I just celebrated my first vegan holiday and let me tell you, it was the most delicious meal I’ve had in a long time. When you’re starting out vegan, there's a lot of pressure around your first holiday. How will you explain your ethical meal to relatives? What will you eat? I get questions all the time about what it’s like to be vegan (Oh, you can’t eat that? No, I just won’t) and how it’s even possible to celebrate a holiday sans meat, cheese, or dairy. The truth is it’s not hard at all, and really, you get so much more flavorful (and healthier!) dishes when you’re cooking vegan because you’re not relying on tons of heavy and processed cheeses and meats. Instead, you are using incredible flavorful plant-based ingredients, spices (and probably a good helping of vegan butter, too).
When it comes to the holidays, it’s all about the sides anyway. Yes, there are absolutely vegan roast/meat substitute options out there that are actually really good, but I managed to get away with making a ton of sides for Thanksgiving and even my uncle went back for seconds (thirds). Celebrating a holiday with a vegan menu is a wonderful way to get in the holiday spirit. Compassion and love for all things on this earth are two main pillars for ethical vegans — so why not save a life this holiday and go meatless? To inspire your vegan holiday and make your mouth water, here are 23 totally vegan-friendly side dishes for you and your guests.
1. Vegan Spinach Mac And Cheese
Oh, my. This recipe from Love and Lemons is 100 percent showing up at my Christmas dinner. If the only thing stopping you from going vegan is FOMO on cheese, try this perfectly cheesy side. You won’t miss cheese at all, I promise. An added bonus from vegan cheese sauces? No bloating or digestion problems that are associated with the dairy versions. Get the recipe here.
2. Tomato Barley Risotto
Nothing gets me more excited than a good recipe with tomatoes, miso, or nooch. This one has all three, and I’m living for it. This recipe from Oh She Glows is has it all — creaminess, acidity, and a healthy dose of fiber. Get the recipe here.
3. Creamy Polenta and Mushrooms
OK I lied. Mushrooms get me pretty excited too. Using vegan butter and nixing the top layer of asiago, this Love and Lemons mushroom and polenta dish is to die for. Use mini ramekins to make portions side-appropriate, but honestly you know you’re going to go back for more of this. Get the recipe here.
4. Vegetable Lasagna Casserole
Not sure what the meaning behind this tradition is, but the majority of the people I know always have lasagna on their holiday table. Instead of a meat and cheese filled option, try Averie Cooks’ version with zucchini, carrots, and a layer of vegan cheese. Get the recipe here.
5. Broiled Green Beans with Roasted Lemon Gremolata
Part of a great meal is having a variety of colors and textures. For a vibrant green addition to your table, try A Better Happier St. Sebastian’s blistered green beans with a lemon-parsley finish. You can also add dried cranberries or apricots for sweetness and added color. Get the recipe here.
6. Vegan Mushroom Gravy
Gravy is one of those things that can be hard to replicate without the drippings from whatever meat you make — which kind of gross if you think about it. This mushroom-based gravy from Fo Reals Life is vegan, gluten-free, and just as flavorful as traditional gravy. Using herbs like thyme, rosemary, and sage with the meaty-texture of mushrooms makes this a must-make dish. Get the recipe here.
7. Cauliflower-Stuffed Portobello Caps
Swap out the parm for some nooch in this Big Girls Small Kitchen recipe for a perfectly portioned vegetable addition to your meal. You could easily make this the main event by using larger mushrooms, but depending on the size available at your grocery these make perfect side dishes. Get the recipe here.
8. Green Bean and Mushroom Tart
Did you know that most store-bought puff pastry sheets are vegan? It’s cheaper for companies to use vegetable shortening than butter, so you can make vegan flakey treats as much as you want. Skip brushing the crust with an egg wash, and let the puff pastry do it’s thing. Top with ground cashew-nutritional yeast “parm” instead of bleu cheese and enjoy A Spicy Perspective’s savory green bean and mushroom tart. Get the recipe here.
9. Kale and Shiitake Mushroom Stuffing
Stuffing is the most wonderful, carby comfort food ever — and it’s easy to make vegan. Love and Lemons adds colorful kale, dried cranberries, and meaty mushrooms to the classic dish. Get the recipe here.
10. Cranberry, Apricot, And Pecan Wild Rice Pilaf
If you’re looking for a lighter option to stuffing, try Oh She Glows’ fruit and nut pilaf recipe. Instead of heavy bread options, a rice pilaf is full of fiber and perfectly balanced tartness from the cranberries. This can easily be made gluten-free too. Get the recipe here.
11. Vegetable Couscous and Cheeze Sauce
Oh She Glows makes it easy to incorporate any vegetables into this cheesy couscous. Even if you’re just trying to use up what’s in the back of your freezer, this creamy couscous is a perfect addition to any holiday table. Get the recipe here.
12. Grilled Green Onions With Walnut Romesco
13. Vegan Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes
Sometimes, potatoes can be pretty bland. No hate on potatoes — they just need help sometimes. Using a combo of half potato, half cauliflower and spices like rosemary, Love and Lemons makes these lighter mashed potato alternative look even more creamy and delicious than plain old potatoes. Get the recipe here.
14. Smoky Mac and Greens
If you need some smokey flavor this holiday, try Fo Reals Life’s smoky mac and greens. The cheese sauce is made with a base of sunflower seeds which is a great alternative to cashews if you or someone you’re serving has a nut allergy. Get the recipe here.
One bowl and 30 minutes is what hooked me on these biscuits, besides the fact they look so fluffy. Get the recipe here.
16. Gluten-Free Cornbread
For an alternative to traditional rolls, go for flavorful cornbread. I love cornbread, so when I found this Minimalist Baker version that’s made with aquafaba (aka the liquid in a can of chickpeas) instead of other egg substitutes and is gluten-free, I had to include it. If you want extra flavor this holiday, opt for this maple-y cornbread. Add pickled jalapenos if you like it spicy. Get the recipe here.
17. Shaved Parsnip Salad With Parsley
This raw salad by Naturally Ella is a refreshing addition to all the rich holiday foods on your plate. Made with delicate ribbons of parsnips and lots of apple cider vinegar and parsley, this salad goes well with any meal. Bonus, you can make this way ahead of time and the flavors will actually improve as it sits. Time saving and delicious. Get the recipe here.
18. Crispy Brussels Sprouts With Pomegranate Molasses
Brussel sprouts are so versatile and delicious and Oh She Glows takes it over the top by roasting the sprouts, then drizzling with a pomegranate molasses. YUM. Get the recipe here.
19. Vegan Caesar Salad
Salad is just one of those things you always make but no one really eats on a holiday. But, if you make this vegan caesar salad, be prepared for it to be one of the first things to go. The roasted chickpea croutons are genius and the dressing is creamy but still light. Get the recipe here
20. Mushroom and Leek Risotto
Mushrooms. Leeks. Carbs. Vegan Parmesan. This recipe from Minimalist Baker is to die for. Risotto seem too difficult? Check out some do’s and don’ts and you’ll be a pro in no time. Get the recipe here.
21. Crispy Smashed Potatoes With Avocado Garlic Aioli
Instead of traditional mashed potatoes, try oven roasted “smashed” potatoes. Drizzled with an avocado and garlic aioli. Can you imagine a better way to enjoy potatoes? Get the recipe here.
22. Tea Braised Carrots
OK, stick with me. Tea is actually super fragrant and delicious, right? Pairing it with the sweetness of roasted carrots and topping it with crunchy sliced almonds sounds just strange enough to work. This recipe from Naturally Ella uses a smoky tea blend. Get the recipe here
23. Mushroom, Spinach and Goat “Cheez” Tart
I’m definitely making this for breakfast on Christmas morning, but this tart from Oh She Glows makes a perfect, flakey side. The goat cheese is actually made with macadamia nut butter which “melts” and browns just like cheese does. Get the recipe here.
See? A vegan holiday is not only possible, but completely delicious. Celebrating a totally vegan holiday means gifting vegan too — check out some great vegan-friendly gifts here. Have a happy, compassionate vegan holiday season!
Images: Photos courtesy of Love and Lemons, Oh She Glows, Averie Cooks, A Better Happier St. Sebastian, Fo Reals Life, Big Girls Small Kitchen, A Spicy Perspective, My Name Is Yeh, Minimalist Baker, Naturally Ella