11/21/2014 10:59 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

How to Feed a Vegan on Thanksgiving

Holidays and special occasions allow us to gather with family and friends, surround ourselves with those we love to celebrate our traditions, our heritage and life.

These special times give us a much-needed respite from our hectic daily lives and routines, creating a space for us to relax and rejoice. I don't know about you, but I can't think of any celebration that doesn't, in some way, revolve around food and nourishing each other.

As a longtime plant-inspired eater, I have always made sure to create a comfortable, inviting atmosphere for my non-vegetarian friends, so that I never impose my chosen path on anyone else... without compromising my ideals. My challenge is rare, however, with it more often being the reverse... the non-vegetarian host wondering what in the world to prepare for the tree hugging, sprout eaters on their guest list. Don't laugh. You know I'm right.

Vegans can be a fussy lot, turning the most serene of hosts into a bundle of nerves wondering how to put on a great party without offending someone's sensibilities.

Vegans don't want to be relegated to the buffet table where they try to scrape together a meal from side dishes. Like everyone else at the feast, vegans would love to enjoy a hearty, fulfilling... and filling meal that nourishes them and respects their philosophy of "do no harm."

You know... at the time of year when we express our gratitude for abundance, do no harm is not such a bad idea.

Here's my favorite holiday menu plan... great for a buffet.

Artichoke Salad with Greens and Figs
A more festive and elegant salad is not to be had. Light and fresh, but rich enough to be decadent, this is a symphony of flavors and textures that makes any occasion just a bit more special.

Makes 5 to 6 servings

extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thin half-moon slices
sea salt
8-10 marinated artichoke hearts, split in half lengthwise
1 red pepper, roasted over an open flame, peeled, seeded, sliced into thin ribbons

juice of 2 limes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons maple syrup
generous pinch black pepper

2 bunches watercress, stem tips trimmed, left whole
8-10 fresh figs, split lengthwise
2-3 fresh scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in artichoke hearts and red pepper ribbons and sauté just until heated through, about 2 minutes more.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together lime juice, oil, vinegar and syrup, adjusting seasonings to taste.

To plate the dressing, arrange watercress on a platter, with figs around the rim. Spoon sautéed artichoke heart mixture over the top and drizzle lightly with dressing, serving the balance of the dressing on the side for those who want to use more. Sprinkle with scallions and serve immediately after dressing.

Kabocha Squash with Wild Rice Stuffing
The centerpiece dish of the feast. It seems that tradition dictates that something be "stuffed," so some very clever vegetarians came up with the idea of baking the stuffing in a hearty, sweet winter squash. Since then, many variations on the theme have emerged, each more delicious. Here's one of mine.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 medium kabocha squash, tops removed jack-o-lantern style, seeds removed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons barley malt
sea salt

¾ cup wild rice, rinsed very well
1 ½ cups spring or filtered water
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 red onion, finely diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
8 ounces tempeh, coarsely crumbled
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup dry white wine
2-3 cups firmly packed, shredded whole grain, sourdough bread
1-2 cups fresh orange juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

After hollowing squash, whisk together oil, barley malt and a pinch of salt. Using your fingers, rub the mixture over the outsides and insides of the squash. Place them in a baking dish, replacing the caps. Add water to accumulate about one half-inch. Cover with foil and bake until the squash pierces easily with a fork, but is still firm, about 45 minutes.

While the squash bakes, make the stuffing. Place wild rice and water in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Add a pinch of salt, cover, reduce heat to low and cook until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender, about 35 minutes. Set aside.

Place a small amount of oil, garlic, and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in celery and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in tempeh and dried basil and sauté until tempeh begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add pine nuts, wine and season to taste with salt. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes. Remove cover and cook until all liquid has been absorbed.

Place bread in a mixing bowl and add cooked rice, sautéed vegetables and tempeh. Slowly add orange juice, mixing well until a soft stuffing forms. Don't make it too wet.

Stuff each squash abundantly and replace in baking dish. Lay caps in baking dish next to squash, not on top. Cover with foil and bake until squash is quite tender, 35 minutes to one hour, depending on the size of the squash. Remove from oven and allow squash to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a serving platter.

COOK'S TIP: Extra stuffing can be pressed into an oiled baking dish and cooked, covered for 35-40 minutes. Remove cover and brown the top before serving.

COOK'S TIP: You can bake the hollow squash the day before the party, but be sure to place them in the fridge so they don't sour.

Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts
It seems that holiday tradition calls for sweetly glazed vegetables and these will never disappoint.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, tips trimmed, crosses cut into the bottoms of each
2 red onions, thick wedges
2-3 sweet potatoes, split lengthwise, ½-inch thick half moons
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
grated zest of 2 lemons
½ cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons maple syrup
juice of ½ lemon
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all the vegetables in a mixing bowl and add oil, a generous sprinkling of salt, lemon zest, wine and rice syrup. Mix well to coat. Arrange vegetables in a large baking dish, avoiding overlap. Cover with foil and bake until vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove cover and continue baking until vegetables are browned and liquid has turned to a syrup, 10-15 minutes more. Remove from heat and squeeze lemon juice over top. Sprinkle with parsley and toss gently to coat. Serve hot.

Curried Pan-Fried Tempeh
A great protein dish that ensures everyone gets the nutrients they need, if you have guests who will be passing on the bird. Served simply and elegantly, this dish goes with any feast.

Makes 4 to 5 servings

extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces tempeh, cut into 1 ½-2-inch pieces and then split to make them half as thick
¼ cup dry white wine
3-4 shallots, finely minced
soy sauce
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons curry powder
1-2 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced

Place enough oil in a deep skillet to generously cover the bottom and turn heat to high. When the oil is hot (patterns will form, known as "dancing"), pan-fry the tempeh until golden, turning once to insure browning. Drain on paper and wipe out skillet.

Place a small amount of oil, wine and shallots in the skillet and turn heat to medium. When the shallots begin to sizzle, stir in a soy sauce to taste, lemon zest and curry and sauté until shallots are beginning to color, about 4 minutes. Lay tempeh on top of shallots, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes to infuse tempeh with curry flavor. Remove cover and stir gently to combine. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle lightly with parsley.

Italian Nut Cookies
No feast would be complete without cozy, homey cookies on the buffet. My mother used to make these classics for impromptu gatherings where the atmosphere was more relaxed. Here's my take on her recipe.

Makes 30 to 36 cookies

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup semolina flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch sea salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (8 tablespoons) vegan butter substitute
½ cup brown rice syrup
¼ cup coconut sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
¼ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

chocolate glaze
¼ cup unsweetened organic almond milk
3 tablespoons brown rice syrup
1 cup non-dairy, dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Whisk together flour, semolina, cinnamon, salt, cocoa powder and baking powder and soda. Set aside. Whip butter substitute, rice syrup, coconut sugar and vanilla until smooth. Fold in nuts. Using moist hands, form dough into 1-inch spheres and arrange on baking sheet.
Bake until cookies are just firm, but still slightly soft, 14-16 minutes. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes on baking sheet. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Make the glaze by placing milk and rice syrup in a small saucepan and bringing to a high boil. Pour over chocolate chips and whisk to form a smooth, satin-like glaze.

Slip a piece of parchment paper under the rack of cookies. Spoon glaze over each one, letting the glaze run over the sides. Allow to stand, undisturbed, until glaze begins to set. Transfer to a serving platter.

COOK'S TIP: These cookies will keep, in a sealed container for several days. Be sure to place parchment paper between layers.

Streusel Topped Pumpkin Pie
What's a holiday feast without pumpkin pie? Not the same, truly. Give this one a try for a twist on a traditional favorite.

Makes 8 to 10 servings

2 cups pureed pumpkin (cooked fresh or unsweetened canned pumpkin)
pinch sea salt
2 cups unsweetened organic almond milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup brown rice syrup
generous pinch ground cinnamon
scant pinch allspice
3 tablespoons agar flakes
2 tablespoons kuzu or arrowroot, dissolved in small amount cold water

pie crust
1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour
pinch sea salt
¼ cup avocado oil
spring or filtered water

streusel topping
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
pinch sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup finely chopped pecans
2 tablespoons vegan butter substitute
3-4 tablespoons brown rice syrup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a deep-dish glass pie plate.

Place all filling ingredients, except kuzu (or arrowroot) in a saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, whisking frequently, until agar is dissolved, about 20 minutes. When the agar is dissolved, whisk in kuzu/arrowroot mixture and cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

Make the crust by combining flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut in butter substitute with a fork or pastry cutter to create the texture of wet sand. Slowly add water, mixing until dough gathers into a cohesive ball. Roll out between 2 sheets of parchment, creating a thin round that is about an inch larger than the pie plate. Transfer piecrust to pie plate and fit into crevices without stretching, allowing excess to hang over the edges. Fold excess crust up over the rim and using your fingers, crimp into a decorative edge. Pierce in several places with a fork and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.

Spoon filling evenly into crust and set aside.

Make the streusel by combining flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a mixing bowl. Fold in pecans, oil and rice syrup and mix until a crumbly mixture forms. Sprinkle generously over the pumpkin filling, covering completely.

Place the pie on a baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 30-35 minutes, until the edges of the filling are set and the topping is browned and crunchy. Transfer pie to a cooling rack and allow to stand for 15-30 minutes before slicing.