Edible Vegan Gifts for the Holidays

Finding person and affordable ways to wish family, co-workers, teachers, and neighbors the best of the season can be a real 'treasure ' hunt. However, if you do a little planning and are willing to spend some time in the kitchen, you’ll find that gift-giving can be economical and heartfelt at the same time. Also, if you make it a 'community ' project, you even get to spend quality time with friends and family. Plus, a jar of homemade spicy nuts or salsa is less expensive than a basket of scented soaps or another bottle of wine, and they are definitely much more personal.

Making edible gifts work means coming up with a plan now, not a week before the holiday. Experts suggest breaking the project into two parts-first deciding what you’re making and then deciding how you'll package it. Do both as early as possible. You will enjoy having time to locate ingredients and packaging materials, and you’ll probably save some money, too.

We suggest trying to make just one or two ideas and then using those for multiple gift recipients, especially if you are new to giving edible gifts. Also, consider foods that will last at least a few weeks, preferably without refrigeration. This is easier for you since there will be no need to rush the gift out or make it at the last minute. In addition, it is more considerate for the recipient, who may not want to eat it immediately.

Healthful Yet Fun Ideas

A homemade gift for someone shows how much you care-and they can enjoy it, too! And a healthful gift really does show that it’s the thought that counts. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make a basket packed with a variety of salsas, fruit preserves, or seasoned applesauce-all homemade, of course! This will be low in fat and high in vitamins and fiber, but who would guess!?
  • Create a recipe file. Write out two or three of your favorite healthy recipes on attractive cards. Package in a small, interesting box with extra cards.
  • Tie a beautiful ribbon, a length of interesting cloth, or a short hand-knitted scarf around a loaf of homemade seven-grain bread.
  • Fill a large holiday mug with an assortment of green and herbal teas, dried ginger, and dried fruit.
  • Collect a variety of hot cereal packets or small boxes, or make up your own mix. Package in a pretty bowl, and tie up in a large cloth napkin or small tablecloth with a big bow.
  • Pot culinary herbs, ready to grow, in an ornamental pot or tin. Rosemary, basil, parsley, chives, and thyme grow well on a windowsill.
  • Fill a big glass jar with a variety of colorful legumes: layer lentils, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, etc., into a colorful pattern. Then, include a soup, stew, tangine, or ragout recipe. The same can be done with dried fruit—include a recipe for a cold (or hot) fruit soup, tea, or compote.

Packaging

A big part of giving edible gifts is the container, so have fun with this part. Cookie tins or foil are available in many colors and shapes, but you may want to think outside the cookie tin. Search online or at craft stores, where you'll find loads of recyclable choices, such as colorful cardboard food containers or seasonal cardstock. The plain white boxes sold in varying sizes at candy and baking supply stores can be used year-round. You can decorate these yourself or 'hire' your children to do so. Or you can festoon the boxes with a bouquet of ribbons, alternating thin and thick widths.

Cellophane (clear, colored, or decorated with holiday images) is another choice, as are glass jars in assorted colors and antique (or gently used) wood or metal boxes. Last year, we found fun bags, cut out of thick flannel.

The way the gift is placed in the container makes it interesting, as well. Think about baking homemade vegan biscotti or hard pretzels in thick paper cones, resembling giant ice cream cones. Balance the cone in the center of a box with sides high enough to support it. Place small jars or paper bags of cinnamon sugar (made with date sugar or palm sugar), granulated nuts, cookie crumbs, fruit preserves or jams, and other items that can be used for dipping. If ‘traveling’ is an issue, then include the recipe and the dry ingredients in the cone, rather than the finished product.

If you are presenting closer to home, think about baking loaves of zucchini, banana, or carrot bread. Hollow out a small section of the loaf, and place small jars of nut butters or fruit preserves into the hollow. This is an easy dessert for the giftee to serve!

Rubs

Why not give your friends and family a rub this year? No, not the promise of a massage (although you could offer that as a gift certificate), but an assortment of rubs that can liven up foods without contributing additional fat.

A rub is a mixture of herbs, spices, and seasonings. The advantage of a rub is that it can keep well if placed in an airtight container and kept in a cool place. A batch of rub is quick to make and easy to use.

Once you've made several batches in several flavors, you are ready to turn your rub into a gift. Rubs present nicely poured into small glass jars, such as canning jars. You can place a new handkerchief or bandana under the lid, and then screw the lid securely on. Jazz up the rub jar with ribbon, small strings of beads (strung on elastic), or paper strands. Add a card with "how to" use rubs, and you’ve got a great gift!

Each rub recipe makes enough for 2-3 pounds of vegetables, tofu, seitan, and even croutons.

Greek Rub

(Makes ½ cup or 1 serving)

You can actually add this rub to a mixture of oil and vinegar for a great salad dressing. For cooking, sprinkle it on tomato halves and broil or add to roasting potatoes or winter squash.

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1½ teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed vegetable bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

Total calories per serving: 52 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 8 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 953 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Ethiopian Rub

(Makes ½ cup or 1 serving)

This is probably the most exotic and expensive rub we have seen, but it is well worth the time and cost. Try it on roasting potatoes or plantains.

  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ¾ teaspoon black cardamom seeds
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 10 small dried red chilies
  • 2½ teaspoons paprika
  • ½ teaspoon grated ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

In a small frying pan over low heat (no oil), lightly toast whole cloves, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cardamom seeds, peppercorns, and coriander seeds for approximately 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Remove stems from chilies and grind with toasted spices. Add remaining ingredients. Store in an airtight jar.

Total calories per serving: 16 Fat: < 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 3 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 5 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Caribbean Rub

(Makes ½ cup or 1 serving)

Also known as 'jerk' rub, try this recipe with seitan or even as a ‘sprinkle’ on roasted corn on the cob.

  • 1 Tablespoon onion flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground thyme
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 2 teaspoons dried chives or scallions
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Total calories per serving: 74 Fat: < 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 18 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 5 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Lemon Herb Rub

(Makes ½ cup or 1 serving)

This savory recipe enhances tofu, tempeh, Tofurky, potatoes, ... you name it!

  • 2 Tablespoons dried crushed oregano or thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon dried grated lemon rind
  • 1 Tablespoon (vegan) brown sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ 4 teaspoon garlic powder

Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl, and stir to mix well.

Total calories per serving: 62 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 15 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 5 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Other Edible Gifts

These gifts take more time to make than the rubs—sometimes several days—but they make exceptionally impressive gifts.

Pickled Lemons

(Makes thirty-two 2-Tablespoon servings)

Pickled lemons make a great condiment for mild hot entrées or can be added to curries, soups or stews, cooked vegetables, or fresh salads.

  • 6 lemons
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground paprika
  • ¼ cup red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup vegetable oil, room temperature

Wash lemons thoroughly, cut into quarters, and remove the seeds. Roll in salt and pack into a quartsized jar. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 2 days.

Combine remaining ingredients, add to jar, and let stand for 4 or 5 more days. When done, store in the refrigerator until ready to use as a present.

Total calories per serving: 64 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 1 gram Protein: < 1 gram
Sodium: 436 milligrams Fiber: < 1 gram

Fruit Basket Centerpiece

(Makes approximately 16 cups)

*Pictured on the cover. Assemble this to give as a ‘centerpiece’ gift. You’ll need skewers and a basket.

  • 1 each fresh pineapple and cantaloupe
  • Honeydew (optional)
  • Watermelon (optional)
  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 3 cups grapes (assorted colors)

Cut the top off of your pineapple with a knife and discard. Slice 1/2- inch thick slices from the remainder of the pineapple. Push a flower cookie cutter into the center of each pineapple slice and cut out your flowers.

Slice your cantaloupe in half and scoop out the seeds. Use a melon baller to scoop out one ball for every two flowers. Cut the melon balls in half. You can use watermelon and/or honeydew as well for this to make assorted colors and flavors.

Put a six-inch bamboo skewer through the center of the pineapple flower and then push the melon ball half onto the tip of the skewer, creating the center of a flower. Repeat until all of the pineapple flowers have been used.

Remove the leaves from the strawberries and push each of them lengthwise onto their own skewers.

Wash the grapes and stick five or six onto each skewer. Push them up the skewer so that they touch one another.

Roll some modeling clay into a ball or take some florist’s foam, and place into your basket. Stick your skewers into the clay and arrange your fruit flowers to your liking.

Some tips:

  • Cut the ends of your skewers with kitchen scissors to achieve various stem heights.
  • Don't push the fruit through the top of the skewer.
  • Use the melon rinds instead of modeling clay or florist’s foam to attach your skewers into the basket.
  • Fill your arrangement with parsley for extra color and to hide the clay.
Total calories per serving: 59 Fat: < 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 15 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 6 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Chocolate Truffle Tree

(Makes approximately 35 truffles)

This takes a bit of doing, and definitely can’t be shipped—but the “oohs” and "ahhs" are well worth it.

  • 1 cup vegan cake crumbs (Vanilla, chocolate, almond, and carrot cake work well.)
  • ½ cup vegan brown sugar (or any coarse vegan sugar)
  • 1 cup dry vegan chocolate beverage mix (not unsweetened cocoa)
  • ½ cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • 1 cup apricot jam
  • Shredded dry coconut for garnish, if desired

Combine the cake crumbs, sugar, dry chocolate beverage, and ground almonds in a bowl and set aside.

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave, in a quart bowl, for approximately 30 seconds on HIGH or on the stove, in a small pot, stirring constantly until melted. Add the chocolate into the dry ingredients, and mix well.

Add just enough jam to make a stiff mixture that you can roll into balls. Place the mixture in the refrigerator and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Roll into 1-inch balls. Next, roll the balls in coconut, if desired. Refrigerate the balls for at least 24 hours before assembling.

For the tree you will need the following:

  • A 10-inch (circumference) polystyrene ball, or a ball made of a material in which you can stick toothpicks. These can be found in craft stores or florist shops.
  • A 'pot' for the base of your tree. This can be a ceramic flower pot filled with marbles or a clay flower pot filled with hay.
  • A wooden dowel—the length is your choice, depending on how high you would like your 'tree' to be.
  • Enough colorful ribbon to cover your ball and your dowel and to make decorative little bows, approximately 4 yards.
  • Modeling clay
  • Double-sided tape
  • 35-40 toothpicks

To assemble:

First, cover the dowel with ribbon. Secure at the bottom and top with tape or clay. Press the dowel into the polystyrene ball. Cover the ball with ribbons, using the tape to help the ribbons stay on.

Place some modeling clay into the bottom of the container you have selected. Press the other end of the dowel into the container and make certain it is secure. Dot the ball with toothpicks. Alternate small bows, made from the leftover ribbon, with the chocolate balls. Plan to serve or deliver fairly soon after assembly.

Total calories per truffle: 71 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 14 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 9 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram