Preparing vegetarian-friendly holiday meals

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  • Photo courtesy of Marcus Guimaraes Ratatouille is a colorful dish that blends well with a Christmas color scheme.

What are you going to cook for your favorite nephew who decided to go vegetarian? Don't fret. There are delicious alternatives that the whole family, carnivores and herbivores alike, will enjoy.

First, let's learn the difference between vegetarian diets. Loosely defined, a vegetarian does not eat meat. A "Noah-vegetarian" will eat fish but no meats or poultry. "Lacto-ovo-vegetarians" eat milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.) and eggs, but no meat, poultry, seafood or fish. "Lacto-vegetarians" eat milk products, but not eggs, meat, poultry, seafood or fish. Vegans will not eat any animal byproducts, including dairy, eggs, honey and most gelatins. Know your audience before you plan your festive menu.

Today's groceries offer a full complement of tasty vegetarian alternatives. There are tofu-turkeys, garden patties and meatless (soy) crumbles if you really want to keep a looks-like-meat dish on the table. Check out the variety of vegetables and legumes that can be diced, sliced, seasoned, and grilled or sauteed to make colorful, tasty protein-rich entrees. A holiday meal should be festive, hearty and special, but it doesn't have to be meat, dairy, fish or eggs. It's all in the presentation.

Before you give up on some of your favorite recipes, learn what items can be substituted. Use soy, almond, rice or coconut milk in recipes calling for dairy milk. Substitute half of a mashed banana with a half-teaspoon of baking powder or a tablespoon of powdered flaxseed soaked in 3 tablespoons of water for each egg in a recipe. Vegetable shortening or light olive oil can substitute for butter. Use vegetable broth, soy sauce and flour or cream of tartar for an au jus gravy. Lightly puree sauteed and seasoned green beans in place of chopped liver. An easy and safe source for some substitutes are foods labeled kosher/pareve (no meat or dairy products used), and depending on what is available in your neighborhood grocery, you'll find soups, meat substitutes and gelatin for dessert or cooking. Not all substitutions will taste like the original recipe, so experiment now and then to see what works for you.

Here are a few recipes for a delicious and festive dinner:

Start with a can of pureed pumpkin for a cream-based soup. Saute sage, garlic and onion, add a can of vegetable broth and a half-cup of heavy cream or milk substitute with up to three teaspoons of white wine vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and top with grated cheese or cheese substitute if desired. A creamy pumpkin base also works well mixed with a thick barley and vegetable soup, or with pureed black beans and fresh tomatoes seasoned with garlic, cumin and allspice.

Ratatouille is a flavorful one-pan dish of stewed vegetables and served with toasted bread, pasta or rice. The beauty of this dish is its individuality, which allows the chef to show off culinary expertise. Common vegetables include chunks of tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, onion and eggplant; other vegetables like corn, par-boiled potato, broccoli and cauliflower are optional. Saute vegetables with garlic, onions, marjoram, basil, bay leaf and thyme in olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Some cooks like to saute the vegetables separately and combine them in a casserole with a little vegetable broth before baking in a hot oven. Do not overcook.


1 pound medium egg noodles

1 stick butter/margarine

4 large eggs

4 ounces raisins or craisins

1 cup small diced apple

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 cup cinnamon sugar

Cook and drain noodles; add butter and scrambled eggs; soak raisins in warm water; add apples, raisins, salt, sugar and cinnamon to noodles. Stir until well-mixed. Pour mixture into a 9-by-13-by-2 pan; top with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Serve warm or cold.

(Recipe from Bobi DuBois of New Jersey.)

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