Vegetarian, vegan dishes maintain ‘nostalgic feeling’ of holidays

Claire Henderson’s vegan Thanksgiving dinner.
Claire Henderson’s vegan Thanksgiving dinner.

Mashed potatoes, lasagna and chicken pot pie. And don’t forget the decorated cookies and gingerbread men.

When vegans in the Capital Region sit down for a holiday meal, traditional dishes and belly-warming comfort foods are on table. The difference is the foods are plant-based and free of meat, poultry, dairy or eggs. The “chicken” in that pot pie is seitan, a high-protein meat alternative made from wheat gluten.

“I just try to take everything my mom has made over the past 30 years and redo it as vegan,” says Chelsea Heilmann, co-owner of Square One Café, Schenectady’s first vegan restaurant. “You’re taking those traditional dishes but you’re adding a little twist to it,” she says. “You still want to remember that nostalgic feeling.”

In Saratoga Springs, at Leann Fyvie’s house, super-creamy vegan mashed potatoes is the main holiday dish, served with an array of flavorful roasted vegetables.

“Green beans, butternut squash, fresh cauliflower roasted with garlic. I’ll make a bunch of vegetables so people can pick and choose. There’s so much to fill up on,” Fyvie says.

And the to-die-for potatoes? She got that recipe online from food blogger Raquel Smith.

“The way to make it creamy and different is that you soak cashews. It sounds weird but it makes this creamy sauce. You just pour it in the mashed potatoes and it makes the best mashed potatoes ever. Even if you are not a vegan, you are going to love them.”

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“I actually grew up vegetarian,” says Claire Henderson, president of the Capital Region Vegan Network. “With my parents, for Christmastime, we’d do more like Italian food, like lasagna.” In her vegan lasagna, plant-based cheeses replace the dairy ingredients.

For vegans who don’t have time to cook or plan to downsize their gatherings because of COVID-19, Square One is offering meals that can be picked up on Dec. 24.

“We are doing an Asian-style takeout menu for Christmas and lots of desserts. We’ll do cupcakes and cookie trays,” says Heilmann.

Square One did its first holiday takeout the day before Thanksgiving, with 202 advance orders. Customers selected items from an online menu that included personal-sized “chicken” pot pies, scalloped potatoes, cheddar-scallion biscuits and green bean casserole. For dessert, there were mini pumpkin, apple and pecan pies.

With a growing number of people choosing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle because of concerns about killing animals for food, protecting the environment and for health reasons, there are also more plant-based food products in stores than ever before and an endless amount of recipes online.

“The cheese is good now. When I started being a vegan, it wasn’t that good. Now they have brands that are just amazing,” says Fyvie.

Tofurky, a cylindrical loaf made of tofu and wheat protein, has been around since 1995, but now there are also vegan “roasts,” which are similarly shaped and stuffed, that are baked and then sliced for serving.

“The Gardein Holiday Roast and Field Roast Celebration Roast are my favorites,” says Henderson. “There are more brands out there than I realized. And I know there’s a vegan ham out there.”

In our area, vegans and vegetarians post comments about food products on 518 Vegans, a public group on Facebook.

“That’s the group to network [with] if you’re looking for ideas. They share recipes and experiences at restaurants,” says Fyvie.

The Capital Region Vegan Network website,, has a restaurant guide.

Heilmann is constantly hunting for recipes online.

“I just go to Google and type stuff in. I’ll look at four or five different recipes. It’s experimenting and not being afraid to try something,” she says.

“It’s very easy to convert traditional meals into vegan meals,” Henderson says. “That’s the main thing that I like to tell people.”

When Fyvie invites her nonvegan family members over for Thanksgiving and Christmas, they bring their own turkey and gravy, and she makes all of her vegan side dishes.

“My dad pretends he doesn’t like it,” she says. “I think people hear the word ‘vegan’ and they get scared. They think it’s not going to taste good. Once they taste it, they absolutely love it and can’t get enough.”

Almond Ricotta

Chelsea Heilmann uses this recipe for stuffed shells or lasagna.


  • 2 cups almonds
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 7-9 leaves of fresh basil


Place all items in a food processor and blend and keep pushing the mixture down until almonds are all broken down. Blending will take 15 to 20 minutes until it’s thick and dense.

Take out of blender and mix with 1/2 cup of your favorite vegan mozzarella.

Stuff inside shells or layer in a lasagna.

Red Lentil Soup

Leann Fyvie says this soup is “so pretty and colorful, and super easy to make.”


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 4 cups (or one box of veggie broth)
  • 2 cups Water
  • 3 medium-sized carrots, diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 clove Garlic, diced, or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dash of onion powder or fresh chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Dash of Pepper
  • Spinach or greens for topping


1. Dice veggies.

2. Add water and veggie broth to pot.

3. Add veggies and spices to the pot.

4. Bring to a boil.

5. Cover pot and simmer for 10 minutes.

6. Add lentils and simmer for another 15 minutes.

7. Add greens if desired.

Mushroom Wellington

Claire Henderson likes this recipe from the Bosh! Website ( “It’s great for either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and I recommend adding some mushroom gravy.”



  • 4 portabella mushrooms
  • 4 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 tbs. fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tbs. fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
  • splash olive oil
  • sprinkle of salt and pepper

Nut roast

  • Splash olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tbs. fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
  • Sprinkle of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 cups chestnuts
  • 2 cups pecans
  • 2 slices seeded bread
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock

Wellington case

  • 2 blocks shortcrust pastry
  • 1/2 cup soy milk (for brushing on pastry before baking


1. Put the portobello mushrooms in a baking tray & cover in a splash of olive oil.

2. Sprinkle the rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and garlic over the top of the mushrooms.

3. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, and once they’re ready, set to one side to cool (this gives you the time you need to prepare the next stage of the dish).

4. Put the red onion in a pan with olive oil and fry until it’s translucent.

5. Add the rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper and cook them together until they start sticking.

6. Add a cup of white wine and cook the alcohol off.

7. Add some brown sugar and mix it so it caramelizes. Pour the mixture in a glass mixing bowl.

8. Put chestnuts, pecans and bread in a food processor, and whiz them all up into crumbs.

9. Add the crumbly mixture into the glass bowl with the onions and pour in the vegetable stock (gradually!).

10. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon so it clumps up.

11. Push a thick layer of the mixture onto a sheet of shortcrust pastry (laid out on a baking tray).

12. Mold the mixture with your hands into a large, thin, wide sausage shape.

13. Put the precooked portobello mushrooms on top of the “sausage.”

14. Encase the mushrooms in the rest of the nutty mixture and smooth it out with your hands.

15. Carefully lay the second sheet of shortcrust pastry over the top of the nut roast mound.

16. Push the pastry down with your fingers.

17. Cut off the edges of the pastry with a pizza cutter (or a very sharp knife) and remove the excess (use this to cut of shapes to decorate your wellington).

18. Seal the edges with a fork — take care here: Make it look good!

19. Decorate your Wellington with shapes you cut out of the spare pastry, and fork in air holes.

20. Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes (be sure to check after 30 minutes. If it looks ready, take it out of the oven.).

21. Use a bread knife to carve the Wellington into slices.

22. Serve with all the trimmings.

Mushroom Gravy

From The Simple Veganista,


  • 1/4 cup olive oil or nondairy butter
  • 1 (16-oz.) package sliced mushrooms (white or baby bellas)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups mushroom or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (optional)
  • Salt and pepper


Heat oil over medium heat, add mushrooms and season with a pinch of salt. Simmer mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost evaporated, about 15 minutes.

Add flour, continue cooking and stirring for 3 to 5 minutes until flour is absorbed and not white anymore. Add one cup of broth, stirring or whisking briskly until incorporated and liquid has thickened. There should be no flour lumps.

Slowly pour in the remaining broth and mix thoroughly. Season with pepper and thyme. Simmer at a gentle boil over medium-low until thickened, stirring often. Gravy will thicken upon standing.

Makes about four cups.

Store leftovers in the fridge for five to six days. Freeze for up to two months.

At a glance

Eager to learn more about the vegan diet and lifestyle?

For nearly 15 years, members of the Capital Region Vegan Network have been getting together, spreading the word and hosting events.

In January, the CRVN, formerly known as the Vegetarian Network and the Albany Vegan Network, launches its annual memberships.

“We include everyone interested in veganism,” says CRVN president Claire Henderson. “Though the majority of our members are vegan or vegetarian, we are an open and supportive community. If you are vegan or veg curious, we welcome you to join our organization.”

In June 2019, CRVN organized VegOut, the Capital Region’s first all-vegan festival in downtown Troy. The free, family-friendly food event featured small portions of vegan food for sale from area restaurants and food vendors. Three months later, the group held its 11th annual VegFest at the Albany Capital Center.

Because of COVID-19, those events were canceled for 2020. Takeout meals and online events were held instead.

For an annual fee of $25, members participate in social gatherings and potluck dinners, receive a newsletter, and get discounts to local restaurants and stores.

For information, go to or Facebook.

Categories: Celebrate, Food

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