7 Hacks for a Very Vegan Holiday Feast

The best substitution solutions for hearty celebratory fare

By Karen Hao

November 18, 2021


Stuffed butternut squash with chickpeas, cranberries, and quinoa cooked in nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. | Photo by iStock/sveta_zarzamora

A previous version of this article was published on November 19, 2016.

As a longtime vegan who’s never tasted turkey, I can still say that Thanksgiving is one of my favorite days of the year. I’ve always loved experimenting with substitutes for traditional holiday fare. One of my fondest memories? Spending two hours sculpting a mound of vegan mashed potatoes into a turkey-shaped masterpiece. 

If this is your first vegan holiday season, waste no time wallowing in meat nostalgia. Prepackaged tofurkey may disappoint, but mouthfuls of joy await in the form of other scrumptious eats. Here are some tips.

1. Replace eggs with superseeds. 

Eggless baking is a piece of (vegan) cake. With most recipes, you can easily substitute flax or chia seeds, both of which closely imitate eggs’ binding and moisture-infusing properties. What’s more, flax seeds are high in essential fats and B vitamins, which help maintain healthy hair and skin. And chia seeds—high in fiber, calcium, and antioxidants—have been dubbed a “superfood.” To create a fake egg, whisk together one tablespoon of chia or flax meal and three tablespoons of water. Now you’re ready to make celebratory (and vegan) oatmeal raisin cookies or pumpkin chia pancakes

2. Acquaint yourself with coconut. 

Packed with healthy, saturated fatty acids and shown to have various health benefits such as lowering cholesterol, full-fat coconut milk is both a versatile thickener and a more nutritious alternative to dairy. Add it to seasonal soups the same way you might add milk to a nonvegan version (check out this roasted butternut squash soup recipe). Or, add a dash of finesse to your vegan desserts and entrees by whisking coconut into whipped cream or sour cream.  

3. Concoct your own cheeses. 

Want to whip up a hearty bowl of ravioli, or perhaps mushroom risotto? Nutritional yeast and cashews join forces in stellar fashion to re-create the flavor and texture of cheese. Cashews are high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats and antioxidants and, like dairy-based cheeses, help strengthen your bones. Master the varieties of basic, herbed, tomato-basil, and more vegan cheese-based holiday comforts with instructions from Blender Girl. Seeking a little more guidance? Dazzle Thanksgiving guests with this gooey mac and cheese recipe

4. Harness the umami of mushrooms. 

We’ve arrived at the ultimate substitution: meat. Dairy and dessert hacks are one thing, but finding good alternatives for the unique flavors and textures of meat is truly an art. Enter mushrooms. Prepared with care and precision, their umami flavor and chewy texture evoke certain omnivorous dishes. In fact, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt argues that his recipe for crispy smoked-mushroom “bacon” is better than the real thing. For another holiday staple, try drizzling mushroom gravy over some vegan mash. Bon appétit. 

5. Treat your senses to chickpeas. 

The humble chickpea is truly a vegan’s best friend. Not only does its hearty texture and high protein content make it another great alternative to meat, but its flavor and versatility afford vegan chefs many a night of kitchen experimentation. Try subbing ground chickpeas for ground beef in chili, or test out this inventive recipe for chickpea meatloaf—and say goodbye to tofurkey forever.

And, next time you open a can of chickpeas, save the sticky residual water. Also known as aquafaba, this liquid can be mixed and whipped into fluffy vegan meringues or even into deliciously airy ice cream. Really. Try out this minty cotton candy ice cream

6. Embrace the avocado. 

Raw avocados are to die for in guacamole and on toast, but did you know their creamy texture also makes for an excellent butter substitute when baking? High in unsaturated fats and water content, the superfruit replaces unhealthy saturated fats and yields softer, chewier baked goods that are less likely to crumble than their butter-filled counterparts. Plus, it packs nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients—so you can keep telling yourself that a fourth cookie is a nutritious decision. Use a one-to-one substitution rate when subbing for butter and, when subbing avocado for oil, thin out the mixture with water. Improvise recipes of your own, or try out this avocado banana bread recipe. Keep in mind that avocados’ creamy consistency makes for top-notch puddings and pie fillings. The proof lies in this chocolate avocado cream pie

7. Sweeten the meal with soy. 

This is the part where we break the long-standing stereotype that tofu is primarily a meat substitute for stir-fry and show you how to utilize it in desserts. Indeed, when blended with flavors like chocolate and pumpkin, silken tofu renders satiny, velvety treats. Here are two sinfully simple tofu-based desserts: Mexican chocolate pudding and pumpkin swirl cheesecake. There’s no turning back now.

What You Can Do

Pledge to go meatless once a week, or to cut out certain animal products and make other small, plant-based changes: Reducing our dependence on meat is one way to make a large dent in greenhouse emissions like carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Reduce your personal footprint on the planet and take the pledge to skip meat one day a week.