Satisfying Recipes for a Vegetarian Holiday

November 13, 2014    BY Deborah Willoughby

Preparing a holiday meal for a mixed crowd of vegetarians and omnivores is tricky. People who eschew meat sometimes get a bit crusty when it shows up in their vicinity, while their opposite numbers expect it to anchor the main course. I’ve found that no matter how skillfully I disguise it, substituting tofu leaves the omnivores feeling underfed. The last time I tried—back in the ’80s—my brother threatened to smuggle pheasant or a brace of quail into the dining room for sustenance. My subsequent discovery of Deborah Madison’s recipe for Cheese and Nut Loaf solved the problem. Complex and tasty, with a texture pleasing to omnivores and vegetarians alike, it has become a holiday tradition at family get-togethers—at least when I’m the designated cook.

When the ruby-red pomegranate seeds are combined with the fresh pineapple, it begins to look a lot like Christmas.

I have two other dishes that are also perennial favorites, both from Mollie Katzen: Bitter Greens with Sweet Onions and Sour Cherries to accompany the main course, and for dessert, Pineapple Pomegranita. Both are tailor-made for the holidays. The medley of canned and dried cherries gives the greens a festive air. And when the ruby-red pomegranate seeds (available only in late fall and early winter) are combined with the fresh pineapple, it begins to look a lot like Christmas.

Using these three dishes as the foundation for a holiday meal offers several advantages—flexibility chief among them. You need to make the Bitter Greens shortly before they’re served, but the other two can be made the day before. The Cheese and Nut Loaf is labor intensive—roasting and grating and chopping and mincing are mandatory. If you make the brown rice in advance, two people can put the loaf together in less than 30 minutes, but that still leaves a pile of dishes to wash. If you want to be fresh and relaxed when your guests arrive, assemble it the night before. Take the loaf out of the refrigerator about an hour before you pop it in the oven, and all will be well. The Pineapple Pomegranita, on the other hand, is quick and easy (once you’ve peeled the fruit). As long as you start at least three hours before bedtime (so you can drag a fork through the slush periodically), you can make it the night before, too. Take the granita out of the freezer when you sit down to eat, and the consistency will be perfect by the time dessert rolls around.

Using these three dishes as the foundation for a holiday meal offers several advantages—flexibility chief among them.

The rest of the meal can be tailored to suit the occasion. If you’re looking for a traditional touch on Thanksgiving, for example, start with a pumpkin soup and serve mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy with the main course. The gravy will complement the Cheese and Nut Loaf, but so will a béchamel sauce if you favor squash over potatoes. If your guests are sticklers for tradition, serve the granita as a palate cleanser and finish with a mince pie.

Cheese and Nut Loaf

This rich terrine, while not intended to imitate meat, is the closest we come to meat loaf. Soft, dense, and chewy, it makes a satisfying main course as well as an excellent filling for stuffed peppers, cabbages, and other vegetables. It is worth making extra to have enough left over for sandwiches. Makes 1 loaf.

  • 11⁄2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 11⁄2 cups walnuts
  • 1⁄2 cup cashews
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup mushrooms, wiped clean and chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 ounce dried shitake or porcini mushrooms, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons thyme leaves, chopped, or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon marjoram, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon sage, chopped, or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 9 to 12 ounces cheese, grated (use a variety of cheeses, depending on what you have on hand and which tastes go well together, i.e., Gruyère, cheddars, muenster, fontina, jack)
  • Pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Begin by cooking the rice, unless you already have some cooked. Roast the nuts in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes; then chop them finely.
  2. Cook the onion in the butter over moderate heat until it is translucent; then season with salt and add the garlic, chopped mushrooms, dried mushrooms, and herbs. Cook until the liquid released by the mushrooms has been reduced. Combine this mixture with the rice, nuts, eggs, cottage cheese, and grated cheese. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if needed.
  3. Lightly butter a loaf pan; then line it with buttered waxed paper or parchment paper. Fill the pan and bake the loaf at 375°F until the top is golden and rounded, about 1 to 11/4 hours. The loaf should be firm when you give the pan a shake. Let the loaf sit 10 minutes before turning it out onto a serving plate; then take off the paper.
  4. This is a richly flavored, filling dish, so it can be served with light foods—with vegetables that are simply steamed or sauteéd and a brothy soup and a salad to finish.

From The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown. ©1987 by Edward Espe Brown and Deborah Madison. Used by permission of Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Bitter Greens with Sweet Onions and Sour Cherries

I love the taste of sour or tart fruit in savory dishes, especially in this very unusual one, where the flavors of the greens, onions, and cherries are all equally strong. The result is surprisingly balanced and smooth.

My favorite combination of greens for this dish is collards, red mustard, arugula, and kale. The amount of greens listed might seem enormous, but don’t forget they will cook way down. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. Preparation time: 40 minutes (15 minutes of work).

  • 1 cup fresh sour cherries, pitted (or canned unsweetened sour cherries, drained)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 cups sliced onion (a sweet variety, like Vidalia or Maui, if available)
  • 11⁄4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 large bunches fresh greens, stemmed if necessary, and coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
  • 1 cup dried sour cherries (optional)


  1. Place the fresh or canned cherries in a small bowl and sprinkle them with sugar. Let sit for about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and sauté over high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to medium, cover the pan, and let the onion cook until very tender (about 10 more minutes).
  3. Begin adding the greens in batches (as much as will fit), sprinkling each addition with about 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cover between additions, letting the greens cook down for about 4 minutes each time, to make room for the next batch.
  4. When all the greens are added and have wilted, stir in the sour cherries and cook for just about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a platter and sprinkle the dried cherries on top, if desired. Serve hot or warm, being sure to include some of the delicious cooking juices with each serving.

Excerpted from The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen. ©2007 Tante Malka Inc. Published by Hyperion. All rights reserved.

Pineapple Pomegranita

Blissfully refreshing, this sophisticated frozen dessert doubles as a palate cleanser. Yield: 6 servings. Preparation time: 20 minutes of work, plus a minimum of 9 hours to freeze.

  • 1 large ripe pineapple, peeled and cored
  • 1 to 2 cups pomegranate seeds


  • 2 tablespoons candied ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • Sugar to taste
  • Sprigs of mint for garnish


  1. Chop the pineapple into small pieces, saving as much of the juice as possible. Put the pineapple and the pomegranate seeds in a food processor, and pulse several times to mince the fruit almost—but not quite—to a pulp.
  2. Transfer the mixture to a shallow glass bowl or pan, and add the ginger and/or minced mint, if desired. Taste for sweetness, and add sugar if needed.
  3. Place the bowl or pan in the freezer for 3 hours, interrupting it every 30 minutes or so to poke it assertively with a fork. Then cover the bowl or pan, and freeze overnight, or for a minimum of 6 hours longer.
  4. About 15 minutes before serving time, take the granita out of the freezer and let it sit at room temperature. Just before serving, drag a fork through the granita to break it into tiny ice crystals. Serve right away in stemmed glassware, for a particularly elegant presentation. Garnish with sprigs of mint, if desired.

Excerpted from The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen. ©2007 Tante Malka Inc. Published by Hyperion. All rights reserved.

Deborah Willoughby
The founding editor of Yoga International magazine, Deborah Willoughby holds a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Virginia. After a career in Washington, DC, as a writer and editor, she turned her attention full-time to the study and practice of yoga. She studied with Swami Rama and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait while serving as President of the Himalayan Institute from 1994 to 2008. She is the editor of Pandit Tigunait’s new book, The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi... Read more>>