Hunting for a stand-out holiday appetizer? I think I’ve got just the one!

Welcome your holiday guests with something warming to sip and a surprise taste adventure to invigorate the appetites –a platter of Figgy Wafers. Beautiful little flavor-infused morsels, these delicious crackers stand out because of a generous measure of aromatic cardamom to complement the sweetness of the figs.

While these irresistible little wafers make wonderful tidbits without accompaniments, pair them with a thin slice of vegan cheese and send your happy little flavor receptors into vegan nirvana. Even better, top the crackers with a slice of banana and then put the cheese on top.

Fig CrackersPlan ahead for the holidays by making one or more batches of the recipe, rolling them into logs, and freezing them. Then, when you’re planning to serve them, it takes only a few minutes to slice and bake them.



Yield: about 40 slices

10 dried figs, either black or golden

1/4 cup rum or brandyFig Crackers

1/2 cup whole almonds

1 cup Old Fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup dairy-free margarine

  1. Have ready a large bowl and a pair of kitchen scissors. Using the scissors, snip off and discard the tough stems from the figs and snip the figs into small dice into the bowl. Pour the rum over the figs and set aside to soak for several hours or overnight.
  2. Combine the almonds, rolled oats, flour, ground cardamom, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are finely ground.
  3. Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes crumbly. Transfer the mixture to the bowl with the figs and use a fork to blend the mixture into a dough.
  4. Form the dough into a long log about 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 3 or 4 hours, or until solidly frozen. The log will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  5. When ready to bake the wafers, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
  6. Unwrap the frozen log and use a firm, thin-bladed knife to cut it into 1/8-inch slices. Put them on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Carefully, lift the wafers with a metal spatula and transfer them to a platter to cool completely.

Fig CrackersA Note About Cardamom

Because cardamom is not as familiar a spice as cinnamon, it frequently gets overlooked. But give it an opportunity to show its mojo and you’ll be hooked.

cardamom-greenYou can buy this spice already ground into a powder in the spice section of most markets. You can also find it in Asian and Indian markets where it’s available in whole pods or already ground. While the ground cardamom is certainly more convenient, it quickly loses its pungency and its flavor fades.Cardamom brown

For its flavor delightful strength I much prefer to buy the whole pods and crush the small seeds with a pestle. Really fresh pods are green, but if they’ve been around awhile, they turn beige. It’s a bit painstaking because first I pound each pod to open it. The, one-by-one by hand I open each pod and empty the seeds into the mortar. You can also put the seeds into a spice grinder for a quicker grinding process.




Tomato Pine Nut Pie SummerSuch a beauty and such a company favorite! You don’t even have to wait for the holidays to enjoy this tasty dish, because all the ingredients are available year-round.

In summer, when the home-grown or farm-stand tomatoes are fire-engine red, melt-in-the-mouth sweet and ultra juicy, the pie has a bright, cheery appearance. So tempting, the summer pie looks like the one above.

The bright tomato color turns a bit pastel in winter, but the pie still pops with the rich OacakesItalian-inspired flavor of homemade “Parmesan” and always makes guests ooohh and aaaahhh a little. I think it’s because this pie is so unique and looks really appetizing and festive.

The first thing my guests notice is the unusual crust. And, yes, it is certainly different. Rather than a standard flour-based pie crust, this one features sweet potatoes and almonds and balances the savory flavors with a pleasant, delicate sweetness.

For a small gathering, one pie is just right and can actually go a little farther if there are several other dishes on the menu. When I was expecting about 15 people, I doubled the recipe and prepared it in a large rimmed baking sheet. Of course, I planned an additional entrée and several side dishes, too. Made in the baking sheet, the pie becomes more of a tart and makes a delicious appetizer, too.


Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie or 6 servings


12 ounces sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 1/4 cups whole almondsOacakes

2/3 cup mashed tofu

1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Light oil a 9-inch pie pan.
  2. To make the crust, put the sweet potatoes in a 2-quart saucepan with water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the sweet potatoes well, transfer them to a large bowl and mash them well. Set aside.
  3. Put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they are finely ground, yet still retain a little texture. Add the tofu and salt and process until well incorporated, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Spoon the tofu mixture into the bowl with the sweet potatoes and mix well.
  4. Spoon the sweet potato mixture into the prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it onto the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Build up the sides of the crust 1/2 -inch higher than the pie pan. Bake the crust for 15 minutes and let cool.


2 green onions, sliced

1 to 2 large cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup pine nuts

2 to 3 tablespoons Homemade Parmesan (recipe below) or prepared vegan Parmesan

2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 small eggplant, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch slices


Freshly ground pepper

4 to 5 large red or green tomatoes, seeded and sliced

  1. To make the filling, put the green onions, garlic, pine nuts, and Homemade Parmesan in individual bowls. Sprinkle the cornstarch on a plate.
  2. Cover the bottom of the crust with one layer of eggplant slices. (This prevents the crust from getting soggy). Reserve remaining eggplant for another use. Sprinkle the eggplant slices with salt and pepper.
  3. Dredge only the first layer of the tomato slices in the cornstarch. Arrange the dredged tomato slices over the eggplant, filling all the spaces with small bits of tomato. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle one third each of the green onions, garlic, pine nuts, and Homemade Parmesan over the tomatoes. Repeat the process to make three layers.
  4. Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool 10 to 15 minutes before serving.Vegan Holidays lowres

Note: If using green tomatoes, the pie might have to bake another 15 minutes.

This recipe is one of the tasty dishes from my Vegan for the Holidays cookbook. Order from Vegetarians in Paradise or from


Often I’ve come to rely on a sprinkle of vegan Parmesan to add sparkle to a dish, soup, a casserole, or an appetizer. With only five ingredients, this recipe is almost instant to make and tastes enough like the real thing to put the Italian touch on everything from pizza to minestrone and a host of holiday or everyday dishes.

1 cup almonds

1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  1. Put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they are finely ground, yet still retain a bit of texture. (Avoid over-processing or it will turn into almond butter.)
  1. Add the nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, and garlic powder and pulse until well mixed. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. Covered and refrigerated, Homemade Parmesan will keep for 3 months.


Yin Yang Thanksgiving Pate copyYIN-YANG THANKSGIVING PATE

I had a ton of fun with a touch of playful sculpture! The result is two tasty appetizer pâtés that become one very striking yin-yang presentation with an underlying philosophical Taoist message: a balanced approach to the opposites that occur in everyday life.

This is such a fun appetizer to put on the table along with a basket of crispy rice crackers and some spreading knives. The first time I served it, I watched people’s reaction and noticed people were very reluctant to dig into it. They stood there admiring the creation and calling others to the table to look at it–but no one dared touch it. It seemed no one wanted to be the first to mess it up.

That’s when I realized I needed to give them permission. Without a word, I picked up a cracker and a little spreading knife and purposely made a mess of sliding the knife into both colors to serve myself a heaping portion.

After that little bit of showmanship, the two patés were quickly devoured, with plenty of mmmmmms and yummmms uttered among the cluster of devotées.

You can serve the paté with whole-grain crackers, toasted pita wedges, or even slices of cucumber or turnips, or even jicama. Be sure bring a couple of little spreading knives to the table.

If you don’t feel inclined to put your sculpting talents to the test, you can simply put the Vegan Holidays highrestwo patés into separate bowls and bring them to the table along with crackers Alternatively, you can spoon the patés into leaves of Belgian endive.

The recipe is one of the tasty appetizers in my Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook.

Makes 3 cups; 10 to 12 servings




Carrot Pâté

1 1/4 cups chopped carrots

1 1/4 cups chopped red bell pepper, about 1 large pepper

1 cup raw or roasted cashews or macadamias

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Pinch cayenne

  1. TO MAKE THE CARROT PATÉ, put the carrots, bell pepper, cashews, lemon juice, ginger, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a food processor and process for 1 minute, or until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl.
  2. Transfer to a small bowl and wash and dry the processor work bowl. The Carrot Pâté makes about 1 1/2 cups,

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup raw walnuts

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

  1. TO MAKE THE MUSHROOM PÂTÉ, cook and stir the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and water in a large skillet over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the onion is transparent and the mushrooms are softened. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to prevent burning. There should be at least 1 tablespoon of liquid remaining in the pan.
  2. Transfer the mushroom mixture and the remaining liquid to a food processor and add the walnuts, yeast flakes, lemon juice, and salt. Process until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. The Mushroom Walnut Pâté makes about 1 1/2 cups.
  3. TO ASSEMBLE THE APPETIZER, remove 1 tablespoon of each pâté and set aside. Spoon the remaining mushroom pâté onto one half of a dinner plate. Using the back of a spoon, form one half of the yin-yang symbol.
  4. Spoon the remaining carrot pâté onto the plate, next to the mushroom paté, and form the other half of the symbol. Complete the presentation by placing the reserved tablespoon of each pâté into the widest portion of the opposite color. Smooth the edges to form a complete circle.

Brussels Jump to the Favorite List


Almond Olive Stuffed Brussels Sprouts copyAfter watching dinner guests take a pass when plain, steamed Brussels sprouts came to the table, I became aware they were not on everyone’s list of favorite vegetables. But when I stuffed them and served them as an eye-appealing appetizer, they proved their mojo.

This recipe also just happens to be one that’s in my Vegan for the Holidays Vegan Holidays highrescookbook. It’s in the Christmas section, but don’t pay any attention to that. Serve them all season long. They’re perfect for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Years, too!

I’ve also noticed an encouraging new trend in recent years. Attitudes are changing about green vegetables as the vegan message about their health benefits jumps into the mainstream. How nice to see the turnabout, especially for Brussels, a vegetable that used to be left languishing on the plate at the end of the meal.

Today Brussels sprouts have climbed pretty close to the top of the favorite list. At farmer’s markets and some of the more vegetable-savvy groceries, they come to market still attached to their tall, thick stalks and looking very perky and inviting.

Last year, just before Thanksgiving, those 2-foot long stalks showed up at my local Trader Joe’s market. While checking out, I couldn’t help noticing how popular they’ve become. About every third shopping cart had a stalk of Brussels. I bought two of them, knowing this recipe was sitting on my kitchen counter waiting for me to dig right in.


Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings

20 fresh Brussels sprouts

1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

1 (13.8-ounce) can water-packed artichoke hearts, drained

20 pitted Kalamata olives, chopped

10 jumbo pimiento-stuffed green olives, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 to 3/4 cup Homemade Parmesan or prepared vegan Parmesan

6 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, for garnish


  1. Fill a 4-quart saucepan two-thirds full with water. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, trim the Brussels sprouts stems and discard. Cut the sprouts in half-lengthwise. Plunge the sprout halves into boiling water in batches and boil for 1 1/2 minutes, or until they are just tender but still hold their shape. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels and repeat the process until all the sprouts are tender.
  1. Using a serrated grapefruit or paring knife, carefully scoop out the centers of the sprouts to create a cavity. Reserve the centers for another r recipe.
  1. To make the stuffing, put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they form a coarse meal, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Transfer to a large bowl.
  1. Put the artichoke hearts in the food processor. Process until they are coarsely chopped. Add them to the bowl with the almond meal.
  1. Put the olives, shallot, and garlic in the food processor. Process briefly, just until chunky. Add the olive mixture to the bowl with the artichokes and almonds. Mix well. If the stuffing seems too dry, add 1 to 3 teaspoons of water to moisten.
  1. Spoon a heaping teaspoon of the stuffing into the cavity of each sprout half. Sprinkle with the Homemade Parmesan and garnish each with a cherry tomato quarter if desired. Serve at room temperature or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  1. To serve warm, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the stuffed sprouts on the prepared pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or just until heated through. Garnish each with a cherry tomato quarter if desired. Transfer to a serving platter.