The Perfect Holiday Centerpiece: Nut Loaf & Mushroom Gravy

Cooking special food for yourself, family and friends is the gift that keeps on giving

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The holidays tend to pull us into their whirling pace, spinning us into cheerful gatherings and wrapping us with layers of stressors. One of my favorite ways to slow down is to tackle cooking projects. It is something you can do for yourself and also share with people you love.

I have two grounding, memorable recipes to help you celebrate with gusto this holiday season. The first is a hearty nut loaf. Including this loaf in your holiday feasts makes for a satisfying main dish, and no eater gets stuck on the sidelines. Touchdown for team vegan!

I will also share an easy, super savory mushroom gravy recipe. Just like the holiday season brings friends and family together, gravy connects all of the flavors on a plate. The nut loaf recipe requires some planning, precision and fortitude, while the gravy is more forgiving and easy to whip up. Both of these can be made in stages ahead of time.

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It is nice to have a meal that feels complete during a season that is all about harmony. Instead of being left out of traditional main-courses and filling up on a medley of side dishes, plant-based eaters get a crowning centerpiece with this nut loaf. Gravy is a classic accompaniment that warms you up during the coldest months. A delicious and comforting sauce always adds to the texture of a meal and can take an eating experience from good to great.

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These two recipes also make spectacular leftovers. For example, loaf can be stirred into a ragu-style pasta or made into a sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and spicy mustard. Try adding a splash of gravy to your next batch of soup, stew or curry. I think that you will find both of these are well worth the effort for your next holiday meal. Cooking special food for yourself, family and friends is the gift that keeps on giving.

The process

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The loaf is comprised of three separate parts: a marinated tempeh, a binder and a mix of dry ingredients. It’s best if you let the tempeh and binder sit overnight. This allows enough time for the flavors to meld, absorb and thicken. If you have a couple of willing kitchen helpers, try delegating the binder steps to one person, assembling the dry ingredients to another and taking on the tempeh yourself. Make sure that there are no large chunks going into the loaf as this can destabilize the structure and cause it to crack. This isn’t really an issue if you serve it straight from the pan, but if you plan to turn it out onto a plate you’ll want to keep an eye out for any rogue, large pieces.

The gravy comes together in two basic steps: caramelizing and blending. I often encourage deviation and putting your own creative spin on recipes. However, for the gravy, I recommend sticking with the ingredients list to a T so that you get an inviting, warm color tone.

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Vegan Nut Loaf Recipe

Serves 10–12

Allow two hours prep time and one hour for baking


  • Large loaf pan, approx 8”x 4.5”x 2.5”
  • Large Baking Sheet
  • Parchment paper (optional but recommended)
  • Medium and large mixing bowls

Tempeh & Marinade Ingredients

  • 12 ounces of tempeh
  • Two teaspoons fresh thyme
  • Two teaspoons dried sage
  • One and ½ tablespoons olive oil
  • Three tablespoons tomato paste
  • Three tablespoons cider vinegar
  • One tablespoon water
  • Cracked pepper

Binder Ingredients

  • Three tablespoons nut mylk
  • One and ¾ cup onion, finely chopped
  • One and ½ cup celery finely minced
  • Fine-grain salt
  • Three tablespoons ground flax
  • Four and a ½ tablespoons miso paste
  • Three tablespoons tomato paste
  • Three tablespoons warm water or vegetable broth
  • Six tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • One and ½ cup carrots, finely shredded

Dry Ingredients

  • One cup oats, roughly pulsed in a food processor, or one cup oat flour
  • ½ cup + two tablespoons buckwheat flour
  • One and½ teaspoons baking powder
  • Three teaspoons minced fresh rosemary + extra for topping
  • ¾ cup chopped arugula
  • Two cups walnuts

Nut loaf Instructions

Prepare the tempeh:

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together all of the marinade ingredients until emulsified.
  2. Cut the tempeh into ¼ inch thick slices.
  3. Pour the marinade over the tempeh and toss to coat.
  4. Refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with oil.
  6. Bake at 350 for about 15–20 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool, then dice into small chunks. Set aside.

Prepare the binder:

  1. Add high-heat oil to a skillet over medium heat.
  2. Caramelize the onion for about 10 minutes then adding the celery and another pinch of salt.
  3. Continue caramelizing on medium-low heat for about 15–20 minutes.
  4. Set aside to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the rest of the binder ingredients together.
  6. After the celery and onion mixture has cooled, fold it in.

Combine the dry ingredients

  1. In a medium bowl whisk the first four ingredients together thoroughly.
  2. Stir in the chopped arugula and finely chopped walnuts.

Assemble the loaf:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Liberally grease a large loaf pan.
  3. Mix the dry ingredients into the binder mixture.
  4. Fold in the tempeh.
  5. Use your hands or a potato masher to knead everything together. Be thorough.
  6. Shape the dough into a cylinder.
  7. Press it into the pan. Use a rubber spatula or back of a spoon to fill the pan evenly and smooth out the top.
  8. Top with any combination of roughly chopped oats, rosemary, thyme, sage, flaky salt.
  9. Drizzle 2 tsp sesame oil over the top and toppings.
  10. Bake for about 1 hour, until the middle is firm to the touch.
  11. Remove from the oven and set the pan on a cooling rack for 1–3 minutes.
  12. Either cut and serve straight from the pan or quickly and carefully flip the loaf onto a plate or pan. Then use another plate/pan to flip it again so it is right-side up (there’s no real harm in serving it bottom side up, but your toppings will not show and you may lose some crispiness).
  13. Serve with dijon mustard and gravy.

Gravy Recipe

Makes about 6 cups

Allow 30-45 minutes

Gravy Ingredients

  • One and ½ tablespoons oil
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain salt
  • ¾ cup yellow onions, diced
  • ¾ cups celery, diced
  • Four cups white mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • Four to five cups unsalted vegetable broth*
  • One teaspoon dried sage
  • Two teaspoons fresh thyme
  • ⅓ cup white rice flour
  • One tablespoon arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • One tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • One tablespoon red miso paste
  • Two teaspoons tamari
  • One to two cloves roasted garlic
  • Cracked pepper

*To make your own vegetable broth, use the ends of the onions and celery from this recipe, plus an additional chopped onion, 2–3 chopped carrot and the green parts of two large leeks. Add to a stockpot with 5–6 cups of water over medium heat. Allow it to cook for at least an hour, being careful not to let it boil. Boiling extracts bitter flavors from the veggies. Strain the solids. This will produce a richly colored broth that will help to give a good color to your gravy.

Gravy Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the onions to the pan with a few pinches of salt and cook for about five minutes
  3. Add the celery along with another pinch of salt and caramelize on medium-low for an additional ten minutes.
  4. Stir in the mushrooms and herbs.
  5. Continue to cook until the mushrooms start to turn golden brown, about ten more minutes.
  6. Pour the broth into the pan and bring to a low simmer.
  7. Whisk in the arrowroot powder and then rice flour. Stir frequently for about five minutes.
  8. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  9. Add the lemon juice, miso, tamari, garlic, and cracked pepper to an upright blender.
  10. Pour in the contents from the pan and blend thoroughly. Add more broth until it reaches your desired consistency. Garnish with some chopped, fresh herbs and more cracked pepper. Serve warm.
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Written by

Kitchen maven and certified health coach in Minneapolis, MN. More photography and food here:

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