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The Most Challenging Gluten-Free, Vegan Christmas Dinner Ever

Or How I Almost Lost My Mind

I’ve been cooking special family holiday dinners for many many years now. It is a task that I willingly take on as I love cooking large meals for my family.

I have always enjoyed the planning of the meal as much as the cooking as I am tasked with trying to balance flavour, decadence, health and budget while at the same time keeping in mind each person’s unique likes and dislikes and diet.

We are not the easiest bunch to cook for at the best of times and our holiday meals are far from traditional — no turkey or roast or ham, no stuffing and no gravy, unless made with miso or mushrooms. Having said all of that, this year was easily the most difficult I’ve ever had to plan due to the sheer number of constraints I was faced with.

At the dinner table we had

  • vegetarians (no meat/fish)
  • vegans (no dairy)
  • someone with Celiac Disease (no gluten)
  • someone who couldn’t eat crunchy/overly chewy foods
  • kids (who happen to love meat, cheese and gluten, in that order)

and on top of that, I chose/was asked to leave out

  • yams
  • eggplant
  • cabbage (in my books, only good raw in non-mayonaissy Asian or Mexican slaws)
  • turnips/rutabaga (inedible)

Now, as I’ve already mentioned, I love a challenge and I dove into my huge stack of cookbooks with one hand and started frantically googling with my other. I needed to find items that worked considering my restrictions as well as working together as a somewhat composed meal. With meat, fish and dairy taken out of the equation, I also didn’t want to just serve solely vegetables as those meals, while tasty and healthy, just aren’t that substantial and festive.

While I love improvising and drawing upon my knowledge of food and flavour, I do enlist the help of professionals, especially when having guests over. I am a huge fan of Mollie Katzen and the Moosewood Restaurant cookbooks as well as other excellent mostly vegetarian cookbooks.

In my collection I own (and frequently use)

I also have a huge binder of printed recipes from All Recipes, Epicurious and other food websites.

After much deliberation, I decided to “visit” Asia as there is just a veritable bounty of amazing recipes that either already fit my criteria for the meal or are easily adaptable. Instead of making a meal solely from one region, I opted for a Pan-Asian menu full of flavours stretching from India to China to Singapore.

Here is my Paley Family Holiday menu for 2015 — I highly recommend it.

The Recipes

Red Lentil Soup

adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Favourites

The Ingredients

1 1/2 Cups Dried Red Lentils

5 Cups Water

1 Tsp Turmeric, ground

2 Bay Leaves

4 Garlic cloves, minced

4 Tbs Ginger, minced

2 1/2 Tsp Salt

3 Tbs Olive Oil

1 1/2 Cups Onions, chopped

1/4 Tsp Red Chili Flakes

1 1/2 Cups Carrots, diced

1 Cup Potatoes, diced

2 Tsp Cumin, ground

2 Tsp Coriander, ground

1 Cup Water

1 Red Pepper, chopped

3 Medium Tomatoes, chopped

2 Tbs Lemon Juice

1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped

ground pepper

The Steps

1) Place red lentils, water, turmeric and bay leaves into a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and partially cover. Set timer for 15 minutes.

2) While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic, ginger and onions. Sprinkle with salt and red chili flakes and then saute until the onions are translucent. Stir often so the garlic doesn’t burn.

3) Once the lentils are ready and the onion is soft, pour the onion mixture into the lentils. Add in chopped potatoes and carrots and the cumin and coriander and the extra cup of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to medium and partially cover.

4) After about 10 minutes, check the doneness of the potatoes and carrots. You want them to be easily pierced by a sharp knife, but not so done that they are mushy unless you plan to puree the soup anyways. When the veggies are soft, add the rest of the ingredients and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

5) There is nothing wrong with allowing the soup to simmer for a long time as the flavours deepen. The only downside is that the soup becomes a bit mushy. I pureed the soup one time and it was wonderful.

Tofu with Tomatoes, Greens and Cilantro

adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian

The Ingredients

1 lb Tofu, diced (I used soft)

4 Tbs Peanut Oil

2 Green Onions, thinly sliced

3 Tbs Ginger, minced

4 Garlic Cloves, minced

8 Mushrooms, minced (I used a mix of shiitake and cremini)

1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped

3 Medium Tomatoes, chopped

2 Tbs Soy Sauce

1/2 Tsp Salt

2 Tsp Chili Paste with Garlic

1 Tsp Rice Vinegar

1/2 Tsp Agave Syrup

1 Cup Peas, frozen and thawed

5 oz Baby Spinach, roughly chopped

1 Tsp Asian Sesame Oil

The Steps

1) Cook rice. I used 1.5 cups of raw brown rice to feed 5 adults.

2) Place a medium sauce pan on the stove and turn heat to medium. Once hot, add the peanut oil, green onions, ginger and garlic. Cook until fragrant but not burned.

3)Add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms have expelled their liquid, then add cilantro, tomatoes, soy sauce, salt, chili paste, rice vinegar and agave. Mix well and then bring to a boil, then reduce to medium low heat and simmer.

4) After 10 minutes, add in the peas and spinach. Stir for a few minutes before adding sesame oil.

5) To serve place a scoop of rice into a bowl and ladle the mushroom/tomato mixture over top.

Asian-Flavoured Roasted Butternut Squash

The Ingredients

2 Large Butternut Squash, peeled, seeded and diced

2 Tbs Vegetable Oil


Ground Pepper

2–3 Tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder

2 Tsp Soy Sauce

2 Tsp Mushroom “Fish” Sauce

2 Tsp Agave Syrup

The Steps

1) Heat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Toss all of the ingredients in a bowl until well combined.

3) Spread out squash onto baking sheet(s) making sure the pieces aren’t overlapping and that they each have their own spot. If the pieces are too close together and/or overlapping, the squash will still cook, but they won’t achieve the desired crispiness.

4) Roast for 25–30. Be careful not to burn the squash and this will happen if not closely observed.


The challenge was getting all of the food ready at the same time.

As I only have four burners, and need the two front burners for three items, I decided to cook the soup ahead of time and place to the side as the residual heat keeps it warm for a long time.

While the soup was cooking, I pre-heated the oven for the squash.

When the oven came to temp, I placed squash in the oven and started the rice cooking at the same time.

While that has happening, I began to cook my mushroom/tomato dish.

Finally, with about ten minutes to go, I put soup back on stove and turned to medium.

Checked seasoning of everything and served.

It was delicious.

It was non-traditional.

It was healthy, gluten and dairy free.

It was Christmas.



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Tommy Paley

Tommy Paley


I write creative non-fiction, humorous and random short stories, unique and tasty recipes and fiction involving odd and funny relationships. I also love cheese.