Celebration Meals

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

Life is so hectic — who has time to plan and prepare menus? Nevertheless, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, and sports events happen, and you can offer attractive, healthful, interesting food without spending too much time in the kitchen!


Crudités are crunchy vegetables, and they are extremely easy to make. Consider cherry tomatoes, radishes, broccoli and cauliflower florets, baby carrots, yellow squash and zucchini sticks, whole scallions, raw asparagus (with the thin, tough layer of skin removed), and pickled vegetables, along with various flavors of breadsticks. An accompanying dip could be made from roasted garlic that has been puréed with herbs, such as basil and oregano or cumin and curry powder. Or you can prepare a Tapenade.

Bread can serve as a conversation piece. Buy a round French bread loaf, cut open the top, hollow out the center (saving the crumbs for cooking), and serve soup or casserole-type entrées in the hollowed-out center. Larger loaves can be used as serving vessels for appetizer dips and spreads.


Need an elegant cold appetizer or entrée? Look to pasta! Purchase vegan tortellini, gnocchi, or miniature ravioli. Cook, drain, and cool the pasta and then toss lightly with vinegar. Create a dressing of vegan sour cream or vegan mayonnaise, prepared mustard, cracked black pepper, chopped fresh grapes, and chopped nuts, such as hazelnuts or cashews. Toss the pasta and the dressing together. Then, serve the pasta on a bed of fresh spinach or romaine lettuce, and garnish with either a sprig of fresh basil or some chive flowers.

Pasta can also serve as an elegant hot appetizer or entrée. Sauté two or three different colors of bell pepper slices, julienned zucchini, baby carrots, sliced fennel, and minced garlic with olive oil, and then season with fresh thyme, marjoram, and parsley. Toss the hot vegetables with tortellini, orecchiette, or orzo.


Leftover sweet breads, such as muffins and raisin bread, can be used to create bread pudding. For every pound of crumbled bread (figuring four servings per pound), combine 3 cups soy or rice milk, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 4 Tablespoons apple juice concentrate, 2 Tablespoons orange zest, and 1 Tablespoon each ground cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Combine milk mixture and bread, and then add raisins, chopped dried fruit or nuts, or chocolate chips if you like. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-40 minutes until set, and serve with sorbet.

One dessert that can be elegant or hardy, is fast to make, and requires minimum preparation is poached pears. (This can be done with apples or peaches as well.) All you need are pears, a sauce, and a sorbet! You make the pear sauce just as you would an applesauce, simply leaving the pears a bit chunky. An alternative is to make stewed pears instead of sauce, which entails cooking cored, peeled, and chunked pears in a small amount of water with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and raisins.

To make sorbet, purée overripe fruit with apple juice concentrate and freeze, or purchase already-made sorbet. Extra ingredients include ginger snaps, oatmeal cookies, and fruit chips. For example, you can buy apple chips already made, or make your own pear or apple chips by peeling, slicing thin, and baking the slices on a greased baking sheet at 425 degrees.

Assembling your poached pears begins with a 9-inch dinner plate. Select two small glass dishes that will fit on the plate. Place a poached pear in one dish, top with sorbet, and garnish with a fruit chip. Fill the second dish with sauce, and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Decorate the dinner plate with several cookies and chips, and voilá! A beautiful — and easy-to-make — dessert!


Accessories are what make a meal really festive. The recipes themselves may be prepared simply, with just enough seasoning to make things interesting. To add more color and flavor, bring on the condiments. For example, roasted Tofurky slices taste good, but roasted Tofurky slices with walnut gravy, pineapple salsa, mango chutney, or freshly-made apple-pear sauce taste great!

We like to have a condiments platter with chopped tomatoes, sliced olives, sliced mushrooms, sliced sweet and yellow onions, chopped garlic, chopped sweet and garlic pickles, and sliced chilies on the table so guests can create their own flavor profiles. Flavorful entrées, such as the Stuffed Eggplant (page 8) and Jambalaya (page 8) recipes that follow, become a wonderful meal with the right accessories!


Cold beverages should be refreshing, and hot beverages warming. Consider a 'ginger sparkler,' made with sparkling water or seltzer, crushed fresh ginger, lemon juice, and either apple juice concentrate (for sweetening) or a spicy chai masala (black tea with spices) for a hot beverage. One or two 'theme' beverages can help to bring your meal together.

Olive and Tomato Tapenade

(Makes approximately 3 cups or twenty-four 2-Tablespoon servings)

Use tapenades as a dip, a topping for crusty bread or crackers, or an ingredient in a salad dressing. This recipe can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for two or three days.

  • 1 cup pitted black olives
  • 1/2 cup capers, drained
  • 1/2 cup canned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tablespoon vegan Parmesan cheese (dry mixture) or nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled

Add all ingredients to the canister of a blender or food processor. Process only until just combined, leaving some 'texture' rather than making a paste. Place tapenade into a glass container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour prior to use.

Total calories per serving: 14 Fat: 1 gram
Carbohydrates: 1 gram Protein: <1 gram
Sodium: 143 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

Grape and Pear Salad with Sesame Seeds

(Serves 4)

To make this salad into an entrée, add in 2 cups of cooked, cooled, and seasoned black beans or lentils.

  • 2 ripe, unpeeled medium pears (approximately 1 pound)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cup red seedless grapes
  • 2 cups assorted baby greens, washed
  • 3 Tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cracker black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Cut pears into thin strips, toss with lemon juice, and place in a medium bowl. Cut grapes into halves and toss with the pears.

Arrange the greens on a salad platter and top with the pear-grape mixture. Sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds. Chill salad until ready to serve.

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, oil, ginger, pepper, and zest together until well-combined. Drizzle dressing over salad just before serving.

Total calories per serving: 282 Fat: 17 grams
Carbohydrates: 31 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 43 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Fast-and-Tasty Stuffed Eggplant

(Serves 6-8)

Using edible shells adds pizzazz to an entrée plate. Incorporate eggplant; zucchini; tomatoes; green, red, yellow, or orange bell peppers; or sweet onions with this stuffing.

This recipe can be prepared ahead of time, refrigerated for two or three days, and then reheated.

  • 3 eggplants (approximately 3 pounds) Vegetable oil spray
  • 4 cups prepared vegan cornbread or fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 cups cooked, cooled mixed veggies (such as peas, diced carrots, and cut green beans; chopped broccoli and cauliflower florets; or a chopped, mixed Asian veggie blend)
  • 1 cup cooked fresh mushrooms or drained canned mushrooms, diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced sweet onions, such as Vidalia or Maui
  • 2 Tablespoons low-salt soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro or parsley, or 1 Tablespoon dried parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wash the eggplant, cut off the caps, and slice the eggplant in half lengthwise. Scoop out the eggplant, leaving approximately a 1-inch thickness of pulp, to create a bowl. Discard the pulp or refrigerate for later use.

Spray a baking sheet with vegetable oil. Place the eggplant, cut-side-down, on the sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until the shells just begin to soften. (Don't allow them to collapse!) Remove shells from the oven and allow to cool.

In a bowl, mix the remaining ingredients together until well-combined. Place the eggplant shells upright on the baking sheet and pack them with filling. Cover with foil and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until the filling is very hot. Remove the eggplant from the oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Note: If you would like a fast sauce to serve with this dish, toss some canned diced tomatoes and diced onions into a tomato purée, warm, and serve.

Total calories per serving: 292 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 41 grams Protein: 7 grams
Sodium: 821 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams


(Serves 8-10)

Jambalaya is spicy, colorful, filling, and easy to prepare! You can take advantage of seasonal vegetables and sales on canned vegetables to vary this recipe's taste.

Don't forget to keep some extra hot sauce on the table!

  • 3/4 cup no-salt-added tomato paste
  • 5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth Vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup chopped green bell peppers
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups uncooked white rice
  • 3 cups fresh sliced zucchini or yellow squash
  • 2 cups trimmed fresh or thawed frozen okra, sliced
  • 1 cup cubed seitan or tempeh
  • 4 cups no-salt-added canned diced tomatoes (not drained)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco or hot sauce

In a large bowl, mix the tomato paste and broth until smooth. Set aside.

Spray a large pot with vegetable oil. Sauté the bell peppers, onions, celery, and garlic until slightly soft, approximately 3 minutes. Add the rice and allow to cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste mixture. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Spray a large skillet with vegetable oil. Add the zucchini or squash, okra, and seitan or tempeh, and cook over high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes, just to heat and 'sweat' the vegetables. Add the mixture to the rice. Add in the tomatoes, oregano, and parsley, stirring well. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the rice and veggies are soft. Mix in the hot sauce and serve hot.

Total calories per serving: 304 Fat: 2 grams
Carbohydrates: 57 grams Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 259 milligrams Fiber: 6 grams

Happy (fill-in-the-blank) Cake

(Makes one 9-inch bundt cake, approximately 12-16 servings)

Baking this cake in a bundt pan maximizes moisture and creates an attractive presentation. This cake can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. Then, it can be thawed and frosted when needed.

This cake is good even without frosting. If frosting is not desired, a sprinkle of shredded coconut or a topping of fruit preserves works well.

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1-1/2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1-1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups plain or vanilla soymilk
  • 1 cup maple syrup or rice syrup (Maple syrup will provide a deeper color.)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon fresh orange zest or 1/2 teaspoon dried orange zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray the bundt pan with oil.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, and salt and mix well. In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together until well-combined. Mix the contents of the two bowls together until smooth and well-combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on the oven, until a toothpick inserted into the cake's center comes out clean. Keeping the cake in its pan, place it on a rack to cool for at least 30 minutes before frosting or serving unfrosted.

Total calories per serving: 264 Fat: 10 grams
Carbohydrates: 40 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 248 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Mocha Frosting

(Serves 6)

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup almond or soy butter
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee or espresso powder (not crystals)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Approximately 3 Tablespoons plain or vanilla soymilk

In a saucepan, combine the water and cornstarch and whisk briskly (no heat) until well-combined. Then, whisk in the maple syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, using medium heat and stirring constantly. Cook for approximately 2-3 minutes, until the mixture is very thick and smooth. Reduce heat to low and stir for 1 more minute. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the soymilk, and stir to combine. Slowly stir in the soy-milk, little by little, until the mixture is smooth and thick enough to spread. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Frost the cake and allow to stand for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Total calories per serving: 274 Fat: 13 grams
Carbohydrates: 39 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 102 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Sample Menus

For a 'game day' event:

  • Olive and Tomato Tapenade
  • Jambalaya (recipe above)
  • Unfrosted Happy (Fill-in-the-Blank) Cake (recipe above)

For a 'holiday' meal:

  • Grape and Pear Salad with Sesame Seeds
  • Stuffed Eggplant (recipe above)
  • Frosted Happy (Fill-in-the-Blank) Cake (recipe above)

Nancy Berkoff is The Vegetarian Resource Group's Food Service Advisor.