These vegan mashed potato holiday bowls are the perfect way to celebrate an intimate, low-key Thanksgiving or winter holiday. All the traditional favorites in one simple recipe!
A lot of traditional Thanksgiving side dishes can easily be made vegan. So my focus at this time of year is usually on holiday main dishes. What will feel substantial and celebratory, equally pleasing to plant-based eaters and their omnivore friends and family?
I’ve come up with many recipes I love over the years. Millet and lentil stuffed squash. Cornbread sage stuffing (easy to turn into a main dish with some vegan sausage added). Lentil sweet potato shepherd’s pie. Red lentil chickpea loaf, or lentil sweet potato loaf. Whole roasted lemon tahini cauliflower.
These mashed potato holiday bowls are every bit as filling as those dishes. But they’re simpler to make, and they’re appropriate for two or four people.
Or one person who’s happy to have some leftovers.
A different kind of season
This year, of course, is a little different. Many of us will be celebrating Thanksgiving solo, or with one other person. Some may not be in the spirit to celebrate at all. I understand that. I’ve been feeling a little low this week myself.
I typically love the winter holidays. As someone who spends a lot of time alone, I greet these big, collective celebrations with excitement each year. They help me to tap into a collective sense of gratitude and festivity, a widespread delight in coming together. They make me feel connected.
Funnily enough, I’m accustomed to two-person holidays. It’s usually just me and my mom. So, why should this year’s celebration feel so different?
I guess it’s the sense that things have to be this way. It’s the fact that I can’t ask anyone to join us at the last moment. The realization that I can’t go see a late movie with friends who live in the neighborhood. The absence of the Macy’s Day Parade, which I grew up.
All things considered, I have so much to be grateful for. And I’ll do what I always do next Thursday, which is to greet Thanksgiving as an opportunity to give thanks for the good stuff in my life.
But it’s still weird. With winter approaching and uncertainty about a second wave of Covid infections, I’m feeling fearful of another lockdown experience, this time with cold weather and dark, short days. I’m anxious about being by myself all the time, just as I was getting a taste of life feeling more vibrant.
One step at a time, though. And no day like the present. No matter how things look this year, I’ll enjoy some seasonal food.
Cooking for a quiet holiday
I did a little poll in Instagram stories this week, asking about what kind of holiday dishes people might want to see. The answer didn’t surprise me. Many people in the community said that they’d be spending the holiday season alone or with one other person. There were lots of requests for recipes for one or two.
I also got responses from members of four or five person families. A few of them mentioned being burnt out from 2020 and short on energy for cooking. They asked for a recipe that would be simple to make, yet still festive.
These mashed potato holiday bowls are it. They include the Thanksgiving “greatest hits”: potatoes, gravy, green beans, and a savory protein. But they don’t demand the customary four or five hours of cooking time.
As written, the recipe serves four people. But it can be cut in half to serve one or two. Alternately, you can make the whole thing and enjoy three days of leftovers on your own. That’s exactly what I did this week, and I was very happy to eat it a few times.
Vegan holiday bowl components
Mashed potatoes are the base of these fun, festive holiday bowls.
I went with classic mashed potatoes, my mom’s favorite Thanksgiving side dish. I love mashed sweet potatoes, too, and I use them in my favorite shepherds pie. But there’s nothing like a buttery, pillowy, traditional mash.
I’m a big fan of using Yukon gold (or other yellow skinned potatoes) for mashed potatoes. I think they create the best, creamiest texture.
I also use a potato ricer for mashed potatoes. It’s a great, one time investment for anyone who loves mashed potatoes, which I do. I’m never sorry to have it. But if you have a regular, handheld potato masher, that’s just fine, too.
I actually did create a green bean casserole recipe this year. But I wanted to keep things a little simpler for these bowls, and I used steamed green beans. You could add some vegan butter to the beans for extra flavor, but I think that the gravy is enough to season them.
In place of green beans, you could add Brussels sprouts—another classic holiday side dish. You could also add broccoli, kale, or any other green vegetable to your bowl.
Alternately, try a salad in place of green beans (or cooked greens). This shaved Brussels sprout salad, my festive kale salad with coconut bacon, and my farro salad with sweet potatoes and apples are some of my favorite, seasonal options.
Can I admit something? I don’t mind making cranberry sauce. Truly. But I really like the store-bought stuff, too. Sometimes—OK, most of the time—I think it tastes better than mine. And my mom is a fan of the jellied version.
In the spirit of keeping things realistic, I’m going with someone else’s cranberry sauce as a garnish for these bowls. You could use a sprinkle of dried cranberries, too. You could substitute another relish or chutney that you love.
Or, you can omit the cranberry component altogether, option for some fresh parsley or chives as a garnish instead. The bowls will still feel fulsome and complete.
Tempeh (or chickpeas!)
I chose tempeh, which may be my favorite plant protein, for these mashed potato holiday bowls. I love the earthy, hearty texture of tempeh, and it works perfectly with the savory gravy in the recipe.
The tempeh is crumbled before it gets lightly sautéed, similar to the technique in this dish of tempeh “sausage” and grits. Then, it’s covered in a super simple vegan gravy, which I based off of this old, very loved recipe.
Can this mashed potato holiday bowl be made soy free?
I know that tempeh has been hard to come by during quarantine in a lot of places. Additionally, when I asked about holiday dishes on Instagram, I got some requests for soy-free options. I also got a lot of requests for chickpeas as a central protein.
So, I figured I’d test the recipe with chickpeas as well as tempeh. I smashed them partially, using a potato masher, so that they’d be “crumbled” as well.
It worked perfectly. The bowls can be made with tempeh or chickpeas, depending on what you can find, what you like, and what’s appropriate for your eating style.
The tempeh version is my favorite, but I really liked the chickpea version (pictured below), too. It reminded me of this hearty wintertime dish of chickpeas and mushrooms, which is also made with mashed potatoes!
Mashed potato holiday bowl make ahead and storage options
Even if this dish is less involved than other holiday fare, it’s still a bit of work. There are plenty of ways to make it feel more manageable.
To start, you can prepare the mashed potatoes ahead of time. I’m usually impatient and heat up leftover mashed potatoes in the microwave. But I’ve found that low and slow in the oven (or in my slow cooker) is even better for texture. The potatoes can be made two days in advance of eating, and they can last another two days in leftover form.
Ditto for the tempeh (or chickpeas) and gravy! You can prepare the protein two days before you plan to eat. They’ll keep in the fridge for up to four or five days, total.
And of course, green beans are easy to steam or microwave cook right before eating. But even those can be prepared a day or two in advance of your meal. As can most green veggies you might like to add.
Yields: 4 people
For the mashed potatoes
- 1 1/2 lb (4 large or 6 smaller) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) vegan butter
- 1/2 cup unsweetened, non-dairy milk (I like unsweetened soy milk)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the tempeh & gravy
- 1 3/4 cup vegan no-chicken broth (substitute vegetable broth)
- 4 tablespoons (30 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour (substitute superfine brown rice flour or chickpea flour for a gluten-free option)
- 3 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce, divided
- 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 7.5 ounces tempeh (1 standard sized block), crumbled or 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (1 15-ounce can), partially mashed
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons (heaping) nutritional yeast
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the bowls
- 4 cups steamed green beans (substitute Brussels sprouts or another vegetable of choice)
- Optional: a few scoops cranberry sauce, store-bought or homemade
To make the mashed potatoes, place the potato pieces in a heavy bottomed pot. Add enough cold water to cover them by a few inches. Transfer the pot to the stovetop and bring the water to a boil. Boil the potatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until very tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes. In the same pot, melt the butter and add the milk. Remove the pot from heat and add the drained potatoes and salt. Use a potato masher to mash them until they’re fluffy and creamy. Add milk by the tablespoon to achieve a consistency you like. You can also use a potato ricer for extra fluffy potatoes! Set the mashed potatoes aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the broth and the flour to create a smooth slurry.
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the tempeh crumbles (or smashed chickpeas). Add one teaspoon of tamari or soy sauce and the smoked paprika. Cook the tempeh, stirring often, for about a minute. Then allow it to cook in the skillet without stirring for a minute, to help brown the crumbles. Stir and then allow it to sit for another minute. Repeat until the crumbles are nicely browned throughout.
Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups broth to the skillet and bring the broth to a simmer. Stir in the broth and flour slurry. Give everything a stir, then add the remaining 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce, garlic powder, mustard, nutritional yeast, and thyme. Stir everything well, then allow it to come to a gentle simmer. Reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the gravy is thick. Season to taste with additional salt and freshly ground pepper.
Divide the mashed potatoes into bowls, along with your green beans or other veggies. Top each bowl with a quarter of the tempeh and gravy. If you like, garnish each bowl with a small scoop of cranberry sauce—or even a few dried cranberries, if you’re feeling low-key. Serve!
Having made and savored this bowl on my own (twice!) in the last week, I haven’t quite decided if I’ll repeat it next Thursday. I may get ambitious, and whip up a whole spread. If only to have one thing about this holiday that feels familiar.
But it’s nice to know that I don’t have to. It’s nice to have a holiday meal option that’s everything I want on a special, chilly day, without any of the cooking stress that I associate with special occasions.
Whether you’re celebrating this year or any year, I hope the bowl will bring you coziness and pleasure. I hope it’ll feel a little special.
And I’ll see you back here on Sunday.