Vegan showstoppers for vegans who want to cook more
November 1, 2022 9:20 PM   Subscribe

I have a lovely opportunity - invited by the people in question - to introduce some really great vegan home cooking to people who are open-minded eaters but not yet adventurous cooks.

My husband and I are omnivores and gourmands. Our best friends are vegan, for pretty much all their adult lives (for both ethical reasons and serious animal protein allergies), and their opportunities for exploration have been pretty severely limited by lives oriented to the kinds of towns their undergrad/grad/postdoc work has been in. Like, we've blown their minds with vegan Thai and Middle Eastern food, neither of which they'd ever had. They mostly live a life of eating for fuel, but want to expand their repertoire.

They will be staying with us for Thanksgiving week, and I would like to prep some great food and also show them how to cook some great food - I'm willing to make some slightly extravagant options (though we are moving from short-term to short-term rental this year, and we are moving a few hours away the weekend before the weekend before Thanksgiving, when they arrive, so some restraint is necessary), but would like to have some "whip this up" recipes queued up for instruction.

Oh, and one of them loathes tofu and we're not going to die on that hill for this trip even though the rest of us love it. Also I suspect they don't love mushrooms. On the other hand, I've gifted them both Instant Pot and air fryer, so all those methods are open and welcome. Stuff that works for meal prep would be awesome, too.

All I really have on my list right now is a) easy oatmeal in the IP b) some kind of makhani, my favorite food c) groundnut sweet potato soup d) vegetable something with garlic-tahini sauce. I would really love to make a center-of-table pumpkiny Thanksgiving main (we've all agreed that we're mostly there for potatoes and dressing and cranberries), and I do definitely want some stellar desserts (some of us are Texans, I will probably make pecan pie).

We will be shopping in Eugene, OR, where we should have access to pretty much any supplies necessary for this sort of work.

What would you queue up for this week?
posted by Lyn Never to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The desserts, specifically the pies, from the Cafe Gratitude cookbooks are time consuming and a project, but amazing. The I Am Bliss chocolate pie and the I Am Awakening avocado key lime pie (no link 'cause i couldn't find a link i felt comfortable recommending) are showstoppers even before you tell people that they're vegan, and raw (though I have been known to cheat the former with canned coconut milk rather than fresh young coconut).
posted by straw at 9:38 PM on November 1, 2022

Best answer: I made this eggplant bourguignon recipe recently and it was deliciously rich. There are mushrooms so idk. We had it with farro because that's what we had around. I used a standard big old eggplant and average store bought mushrooms.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:45 PM on November 1, 2022

Best answer: While I don't have a specific recipe to recommend, when I hear "elaborate vegetable-based meals" I think Ottolenghi. Worth taking a spin through his vegan offerings.
posted by praemunire at 9:56 PM on November 1, 2022 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Everything I've made from Shannon Martinez's books has been a spectacular win. She's an omnivore who runs several vegan restaurants in Melbourne; her food is incredibly flavourful and can be adventurous.
posted by third word on a random page at 10:04 PM on November 1, 2022

Best answer: Here's my showstopper recipe for artichokes, a vegan clambake. It needs a wide, tall-sided pan with a lid. All measures are approximate.

4-6 Artichokes
a dozen small waxy potatoes
1 cup wrinkly black olives
1 Lemon
4-6+2 pieces garlic
1 Bay leaf
23 Peppercorns
Olive oil

Trim artichokes and rub all over with half a cut lemon and a piece of cut garlic, one clove per artichoke. Tuck garlic fragments into the leaves, about 1 clove per head, and save 1 or 2 cloves for the broth. Put in a big, wide pan and sprinkle with salt. Then put a generous spoon of olive oil on each, pour another three or four into the pan, so the oil covers the bottom in between the flowers.

Prick the potatoes with a fork or cut them in half if they're bigger than a dog's heart. Add the potatoes, the other half of the lemon, peppercorns, bay leaf and a small spoon of salt to the pan. Fill the pan with water, about shoulder height to the artichokes.

Bring to a boil and simmer for an hour and a quarter, testing the artichokes after an hour to see when they're tender. Keep an eye on the water and top off if needed. Serve with the cooking liquid, which you can punch with fresh garlic and lemon. The artichokes are delicious, and the potatoes come out extremely sweet and tender.

It might also work to add some fava or cranberry beans to cook in there as long as you top off the broth, or prepare and serve on the side.

(Someone might tell you that this isn't much of a recipe: almost anything cooked in a garlic-lemon-olive broth would taste good. Those people aren't worthwhile.)
posted by Playdoughnails at 10:07 PM on November 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Ottolenghi and especially this slow roasted celeriac with coriander. It may not be pretty but the umami is off the charts.
posted by oxisos at 10:09 PM on November 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My mostly-vegan Thanksgiving tradition is to cook a full rainbow of food (blue is the biggest challenge every year). That may help with tying it all up into a theme.

For the golden brown part of the color spectrum, I'd oven-fry onions. (Chop a lot of onions, toss them in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil, spread over a baking sheet in a layer up to about an inch thick, pop into a 360 oven, and check every 30 minutes, stirring when the ends start browning. It takes 2-3 hours in my oven. Then scoop into a jar, and you have the best caramelized onions on the plant. Serve on crackers (homemade or store-bought.) Serve on spoons. It tastes like love.

If you end up with more than you can use, make mjadra (partially cook the lentils, then cook the rice with the lentils inside, then add a LOT of your caramelized onions.)

Vegan puff pastry, rolled out and folded over as boreq (2" x 1" rectangles), with the filling being: Myoko's vegan feta; or: crumbled and fried Beyond ground-style, with onions, veg chopped into tiny pieces, and surprising spices - fennel? mustard seed?; fold the rolled puff pastry dough over the filling, seal with a fork for pretty edges, garnish with sumac or tajin (you can brush a light coating of oil over the top with the back of a tablespoon, to make the garnish stick) and bake as per whatever your pastry's instructions say. My practice is 10-15 minutes in a preheated oven. )

Garlic confit: peel a lot of garlic cloves (smashing them a little bit is fine). Put into a very small saucepan and cover with olive oil (about a 1/8 of an inch over the garlic. Small saucepan, most of what you want in it is garlic, packed pretty tight). Put it on low heat. You're not exactly cooking them, you're definitely not boiling - you're just heating them up together. Slowly, for about two hours.
The resulting garlic is amazing. The olive oil it is in is amazinger still. It becomes amazingest after you let it cool down and put it in the fridge and let it sit there for about 24-48 hours. It congeals into mouth-feel paradise manna. Which does very nice things on the top of pizza, or crackers, or bread, or slightly roasted vegetables.

All four of these are entirely vegan, end up spectacular, and have unforgettable flavors - and they sneakily help dress up other foods, so they become helpful for expanding vegan nutritional repertoire. Because you need some excuse to eat those golden onions or the congealed olive oil deliciousness. Veg carry them all well.
posted by Shunra at 10:12 PM on November 1, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I have a feeling a lot of Ottolenghi is going to show up in this thread, and for good reason!
This recipe for his multi-vegetable paella is one of my favorite things to cook, delicious, visually appealing, and not too hard to pull off. I usually can't find fava beans so I substitute asparagus instead when it's in season.
posted by missmobtown at 10:35 PM on November 1, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Isa Chandra Moskowitz 's Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup With Spinach & Olives is one of my most frequently made Instant Pot meals.
posted by haileris23 at 10:41 PM on November 1, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My most memorable vegan Thanksgiving had a centerpiece of seitan en croute stuffed with wild rice. Sides included a tahini-roasted head of cauliflower, fondant potatoes, and baklava.
posted by mezzanayne at 10:54 PM on November 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kenji Lopez-Alt has a vegan Thanksgiving menu, including what looks to be a wildly showstopping vegetable Wellington. I've not made these specifically, but he's very reliable.

My go-to pumpkin entree (that's less work than the Wellington but still a project) is kaddo bourani, an Afghan dish comprised of a sugar-confit roast pumpkin, a sauce that I'd describe as South Asian bolognese, and a yogurt sauce. The meat sauce would be absolutely fine with a vegan crumble, I'm sure, and the dish works with just the pumpkin and meat sauce; but I suspect a reasonably tangy yogurt substitute would also be workable for the second sauce.
posted by Superilla at 11:57 PM on November 1, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I’ve been cooking meals out of Bryant Terry’s Vegetable Kingdom recently and they are fantastic, as well as make use of ingredients perhaps more widely available in many parts of the US that is the case for some other regional cuisines. In particular, he is the best cookbook author I’ve tried yet at combining flavours. Many recipes have a tasty combination of flavours where you eat the dish and can taste the individual components and they go together well; his recipes combine flavours in such a way that something new and greater than the sum of its parts is created, however.
posted by eviemath at 2:30 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: This is such a fun opportunity!

I have made the Kenji Lopez-Alt Vegetable Wellington mentioned above and it is both delicious and fun to make (if you're the kind of person for whom a multi-hour cooking project is fun). Definitely recommend as your thanksgiving main! His roasted potatoes are also the best, as the recipe claims.

What about teaching them how to make some homemade fake meats? Something like doing a homemade pizza night and making the peppy unpepperoni from The Homemade Vegan Pantry would be fun. Even basic seitan (I like Terry Hope Romero's recipe from Protein Ninja) would be a great thing to help them learn how to make since it's so much better than the supermarket kind. Or the chickpea cutlets from Veganomicon.

I've recently been cooking a lot from Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen and, if they're willing to invest in some basic spices, highly recommend it. Many of the recipes are very easy (add things to a pot in stages, sautéing and/or simmering as you go) and are super delicious. She also recently released an instant pot cookbook, but I don't have that one.

Ok, desserts! This banana cake with chocolate-peanut butter icing is incredible. If you're feeling fancy, candying some peanuts and piling them on top is a nice touch. I've had great results from the same author's chocolate babka and stollen recipes. I'm also very fond of this chocolate tart (triple the crunchy topping) - I know the ingredient list is weird, but it all works out in the end. And for more homey baked goods like muffins or cookies, I don't think you can go wrong with anything from Isa Chandra Moskowitz.
posted by snaw at 3:42 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So this is sort of like my habit of recommending a Moosewood cookbook - the Moosewood people have a cookbook for festive occasions, such as birthdays and all the various holidays. They have two menus for Thanksgiving - one is vegetarian, one is strictly vegan. They've paid careful attention to threading the needle between "we want to abide by these diet principles" and "but we also want to live it up because it's a holiday".

I used something from the vegetarian menu for a vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving one year. The vegetarian menu addressed the need for "a big showstopping center dish" with something that I think was either already vegan or could very easily be made thus; it was a molded firm-ish polenta dish, where you make a batch of polenta and then stir in some cooked butternut squash and other seasonings, turn it all out into an oven-safe bowl and then heat that through in the oven a bit, and then turn it out on a platter to serve. There may have been cheese in it, but plant-based cheese would work since it would have been just a stirred-into-the-polenta seasoning element. And you could jazz it up even more by molding it in a 6-cup mini bundt pan, I bet.

Another option - last year the Rancho Gordo team came up with a festive Thanksgiving salad that was both vegan and able to be a "main attraction" kind of dish; their heirloom bean and wild rice salad is here.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the best part of Thanksgiving is that you can make all the sides vegan-style and they are delicious. If they have been eating for fuel sometimes showing them that their regular food can be delicious is mind blowing.
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 4:10 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of my favorite vegan dishes is a veganized version of this palak paneer recipe. The recipe calls for Greek yogurt, but I use Tofutti sour cream instead.

I also love this Senegalese peanut soup recipe by Deborah Madison. Even my non-vegan finicky nephews love this soup.

Another good soup recipe is this spiced lentil soup from the cooking blog, "Oh She Glows" (lots of other good recipes there). I sometimes modify the soup recipe by substituting other spices, like this West African curry powder.
posted by alex1965 at 4:20 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If gluten is not a problem, homemade seitan is versatile and interesting. It's also really easy to make a basic version from vital wheat gluten. I'm an omnivore who tried it for the convenience factor (and because I like experimenting), and I've been very happy with the results I got after putting in minimal effort. There are fancy techniques for giving it a specific texture, but if you don't care about that, they're optional. You can sift any dry flavourings you like into the gluten, and add any wet flavourings to the water. I steam the dough in patties for about 15 minutes, and once it's cooled down I shred it into chunks (this is visually more appealing to me than cut cubes or slices). Then the seitan can be used in stir-fry or whatever else you're making.

The flavour depends on what you add -- I've never actually got it to taste anything like meat, but I have made some very tasty batches. I highly recommend including lemon juice in the wet ingredients; I've tried lots of different things and it's a clear winner. I like to add herbs; other spices not so much. I usually use nutritional yeast as the flavour base, and have also often added powdered shiitake mushrooms. I try to avoid using strong flavours or too much salt in the dough itself, since I usually make stir-fry with sauces which can be quite salty.
posted by confluency at 4:28 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here for the Ottolenghi mentions. My favorite recipe of his is from his book Simple: cauliflower salad, but "salad" is a mean way to describe this wonder, which includes pistachios and pomegranate seeds and cumin. We eat it warm alongside whatever meat we have. Definitely a fitting recipe for Thanksgiving times.

If I were you and wanting to show them how simple and delicious vegan recipes can be, I'd also ignore the "summer" in this name and make something from Mark Bittman's 101 summer salads. You could also share the list with them. The key is everything on the list is super simple to make. There's a vegan section of the list (and it's large), but the vegetarian section recipes can also easily be made vegan by, for example, leaving out any dairy. My favorite from this list is the carrot-blueberry-sunflower seed salad.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 5:29 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This recipe is the perfect fall vegan meal. I always skip the almonds and scallions. It's not the prettiest meal but it is satisfying, homey, delicious, and much easier to make than the ingredients list would suggest.
posted by rhymedirective at 6:23 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: These orange cranberry muffins would be delightful as part of Thanksgiving breakfast. I once subbed chocolate chips for the nuts because of a friend's allergy, and now that's the only way I make them.

Vegan spanakopita is a show stopper. My recipe is in Vegan with a Vengeance so I can't link to it, but there are lots of versions online.

For an easier meal, this cauliflower alfredo sauce is wonderful. I keep frozen cauliflower on hand just so I can make it.
posted by FencingGal at 6:38 AM on November 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My friend once made a vegan cashew faux brie cheese that was surprisingly creamy, rich, and salty. I usually avoid faux cheese but I ate A LOT of it.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:12 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: A Vegan Southern Thanksgiving Menu by Chef Bryant Terry

My Thanksgiving go-tos include a caramelized onion-butternut squash roast with white beans, chestnuts, and sage from Isa Chandra Moskowitz (The Veganomicon).
posted by eviemath at 7:12 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want them to taste a thing they've never tasted before, make them some cumin-lamb noodles a la Xian Famous Foods, but substitute Impossible or Beyond burger for the lamb. That's how we always make it now anyway, as the fake burger actually has a fairly lamb-y flavor. I've served it to a number of vegans in my friend group over the last few years, and it's always a huge hit.

Just follow this recipe (if you really want it to sing, buy some chili oil from Xian directly), but under the "Cumin Lamb" section, instead of marinating lamb in the rest of the ingredients and then cooking, just fry the fake burger by itself with a bit of neutral oil until crumbled and crispy, then toss with the rest of the ingredients. I know the linked recipe is a little spare, if you've got any questions I'd be happy to answer them.
posted by saladin at 7:15 AM on November 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You could make a pretty focaccia!
posted by music for skeletons at 7:34 AM on November 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Last night I made vegan mushroom (yes, I know, mushrooms) stroganoff:
in a large pan, cool 1 onion, diced and 4 cloves of garlic in olive oil
Add 24 oz sliced mushrooms and cook off the liquid they express
Sprinkle 4T flour and stir.
Add 1C white wine, 3 bay leaves, 1t thyme, 4C vegetable broth.
Simmer until the it starts to thicken slightly.
Add 8-12oz eggless pasta (we use gluten free rotini)
Cover and simmer until the pasta is cooked.
Remove the bay leaves
Add 1/2 C vegan sour cream and 2T nutritional yeast and stir to incorporate.
Salt and pepper to taste.

Vegan Polenta
bring 6C veg broth to a boil.
Add 1.5C corn meal
Reduce to a simmer and stirring for about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Add 3T vegan butter (Miyokos is pretty good), 2-3T nutritional yeast, salt and pepper. Stir.

I've also done a vegan jambalaya similar to this recipe.

Mujadaara is also a staple in our house. It's delicious and easy. Here's a simple recipe, just skip the yogurt.
posted by plinth at 7:39 AM on November 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: These Harissa & Maple roasted carrots are delicious. I usually use baby carrots because that's what we have on hand (but the rainbow carrots the recipe calls for would definitely be fancier), add an extra lemon or two, & add a little more harissa paste. It is good hot or cold.
posted by belladonna at 7:50 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and we did Ottolenghi's confit tandoori chickpeas a few months ago and holy smokes, they were incredible. Incredible!
posted by saladin at 8:09 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: My favorite accidentally vegan thing I make is meal prep friendly. It’s black bean and sweet potato tacos with tomatillo salsa verde, pickled shallots and shredded cabbage. I make everything except the tortillas from scratch, though tortilla making could be fun for your guests maybe; masa is kind of the playdoh of foods.

Pickled shallots are just a fridge pickle in a vinegar brine with some cumin seeds, bay leaf, peppercorns, and sometimes I do radishes in there too.

The bean and sweet potato filling is just roasted on a sheet pan, liberally mixed with chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, smoked paprika, Mexican oregano, tossed in olive oil; it can be mashed further after cooking to make a spread or left chunky for texture, used in enchiladas or quesadillas or tostadas, scooped onto a grain bowl, etc, and it’s good hot or cold imo.

Tomatillo salsa is probably the most important part. I make it pretty mild because I’m baby, so I use Anaheim and poblano chilies, but you can do hatch and jalapeño or any combo of fresh green chilies (poblano has the best flavor though so include at least one). I halve and seed them but you do you. Then an equal amount of tomatillos (teaching your friends about those is fun! But if you can’t get them fresh, the canned ones work well in this) just cut into even chunks, plus big slabs of sweet onion and whole cloves of garlic. Toss that all with salt and olive oil and roast in a single layer on a sheet pan at fairly high heat until you get some browned edges. Let it cool and dump it all into a blender. Blend it up, adding some vegetable stock to help it blend (or just salted water) and then add a whole mess of cilantro including the stems. After blending until smooth, pour the whole thing into a pot. Add some more stock, ground cumin, some sugar and the zest of a lime and let it simmer and reduce. It should have some body to it, should coat a spoon nicely. Salt to taste and maybe add some more olive oil to help the consistency. It should be a lovely green color with lots of layers of flavor. It’s better hot but I’ve definitely dipped chips in it cold. Make a big batch when you find the right chilies and tomatillos and freeze small portions.

Sliced cabbage just adds the right crunch to your taco experience. When I don’t have pickled veg I mix it with lime juice and vinegar and some spices and let it sit while I make the other components, mixing occasionally, to make a super fast cabbage pickle thing. The downside is that this doesn’t last as leftovers, but plain sliced cabbage does.
posted by Mizu at 8:18 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For a pumpkin-y main, I like Mark Bittman's Autumn Millet Bake. (Obviously skip the cream and use maple syrup instead of honey.)
posted by lapis at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: Mushroom lasagne. layers of various mushroom sauces and noodles. I add a base layer of butternut squash puree with vegan butter. Cheese is not necessary.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: Seconding Ottolenghi and especially this slow roasted celeriac with coriander. It may not be pretty but the umami is off the charts.
posted by oxisos at 10:09 PM on November 1 [2 favorites −] [!]

I made an Ottolenghi slow roasted celeriac yesterday, after asking for ideas. It was absolutely, completely gorgeous. Will definitely be on our favorite foods list from now on. The celeriac is more strange than pretty to look at, but we made up for that with a curly kale salad with apples, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. This salad has a rich dressing of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper (use rose pepper for extra fragrance).

I am not a big dessert cook or eater, but when there was all the buzz about aquafaba, I tried to make vegan crêpes with an orange mousse filling. It worked very well. Can't say exactly how I did it, but basically used aquafaba instead of eggs in my crêpe batter, and then made a mousse with orange juice and zest, some sugar (not too much) some agar-agar and some aquafaba. Maybe there is something to explore with vegan chocolate mousse?

A simple thing that is still luxurious and looks great is Hokkaido pumpkin soup, served in the hollowed out pumpkins, either a tiny one on each dish or a big one as a centerpiece. I once had it served with crushed amaretti di Saronno (the macarons, not the drink), which was very holiday-ish.

For a vegan lasagna, I make a classic bolognese version, where I replace the meat with minced eggplant and the milk, both in the meat sauce and in the bechamel, with oat milk. I use vegan butter, but just skip the cheese. YMMV. I have mentioned before on the green that my adult kids, who are omnivores, prefer this version to the original.

Speaking of eggplant, the classic Imam bayildi is worth trying, I don't make it very often, but it is always a treat.

And probably the best egg-plant recipe in the world is Fish-Fragrant Eggplants. Until you learn how to, it is a bit of a project, but it is so delicious. I feel it works well with rice and Kung Pao mushrooms (and people who don't like regular button mushrooms might like king mushrooms). But I am not Chinese and have not been in China, so I don't know if this is an appropriate dinner.

Another big favorite here is a vegan "shepherd's" pie. (Is it then a garden pie?). Anyway, we make it with Beluga or Puy lentils. Right now there are also finely chopped mushrooms in there, because my son-in-law loves mushrooms, but that is a new addition and it worked just fine without.

Most of these recipes are pretty easy to make, so your friends can bring them home into their own rotation. The most important thing to learn is that the chopping is important, for instance, if you use chunks of eggplant rather than finely minced eggplant in the lasagne, your result will not be half as good. On the other hand, you need slices of onion in the Imam Bayildi, not minced.
posted by mumimor at 9:53 AM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So much inspiration here!
I came to add that Hasselback is a great way to make potatoes or squash really something. So crispy and spectacular. A lot of work but you can do it in advance
posted by tardigrade at 1:15 PM on November 2, 2022

Best answer: Vegan Reuben. The kind made with tempeh not fake pastrami. It's fucking magical. PS Add sliced pickles.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:57 PM on November 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really love jackfruit for heartiness that is not tofu (I love tofu too, but I understand some folks don't).
posted by joycehealy at 4:57 PM on November 2, 2022

Response by poster: Y'all are absolutely amazing! I wish our friends could stay for a month so we could cook all this!
posted by Lyn Never at 5:03 PM on November 2, 2022

If you can crush pumpkin seeds or similar, this is a showstopper. And extremely filling. You will be feast-level stuffed. You can also use it to make a mock tofu scramble.
posted by aniola at 2:25 PM on November 7, 2022

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