Holiday dinner ideas for 10 vegetarian and vegan-friendly mains everyone will love

No one will miss the meat when these plant-based showstoppers are on the table.

Pamela Vachon Contributor
Pamela is a freelance food and travel writer based in Astoria, Queens. While she writes about most things edible and potable (and accessories dedicated to those topics,) her real areas of expertise are cheese, chocolate, cooking and wine. She's a culinary school grad, certified sommelier, former bartender and fine dining captain with 10 years in the industry. When not sitting at the keys, she leads in-home cheese classes, wine tastings and cocktail demonstrations.
Expertise Wine, cheese, chocolate, cooking.
Pamela Vachon
5 min read
Alexis deBoschnek

If you're on a plant-based diet, the holidays can sometimes be a trying time when large-format meats take center stage on holiday spreads, and options for vegetarians are often relegated entirely to the realm of side dishes, superb though they may be. 

It begs the question, though: What does the crackling turkey, sultry ham or dramatic crown roast represent in a lavish holiday meal? Is it that these are the most delectable dishes for holiday entertaining? I'd argue... not necessarily. Those options are themselves more about what they stand for: the theatrics in the presentation, the ritual of time and care in their preparation and the ability to feed the hungry multitudes in one show-stopping centerpiece.

Well then, who's to say as a vegetarian or vegan host this season, that you cannot provide precisely that in a plant-based alternative, without eliminating any of the above in terms of meaning, care and theatricality? Leave the vegetarian-friendly side dishes, excellent though they are, on the side where they belong, with these 10 vegetarian and vegan holiday mains that sacrifice nothing in terms of flavor and awe, not to mention the turkey himself.

Stuffed butternut squash

Butternut squash is the vegetable equivalent of turkey: Seasonal, versatile and large enough to elicit a big reaction when presented accordingly. Cranberries and kale add holiday-appropriate color and texture. A little vegan breakfast sausage, with its maple and sage notes, would also do well here, to fool the omnivores in your life who may require a little fooling where vegetarian eating is concerned. Get the stuffed butternut squash recipe.

Mushroom Wellington

Fun fact -- mushrooms are already a major player in giving a tradition beef Wellington its meaty, savory flavor, in the form of a duxelle: a mushroom pâté that adds richness and nuance to the otherwise lean tenderloin. Here, the naturally meaty flavor and texture, not to mention the dramatic look of sliced portobellos, give this vegetarian wellington as much right to claim star billing as its namesake. Get the mushroom Wellington recipe.

Grilled vegetable sformato

In Italian, sformato means "to unmold," surely a good omen for a holiday-worthy centerpiece. Anything that requires "turning out" in its preparation promises attractive results. This dish is essentially a terrine of noodles, cheese and vegetables -- crowd pleasers all of them -- with a caramelized eggplant crust and striated interior to provide a good amount of showmanship. Best of all it's the type of thing that improves with a day of rest, so your dishes will have been done by a whole day when guests start arriving and immediately begin admiring its comely nature. Get the grilled vegetable sformato recipe.

Vegetarian shepherd's pie

There's something about the role of shepherd's in holiday lore, and the wholesomeness of the tending-the-flock imagery. A cottage pie with a mashed potato crust is an equally wholesome, wonderful, not to mention filling way to feed your own flock this season. A rich gravy with lentils and mushrooms, heady with red wine and herbs is not only delicious but positively cozy. For added flair, use your piping skills to provide peaks to your mashed potato crust. Get the vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe.

Maple Hasselback butternut squash

Alexis deBoschnek

There's more than one way to make butternut squash the star of the vegetarian holiday show. The Hasselback look is all the rage for potatoes lately: Imagine the increased dramatics when you apply the technique to something three times the size of your average russet. A simple garnish of fennel, pomegranates and walnuts is perfectly elegant and understated, or you can up-the-ante with a vegetarian sausage gravy or ratatouille to finish. Get the maple Hasselback butternut squash recipe.

Glazed tofu roast

Okay, you think tofu may be a hard sell for your non-vegetarian friends and family, I get it. But have you seen this one, all sexy and racy with its cross-hatched pattern, caramelized exterior  and sultry glaze? Tofu has a sad reputation for being bland, but that's kind of the point: it is a completely blank slate for flavor and texture when handled with care, and the holidays are exactly the time for that kind of attention to detail. With extra time to press out its additional liquid, and a long marination that spares no expense in layering flavor from sweet, to spicy, to smoky, this is the tofu that conversion stories are made of. Get the glazed tofu roast recipe.

Herbed vegan pot pie

Phyllo dough is your friend here for creating a foodscape that begs for a festive occasion, with its flair for sculptural drama and golden-brown inspiring layers. (Also, most phyllo dough, unlike puff pastry, is naturally vegan.) Almond milk helps to create a roux that's just as rich as any of its dairy counterparts, and now you've not only fed the hungry multitude well, but included numerous vegetables in the main event, so name a better holiday host than you? Go ahead, I'll wait. Get the herbed vegan pot pie recipe.

Pumpkin squash soup with sage

Anyone who thinks that soup is not main-dish, holiday centerpiece worthy has never had pumpkin soup served to them inside an actual, individual pumpkin. The soup itself is low maintenance, but redolent with holiday flavor thanks to sage, the official herb of November and December. The pumpkin tureens will require a bit more elbow grease, but you have something to prove here about the glamour of vegetarian holiday hosting, so have at it! Get the pumpkin squash soup with sage recipe.

Vegan meatloaf

Half of the fun of the meat-based holiday main dishes is the possibility for re-purposed leftovers. And why should only carnivores and omnivores have all the fun? Meatloaf may be a humble option, but it still follows the principles of crowd-pleasingness and crowd-feeding ability. Chickpeas do the heavy lifting for the integrity of the loaf, plus a classic mirepoix, vegan Worcestershire sauce and nutritional yeast add deep nuance to the flavor. Meatloaf plays well with all the requisite holiday side dishes, and now you've got something to build tomorrow's sandwiches with also. Get the vegan meatloaf recipe.

Creamy spinach and mushroom lasagna

Anyone who has grown up in an Italian American household will know that holiday dining isn't complete without a requisite pasta... or seven. So use that mentality to your vegetarian advantage, with this rich and creamy white lasagna. Everyone knows that lasagna always outranks all other main dishes anyway, whether the occasion is a major cultural and seasonal celebration, or simply any other Wednesday. Get the creamy spinach and mushroom lasagna recipe.

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Originally published earlier this month.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.