Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year,” and … it’s almost here! Decorations are shiny and festive and home chefs are concocting their plans for magnificent vegan holiday feasts. There’s no need to fret when it comes to preparing a festive plant-based menu. There are zero limits to how creative you can be, so the time is now to cook up those vegan recipes you’ve been fantasizing about. For your holiday inspiration, we’ve collected top vegan chefs’ favorite pointers for a fantastic Christmas meal.
Matthew Kenney Cuisine
Scott Winegard is the Executive Chef & Director of Culinary Operations at the phenomenal collective of plant-based restaurants, Matthew Kenney Cuisine, which includes establishments in New York, California, Chicago, Miami, Edmonton, Sydney, and Buenos Aires. Says California-based Winegard, “Even in Venice, it gets chilly, and I want to prepare warm, hearty dishes to enjoy with my family.” His advice is to begin your holiday culinary journey by visiting a local farmers’ market for the freshest seasonal ingredients, and to try something new such as Jerusalem artichokes or kohlrabi. Whether cooking for patrons at Plant Food + Wine in Venice, or his family at home, he makes use of delicious warming spices including cinnamon, fennel, and ginger to cook up filling winter squashes such as kabocha and butternut, that deliver the rich flavor and warmth of the holidays. Says Winegard, “I like to serve my meal family-style. Remembering back to when my mom would always make lasagna for Christmas, I make a vegan version of that, which is always a favorite.”
Tara Punzone is the Chef and Owner of Pura Vita, the first 100-percent vegan Italian restaurant and wine bar in the United States. Punzone grew up in a traditional New York Italian family and uses the inspiration of her parents’ traditions to create her delicious vegan holiday feasts. “My family would start preparing food days in advance,” said Punzone. “Turning vegan at a very early age, I was forced to create my own versions of the traditional dishes for myself to enjoy, and to share with my whole family without them missing anything.” The first step for Punzone is to use local, organic garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, which she says are staples for any true Italian dish. Her meal starts with spicy Italian peppers that are roasted with olive oil, garlic, and nuts and seeds, and served with fresh bread. Then, hungry holiday revelers move onto local artichokes stuffed with garlic, shallots, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Next is the Linguine Di Mare with garlic white wine sauce, king oyster mushroom scallops, and toasted breadcrumbs. Paired with red wine, which Tara notes is a necessity for any true Italian Christmas dinner, the main event is the lasagna, which is layered with cashew ricotta, baby spinach, crimini mushroom, cashew mozzarella, and her famous marinara sauce. Finally, the chef notes, “All good meals end with chocolate and coffee.”
Like Punzone, sisters Heather Bell and Jenny Engel—vegan cookbook authors and leaders of vegan cooking classes and consultations through their company, Spork Foods—advise going Italian for the ultimate vegan Christmas dinner. Say the sisters, “[We] like to keep it casual and cozy, and we enjoy being able to make enough food so friends and family can stop by and enjoy a vegan feast.” In order to inspire guests to make healthier, more compassionate choices, Bell and Engel believe it is essential to have plenty of food on the table. Start your meal with a Sicilian Eggplant Caponata, which can be served hot or cold, presented beautifully on a platter with artisanal vegan cheeses, toasted Marcona almonds, olives, and a fresh loaf of bread. Accompany your starter with a side like grilled broccoli rabe or a fresh green salad, before serving the main dish. A fully loaded lasagna with veggies, vegan cheese, mushrooms, and grilled veggie Italian sausage is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Top your meal off with tiramisu from their first cookbook, Spork-Fed, and take heart in spending time with your loved ones, and enjoying the company around you.
Vegan Los Angeles-based bistro Sage’s founder, Mollie Engelhart was raised vegan on a small farm in upstate New York, and takes pride in passing along the wisdom from her upbringing to the restaurant’s clients. In the tradition of her family, Engelhart begins to prepare holiday eats well ahead of time. “For our family, Christmas morning breakfast is the main meal of the day and it starts with the whole family joining in making jackfruit tamales a few days in advance,” says Engelhart. She tips her hat to her father’s tradition of making pecan buns on Christmas morning by preparing her own sweet potato pecan bun dough, and advises to, “make the dough the night before, then let it slow rise in fridge.”
Jarone Ashkenazi is a freelance writer who covers travel, food, and luxury items.