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Lighten Up Heavy Holiday Meals With These Scrumptious Veggie Dishes

Five salads and sides that are nutritious and delicious.

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Photographs by Scott Suchman (prop and food stylist: Lisa Cherkasky)
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The holiday season is all about family and friends spending time together — and the sharing of amazing meals. But what if we shared meals around the table that could benefit our loved ones for years to come?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” A fresh and nutritious plant-based diet is unquestionably a contributor to better health. As the founder, cooking instructor and chef at The Speedy Vegan, here are five of my favorite recipes for salads and side dishes.

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Spinach Arugula Salad with Pears, Pomegranates, Candied Pecans & Citrus Vinaigrette

Serves 4

This fruity seasonal salad will brighten your holiday meals with its vibrant color and crunchy texture. 

Ingredients for the Salad

4 ounces baby spinach

2 ounces arugula

2 pears, unpeeled cored and sliced

1 cup pomegranate seeds

Ingredients for the Candied Pecans

1 cup raw pecan halves

2 tablespoons date syrup

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Ingredients for the Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons orange zest

½ cup fresh squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

½ tablespoon date syrup

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons shallot, minced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss together the pecans, dates, syrup and cinnamon in a small bowl. Spread the nuts in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 7-8 minutes. Watch closely to make sure they don’t burn. Make the dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a jar. Assemble the salad by adding the baby spinach and arugula to a large bowl. Then add ½ cup of the dressing to the greens and toss it together. Divide the dressed greens between serving plates and top the greens with the pear slices, candied pecans and pomegranate seeds. Spoon a little extra dressing over the top of each salad and serve.

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Citrus Fennel Salad

Serves 4

The flavor combination of tart grapefruit, sweet oranges and fennel’s licorice flavor is a wonderful way to lighten up any rich holiday meal. 

2 heads fennel

1 navel orange

1 grapefruit

½ medium red onion

10-12 fresh mint leaves

Cut the fennel lengthwise, remove the core and slice very thinly. Cut the peel and pith from the orange and the grapefruit. Cut between the membranes to release the segments and set aside. Slice the red onion very thinly using a mandolin. Arrange the fennel, orange, grapefruit and onion on a platter and squeeze the extra orange and grapefruit juice over the top. Tear the mint leaves and sprinkle on the salad with some of the reserved fennel fronds. Serve right away or store overnight in the refrigerator.

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Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Butternut with Lentils and Fresh Herbs

Serves 6

There is something about the blend of sweet and savory that makes holiday meals so special. This dish is packed with nutrients and flavor.

3 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced into ½-inch cubes

4 cups brussels sprouts, halved

2 shallots sliced

1 teaspoon salt-free seasoning

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 cup brown or green lentils, cooked

1 tablespoon tamari

1 teaspoon date syrup

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking sheet. Combine the butternut squash, brussels sprouts and shallots together and sprinkle with the salt-free seasoning and black pepper. Spread the vegetables on the baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes or until tender and slightly browned. Transfer the vegetables to a mixing bowl and add the cooked lentils, tamari, date syrup, smoked paprika, walnuts, fresh thyme and fresh rosemary. Toss together and then transfer to a serving bowl or platter and serve warm.

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Mushroom and Cauliflower Rice Casserole

Serves 8

This combination makes you forget it's cauliflower and not rice. A great way to bring more fiber and antioxidants to your table.

2 pounds of cauliflower or cauliflower rice

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced

½ cup celery

1 cup onion, diced

½ cup cashews

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 cup unsweetened almond milk

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon white miso paste

½ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon poultry seasoning

1 cup breadcrumbs

1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Make the cauliflower rice by pulsing it in a food processor or grating it with a box grater over a large bowl. Or, you can buy pre-riced cauliflower in the produce section. Add the mushrooms, celery and onions to a Dutch oven or large sauté pan. Sauté for 5 minutes. Use a splash of water if the vegetables start to stick to the pan. While the vegetables are sautéing add the cashews, nutritional yeast, almond milk, cornstarch, garlic, miso paste, pepper and poultry seasoning to a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Add the cauliflower rice and the blended sauce to the mushrooms. Stir to combine and then cook for 5 minutes. Pour the mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle the Herbes de Provence and the bread crumbs over the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the casserole is hot and the breadcrumbs start to brown, and then serve.

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Honeynut Squash with Sherried Mushrooms and Shallots

Serves 4

These petite-sized squash are perfect for stuffing and so eye-catching that they can easily be the main dish.

2 Honeynut squash

1 pound mushroom medley, chopped

¾ cup shallots, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

¾ cup celery, diced

¼ cup sherry

¼ cup tamari

1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or ½ teaspoon fresh)

1 teaspoon salt substitute

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 fresh rosemary, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Slice the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the squash on the baking sheet cavity face down, then bake for 30-40 minutes or until tender. While the squash are baking, make the filling by adding the mushrooms, shallots, garlic and celery to a pan and sauté for 4-5 minutes over medium heat. Add the sherry, tamari, rosemary, salt-free seasoning and pepper and cook for 4 minutes or until most of the liquid has cooked off. Place the Honeynut squash on a platter and fill the cavity with the mushrooms. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs and serve.

Do you enjoy plant-based dishes? What's your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

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