A crispy, creamy, fluffy (plant-based!) shepherd’s pie and a dinner-party-worthy cookie — add these vegan recipes to your holiday table

PKBy Patricia KarounosSpecial to the StarThu., Dec. 2, 2021timer5 min. readJOIN THE CONVERSATION ( 4 )

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If you’re serving veg-only guests this festive season, or just looking to add variety to the menu, try these holiday-ready ideas from two of our favourite Canadian plant-based food experts.

The main: A new take on classic comfort food

When creating a plant-based dish, Calgary-based recipe developer Maria Koutsogiannis of Food by Maria aims to prove vegan food isn’t boring. Inspired by her British fiancé and the robust Greek flavours she grew up with (like cinnamon and clove), her version of a classic shepherd’s pie is no exception. Made with lentils and a soy-based alternative to ground beef, this meal is at once crispy, creamy, fluffy and warming. “It’s delicious. It’s wholesome. It’s nostalgic. It’s really versatile,” she says. “And it makes me happy — there’s nothing better than cutting into a casserole dish and watching the steam pipe out. It’s honestly the perfect dish for the holiday season.”

Maria Koutsogiannis’s Best Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

For the sauce:

2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

medium sweet white onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped

2 tbsp (30 mL) dried basil

1 tbsp (15 mL) dried oregano

1 tsp (5 mL) cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp cloves

3/4 cup (185 mL) tomato puree

2 heaped tsp (10 mL) tomato paste

1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) vegetable stock paste (depending on preference and tolerance to salt)

1 1/2 cup (375 mL) cooked lentils such as Bob’s Red Mill

1 packet Yves Ground Round

2 to 3 cup (500 to 750 mL) hot water

For the mashed potatoes:

5 large white potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 tbsp (15 mL) olive oil

1/4 to 1/2 cup (62.5 to 125 mL) almond milk

1 heaped tbsp (30 mL) butter

1 tsp (5 mL) fresh thyme, plus 2 tbsp (30 mL) for garnish

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot, add olive oil and heat for 30 seconds on medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for around 5 minutes, or until soft and translucent. Add in garlic, basil, oregano, cumin, cinnamon and cloves. Stir until onion is well coated and turn heat to low to cook and marry for around three minutes. Stir often to avoid burning.

Add your tomato puree, tomato paste and vegetable stock paste into the pot. Stir well, then increase heat to high before adding lentils and Yves Ground Round. Sautée in the pan for two minutes before adding water. Stir, bringing it to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes until thick like a traditional meat sauce. Set aside once done.

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

While your “meat” sauce is simmering, prepare mashed potatoes by boiling water in a large stockpot. Season water and cook potatoes until very tender, about 15 minutes. Strain the potatoes, but do not rinse or return to the pot. Add the remainder of the ingredients and mash until rich and creamy. Remember, when adding your liquid that you must have a more solid mash to add on top of the first layer. Set aside.

Transfer your “meat mixture” into a baking dish (13 x 7.75 x 2.25 inches) and lay it flat using a spatula. Begin dolloping your mashed potato onto the mixture and flatten it out. Use a fork to carve marks vertically and horizontally across the pie — this adds a fun texture when it cooks. Before cooking, spray the mashed potatoes with an oil of your choice for that added golden colour.

Cook for 25 minutes. Then set the oven to broil for five minutes, watching closely so nothing burns.

Enjoy with fresh thyme garnish and your choice of steamed greens or veg. Serves 8. 

The dessert: A light, crunchy dinner-party treat

Canadian food personality and cookbook author Lauren Toyota loves biscotti, which she describes as an “overlooked cookie.” So, going into her second book, “Hot for Food All Day,” she knew she wanted to figure out a plant-based version. The result is a light and crunchy biscuit dipped in dairy-free chocolate and flavoured with coconut and pecan. It also happens to be gluten free; while experimenting, Toyota discovered that using almond flour resulted in the best texture. She also loves serving them at dinner parties. “They look interesting on a platter, and they’re not too complex,” Toyota says. “If you’re a biscotti skeptic, these will convert you.”

"If you're a biscotti skeptic, these will convert you," says Lauren Toyota of her vegan coconut pecan biscotti.

Lauren Toyota’s Coconut Pecan Biscotti

5 g golden flax meal

3 tbsp (45 mL) water

112 g fine almond flour

130 g gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 1⁄2 tsp baking powder

1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon

1⁄2 tsp sea salt

1 stick (113 g) vegan butter, partially softened

50 g granulated sugar

46 g packed light brown sugar

2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract

1 bar (4 oz / 113 g) dairy-free semi-sweet baking chocolate, broken into squares, or 113 g vegan chocolate chips

38 g finely chopped pecans

21 g unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the flax meal and water and set aside to thicken. In a mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon and sea salt.

Using a hand mixer and another large mixing bowl or in a stand mixer, cream together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the thickened flax mixture and vanilla and continue to mix until combined. On low speed, gradually add the flour mixture until combined. Once the dough comes together, use a spatula to mix in the coconut and pecans until well combined.

Place the dough on the prepared baking sheet. Using your hands, form a rectangle 3⁄4 inch thick, and 9 to 10 inches by 4 inches.

Bake for 35 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the cookie is slightly raised. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and let the cookie cool for 35 to 40 minutes. You want to slice it while it’s still a little warm and not completely cooled. Slice with a long, sharp knife on a slight diagonal every 3⁄4 inch into 10 biscotti.

Gently place the biscotti on the parchment cut-side down. Bake again for 30 to 35 minutes, flipping gently to the other cut side halfway through baking, until the cookies are firm to the touch and golden brown all over. Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the biscotti cool completely before dipping in chocolate. Makes 10 biscotti.

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