Vegetarian dishes that bring people together

During the holidays, these nontraditional foods are all about building community

The first time Dhuha tried to make her mother’s recipe for vegetable biryani, her family was not impressed. Her mother, who had a keen sense for spice, developed the original recipe and tweaked it until the sweetness of the cinnamon and cardamom perfectly balanced the savory flavors of garlic and onion.

Her mother shared her secret: Cook the ingredients individually, separating the carrots, potatoes, peas, and raisins. If you throw everything together, she explained, you create a stew-like texture that blends the flavors. But when you cook them separately, you create a masterpiece “that is studded with little jewels that pop in your mouth.”

Dhuha eventually left the unrest of her native Iraq and came to New York City. Because of her cooking skills, the International Rescue Committee referred her to a job at Eat Offbeat. The company serves meals created and prepared by refugees living in New York. (Dhuha, like many of the chefs at Eat Offbeat, uses just her first name out of privacy concerns for her family.)

Just as it once bonded a mother and daughter in a kitchen in Baghdad, Dhuha’s distinctive dish now helps bring together cooks from around the world who share recipes at Eat Offbeat. It also brings together the thousands of people who enjoy it every year.

This holiday season, the following dishes remind us that this is a time to gather friends and family in the kitchen, at the dinner table, or wherever we are.

Photograph courtesy of Eat Offbeat

Iraqi vegetable biryani

What you’ll need:

2 tablespoons canola oil (plus more for frying)
1 pound dried short-cut vermicelli noodles
1 pound frozen peas
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped into half-inch cubes
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into quarter-inch cubes
2 tablespoons raisins
1 cup long-grain basmati rice
1¼ cup water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon cinnamon

How to make it:

1. Lightly coat your pan with oil and place it over medium heat. Add vermicelli noodles and sauté until red, approximately 1 minute.
2. Add 2 cups water, cover, and turn off the heat. Rest until the noodles are cooked through and the water is absorbed, approximately 2 minutes.
3. Separately deep-fry the frozen peas, potatoes, carrots, and raisins, making sure each is cooked to your desired consistency.
4. In a pot, combine rice, water, salt, and a cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn off the heat. Rest until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed, approximately 8 minutes.
5. In a bowl, whisk together the garlic powder, onion powder, cardamom, and cinnamon.
6. Mix in rice, vermicelli, vegetables, and raisins. Season to taste.

Makes 6 servings.

Photograph courtesy of AdobeStock

Mushroom, spinach, and brown rice loaf

Melanie Weitzel, a member at WeWork Spectrum Center in Irvine, CA, uses this recipe as a form of creative expression. It was recommended by her stepmother, who first prepared and served the dish at a homeless shelter. Originally a meatloaf, her stepmother experimented and came up with this meat-free version for vegetarians. The Reverse Logistics Group employee says guests love the dish, so she makes sure that there are leftovers to take home.  

What you’ll need:

½ cup dry brown rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery ribs, chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced thin
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
6 ounces fresh spinach
3 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
4 eggs, whisked
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons vegetable broth

How to make it:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cook rice according to package instructions. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent. Stir in garlic and celery and season with salt and pepper. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.
4. Add in mushrooms and tarragon and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add in spinach and cook until wilted. Stir in sun-dried tomatoes, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.
5. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, mustard, and broth. Add in vegetable mixture and rice, and stir to combine.
6. Generously grease a loaf pan with olive oil. Pour in vegetable mixture and smooth to flat with a spatula.
7. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until edges are nicely browned. Let cool slightly, then run a knife along edges and flip onto a platter.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Photograph courtesy of Meal Makeover

Sweet noodle casserole

This unique and filling recipe has been part of Kaitlin McKee’s family traditions for more than 30 years. McKee, a community manager at New York’s WeWork 450 Lexington Ave, says the casserole stands out because its sweet flavors contrast with the more savory ones that are typically served at holiday feasts. McKee advises you to make extra because the leftovers are even better.

What you’ll need:

8 ounces of broad egg noodles
¼ pound butter
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cottage cheese
4 eggs
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt to taste

¾ cup crushed corn flakes
½ cup brown sugar

How to make it:

1. Put everything but the noodles and topping into the blender for 30 to 40 seconds.
2. Once blended, combine well with cooked noodles.
3. Pour into a well-buttered baking dish and sprinkle with topping ingredients.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 6 servings.

Photograph courtesy of Marco Verch/Flickr

Vegetarian mushroom meatballs

The flavors of veggies are often overlooked at holiday gatherings. Ariel Victoria, a community associate at New York’s WeWork 450 Lexington Ave, says his vegetarian mushroom-meatballs recipe challenges the idea that a meal is not complete without the meat. It’s brought together many people over the years.

What you’ll need:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
20 ounces mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 24-ounce jar marinara sauce
Parsley to garnish
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

How to make it:
1. In a large skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil on medium-low heat for about seven minutes.
2. Add mushrooms and increase the heat to medium-high and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until they brown nicely.
Add garlic, stir, and transfer the mushrooms into the mixing bowl. Let them cool.
Add the rest of the ingredients excluding marinara to the mixture. Stir the mixture and cover it with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least two hours, overnight if possible, for the flavors to develop.
5. When ready to cook, use a tablespoon to form small balls from the mixture. Fry the balls in a small amount of vegetable oil until they turn brown, or bake them in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.
6. Add marinara sauce to the medium saucepan. Place the meatballs on top and cook the meatballs in the sauce on a low heat for about 15 more minutes.
7. Garnish with grated Parmesan or fresh parsley.

Makes 4 servings.

Photograph courtesy of Glaze

Grilled veggie plate

The Japanese-influenced teriyaki restaurant Glaze, a member company at New York’s WeWork 524 Broadway, has so many mouth-watering recipes that it was hard to pick just one. Jaime Blumberg, the company’s director of operations, loves the way this dish marries the crisp and earthy flavors of the vegetables with the sweet caramelized peppers and pineapple. Blumberg says the recipe has an addictive sweetness that “makes you feel like you’re eating a treat.”

What you’ll need:

2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons smoked black pepper
¼ cup oil
10 ounces red bell peppers
10 ounces pineapples
15 ounces broccoli crowns
12.5 ounces zucchini
10 ounces button mushrooms
10 shishito peppers

How to make it:

1. Quarter peppers, removing top and cutting into 2-inch squares.
2. Quarter mushrooms and cut zucchini into ¾-inch slices.
3.Cut broccoli crowns into bite-size pieces.
4. Clean and core the pineapple and dice into chunks.
5. Combine all vegetables in a pan and sprinkle with oil, salt, and pepper.
6. Grill until charred and serve over rice.

Makes 10 servings.

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