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Holiday Treats Without the Usual Guilt

No meat, no dairy, no problem!

Whether you shape your holiday cookies in Christmas wreaths or Hanukkah draidles, there's no denying that in December, dessert is the main event. Well, that and shopping, of course!

The first time my aunt attempted to make a vegan holiday dessert, we all couldn't help but laugh at the outcome. She followed the recipe for "dessert balls," but they tasted more like desert balls—dry, flaky, leaving your mouth absolutely begging for water. 

That was back in December 2008. She Googled vegan desserts, and combed through a handful of recipes before landing on the famous peanut-butter dessert balls.

Today, a Google search for "vegan desserts" returns more cookies, pies, bars and cakes than one could make in a year. I've followed a few over the years, but this year, I'm serving my very own concoction on Christmas Eve. 

I tested this recipe out on a ton of non-vegan friends last week, and no one could tell the difference. Of course, they're best dipped in milk—of the soy, rice, hemp or nut varieties!

Chewy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/3 cup rice milk
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/3 cups pastry flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 cups organic rolled oats
  • Trader Joe’s dried cranberries to taste (I just pour a lot in!)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the wet ingredients and brown sugar in large bowl. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon, then slowly sift the mixture into the wet mixture. Once well mixed, fold in the oats and cranberries. Roll into individual cookie balls (it’s really sticky, so I just glopped spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet. I greased it with the edge of a stick of Earth Balance). Bake 10-12 minutes. 

A slight variation of the Veganomicon oatmeal raisin recipe, these really were delicious. I went with dried cranberries because that’s what I had on hand, and I was tired of running to the (super-expensive) corner market. I also skipped most of the spices and used pastry flour instead of whole-wheat pastry flour because the store didn’t have it.

Here's another holiday favorite, which I use to cure my weakness for peanut butter:

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cups 

  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance
  • 3/4 cup crunchy all-natural peanut butter
  • 10 graham cracker squares, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup non-dairy carob chips
  • 1/4 cup rice milk
  • chopped almonds to taste

Melt the Earth Balance in a saucepan, then add in the peanut butter, graham crumbles and brown sugar. Mix until well blended, then evenly distribute into a muffin tin. I used a non-stick mini-muffin tin, the official recipe calls for a lined normal tin. Then melt the carob chips and milk in another saucepan, and pour evenly on top of the peanut-butter mixture. Top with crushed almonds, or any other nut, and refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. 

This one was a slight variation on a Kind Diet recipe. The main change was the brown sugar—KD calls for maple sugar. There are a few other variations listed in the official recipe. I preferred using the mini-muffin tin because they came out bite-sized. But I was left with tons of extra peanut mixture and not nearly enough chocolate. It worked out, because we just used the peanut-butter mix as a dip for celery sticks. But if you want to make more than 12 of these, definitely use more chocolate.

And just for the fun of it, try this delicious bruschetta, which my sister derived from a dish at one of our favorite restaurants. 

Avocado Bruschetta

  • tomatoes with seeds removed
  • avocados, the riper the better
  • one clove garlic, finely chopped
  • sea salt to taste
  • basil leaves, finely chopped

Just chop it all up and serve over toasted slices of a fresh baguette. We did half multi-grain, half French, coated in olive oil and baked at 400 until slightly brown. 

If you're looking for main course ideas, here are a few that receive rave reviews:

Veg New's "Vegan Hanukkah" includes recipes for challah, vegan latkes, veggie knishes, cherry noodle kugel and jelly donut cupcakes. 

Veg Kitchen's "Vegan Christmas Dinner Recipes" offers full four-course meals, including soups, appetizers, salads and entrees, as well as side dishes and desserts. 

The blog Vegan Peace offers a full range of Kwanzaa recipes.

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