy yogurt and the citrus flavor concentrate with fresh orange and lemon juice. 

    Casassa also identifies some basic holiday vegan ingredient switches:  

    • Butter – Vegan spreads like Smart Balance can work for texture and flavor, depending on whether the oil ingredients are acceptable. 
    • Beef or poultry gravy – Sub in mushroom gravy (from mushroom stock) and olive oil or make gravy from vegetable stock, nutritional yeast and soy sauce. Note: Fresh or homemade vegetable stock always tastes better than store-bought, and you can better control your salt. 
    • Soy sauce – Use often to enhance flavor! 
    • Mashed potatoes – Substitute nondairy yogurt or soy milk for butter and cream. Add nutritional yeast and use the potato cooking water for extra flavor. 

    With these scrumptious recipes and tricks, you’ll dazzle your most adventurous health and environmentally conscious guests, Casassa says. 

    “I’d put these up against any animal protein-based dishes. From savory to sweet, anything you can do with a meat, you can do with a veggie.”