Pass the Tofurky! Candle Cafe’s Vegan Holiday Favorites

The vegetarians and vegans at your table deserve a whole lot more than a mountain of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. Zero in on these no-meat holiday favorites.
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Holidays and food are so closely connected that it's hard to even imagine one without the other. And not just any food, but very specific culinary traditions — often ones that have been passed down through generations. But what happens when you remove all animal products from your holiday goodies? Well, at least in the case of the New York's legendary vegan restaurant, Candle Cafe, you end up with some incredibly tasty dishes. "Our restaurants always have wait lists on all the holidays, and we hate to turn people away," says Joy Pierson, co-owner of Candle Cafe and coauthor of the new cookbook Vegan Holiday Cooking. "So putting our favorite holiday recipes in this book is a way to feed as many people as possible."

What do you think is the secret to creating delicious vegan dishes?

Our goal has always been to simply make great food — that also just so happens to be vegan. There’s no deprivation here. At our restaurants, 90 percent of our customers are not vegans. Our chefs are geniuses at combining good ingredients into delicious dishes. But the recipes in this book are simple enough to make anyone look like a culinary genius.

But how do you have Thanksgiving without turkey?

I really don't think the turkey is the most flavorful thing on the Thanksgiving table. And when you "replace" it with so many appetizing alternatives, there’s nothing to miss. Our Thanksgiving feast includes so many holiday traditions — cornbread and wild rice stuffing, roasted ginger sweet potatoes, cranberry relish — plus porcini-crusted seitan as the main course. Plus, no turkey means no tryptophan coma afterward!

The cookbook isn't limited to recipes for major holidays. What inspired you to include menus for everything from Cinco de Mayo to Super Bowl Sunday?

We wanted to show that every day can be a celebration of good food, and that there’s no reason to confine any of these dishes to a specific holiday. Mix and match them, make them every day. These are very usable recipes.

Do you have a holiday favorite you’ve included in the book?

My grandmother’s Passover Seder brisket recipe. The texture and flavor profile completely recreate the memory of being in her kitchen as a child. My version is vegan (hers was not!), but it's just the same as I remember it. And it's unusual for a vegan recipe, because it's very meatlike.

Are you hoping to turn us all into vegans?

We're trying to change the world one bite at a time, and to show people that vegan food can be so delicious that you won't feel like you’re missing out on anything. Plus, it's better for you and better for the planet. You can decrease your carbon footprint by at least 25 percent by eating a vegan diet.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting and Apple Cider Reduction

Serves 8 to 10
For the Cheesecake
4 cups vegan cream cheese
2 cups agave nectar or maple syrup
2 cups plain unsweetened soy milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) silken tofu
1 cup arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon agar powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For the Apple Cider Reduction
4 cups apple cider
1 cup unrefined sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For the Vanilla–Cream Cheese Frosting
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread, softened
½ cup baby Thai coconut meat or creamed coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup vegan cream cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wrap aluminum foil around the bottom and halfway up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan to prevent any leaking.

Combine the cream cheese, agave, soy milk, pumpkin, tofu, arrowroot, agar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl and stir together. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth and ingredients are fully integrated. This may have to be done in batches. Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan.

Put the cheesecake in a large baking pan and fill the pan halfway with hot water. Bake for about 2 hours, until lightly browned. Remove, let cool, cover, and refrigerate. The cheesecake can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

To make the cider reduction, combine the cider, sugar, and nutmeg in a pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is reduced by half and is syrupy, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The reduction can be made and refrigerated up to 2 hours ahead of time. Bring to room temperature before serving.

To make the frosting, mix together the confectioners’ sugar and buttery spread in a large bowl. Set aside. Combine the coconut meat and vanilla extract in a blender and blend for 2 minutes. Transfer to a stand mixer or to a bowl and use a hand mixer. Add the confectioners' sugar mixture and cream cheese and mix thoroughly until a smooth frosting is formed.

To serve, remove the foil from the pan. Run a knife around the outer edge of the cheesecake and release the springform pan clamp. Put the cake on a plate or cake stand. Pipe frosting on pie as desired. Drizzle the reduction over the cheesecake. Cut into wedges and serve.

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

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