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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Festive Sips and Nibbles: Vegan Holiday Treats that Everyone Loves

Oct 31, 2016 08:13AM ● By Judith Fertig

Stepanek Photography/

For those that like to eat plant-based meals most of the time, the holidays can present a challenge. Social occasions from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day abound, including multi-course dinners and potlucks; tree-trimming and baking parties; neighborly hospitality; nibbling on treats while wrapping gifts; and gathering to watch a holiday movie.

Because so much is happening in such a short period of time, people often revert to serving traditional foods such as Aunt Mary’s cheese ball or Grandma Daisy’s three-layer chocolate bars. These vintage recipes, however, can be laden with processed ingredients. Foods that signaled holiday cheer ages ago need a tweak or two to satisfy today’s health-minded friends and family members. With traditional flavors of the season like aromatic spices, fresh rosemary and chocolate, plus a plant-based philosophy, family favorites can get a new twist.

Natural Awakenings asked cookbook authors, chefs and bloggers from around the country to help us celebrate wonderful holiday moments, big and small. Adding a plant-based nibble or sip not only helps party hosts stay on track, it also helps keep guests from over-indulging, so that everyone ends up enjoying themselves even more.

Addictive Nibbles

American-born Sandra Gutierrez grew up in Guatemala and now lives in Cary, North Carolina. As the author of The New Southern Latino Table and Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America, she shows how fresh, seasonal, Latino foods can add grace and flavor to any table.

“In the South, appetizers can be as simple as shelled pecans tossed with spices,” she says. She applies the same easy treatment to pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, tossing them with ancho chile powder, cumin, coriander and other flavorings to bake in the oven until crunchy. “These take only minutes to make and will keep for a few weeks if stored in an airtight container.” Then, when people drop by, she has a ready-made, plant-based, delicious nibble to offer with drinks.

Brother chefs Chad and Derek Sarno, of Austin, Texas, are the co-founders of, a website devoted to plant-based eating habits. Chad has co-authored (with Chris Karr) Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution. Derek is the former global executive chef for Whole Foods Market. “Shoot for 80 percent healthy and 20 percent wicked, and you’ll be 100 percent sexy,” they advise with a wink.

Natural Awakenings recommends using organic and non-GMO (genetically modified) ingredients whenever possible.

A little indulgence is fine during the holidays, they say. “For vegans and vegetarians, think of your 20 percent as a chance to let loose every now and again and enjoy whatever makes you feel a bit wicked—fats, sugars, salts, beer; you get the idea—unless you’re following doctor’s orders. We want you to eat for health, and as chefs, we want eating healthy to taste great.” For the holidays, they like to have easy, yet big-flavor nibbles on hand such as homemade popcorn flavored with fresh rosemary and truffle oil, or crunchy, roasted chickpeas that pack a little heat from sriracha, a homemade or bottled hot sauce.

Celebratory Sips

Sophia DeSantis, of Carlsbad, California, changed to a vegan diet because of her husband’s health issues several years ago. “We ate plant-based for one month and just kept on going,” she says. “Within three months, he was off all meds and hasn’t needed them since.”

That victory made her an impassioned vegan cook for their three children, as well. Whether preparing food for family or guests, she says, “I don’t even mention the type of food, because I simply make delicious dishes that just happen to be plant-based. There are a million and one ways to redo traditional favorites.”

DeSantis makes her own pistachio milk for a special hot chocolate she serves during the holidays; she blogs her recipes at

Other options for plant-based sips include chilled, dairy-free eggnog, perhaps topped with coconut creamer and a dusting of freshly grated nutmeg. Mulled cider or pomegranate juice, warmed in a stove pot with whole spices like cinnamon and cloves, plus slices of citrus fruits, add holiday flavors and aromas.

Having already prepared nibbles and sips handy in the pantry, freezer or refrigerator makes both planned and spontaneous hosting easier, as well as providing ready-made goodies to bring to other gatherings. “Then, there’s always something available you can enjoy,” says DeSantis.

Judith Fertig writes cookbooks and foodie fiction from Overland Park, KS (


Tasty Holiday Recipes

<font size="2">photo by Stephen Blancett</font>
photo by Stephen Blancett
Spiced Pepitas

These crunchy pumpkin seeds are lemony, salty, spicy and zesty, all at the same time. A handful of these toasted tidbits whets the appetite.

Yields: 2 cups

2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ancho chile powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

In a medium bowl, toss together the pumpkin seeds, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, cumin, pepper, coriander, chile powder, cayenne and garlic powder.

Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and shake to redistribute the seeds, and then bake for another 3 minutes. Pull it out to shake the pan again. Then finish baking for 1 to 2 minutes or until the pumpkin seeds are crispy and golden without burning them.

Transfer to a cool baking sheet and cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Courtesy of Sandra A. Gutierrez,

Truffle Spiced Popcorn

This wicked, fresh, piping-hot popcorn is kissed with a simple blend of rosemary, onion and truffle oil.

Yields: 9 cups

2½ Tbsp grapeseed oil
A bit less than ½ cup popcorn kernels
1 Tbsp truffle oil
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
½ Tbsp onion granules
½ tsp fresh rosemary, minced
Sea salt to taste

Truffle Spiced Popcorn RecipeOn medium heat, warm the oil in a large saucepan with a lid.

Remove from the stove and add all kernels in an even layer on the bottom of the pan.

Cover for 20 seconds to allow all the kernels to become coated and reach equal temperature so they all pop at once.

Place the covered pan back on the heat and shake it while it’s on the burner. The kernels will slowly begin to pop; once they start, crack the lid slightly to let out a bit of steam. Continue shaking the pan over heat until the popping stops.

Remove from the stovetop immediately and pour all popcorn into a large bowl.

Drizzle with truffle oil, nutritional yeast, onion granules, minced rosemary and sea salt. Shake and mix well before serving.

Courtesy of Chad and Derek Sarno,

Beer-Miso-Sriracha Roasted Chickpeas

Any favorite beer will work.

Yields: 2 to 4 servings

Beer Miso Sriracha Roasted Chickpeas1 (15½ oz) can chickpeas or garbanzo beans, drained and set aside
1 Tbsp sriracha
1 Tbsp organic miso paste (any color)
1/3 bottle of beer
Black and white sesame seeds
Dried chili to taste
Smoked salt for garnish to taste

Whisk wet ingredients until mixed well. Toss mixture with chickpeas.

Place mixture on baking pan and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, shaking and stirring periodically until mixture is evaporated and chickpeas begin to get color; beware of burning.

Garnish with sesame seeds and dried chili, maybe a little smoked salt.

Courtesy of Chad and Derek Sarno,

Frothy Hot Chocolate with Pistachio Milk

Cozy up and indulge in this thick, creamy and rich hot chocolate made with whole food ingredients.

Yields: 2 servings

Pistachio Milk
½ cup raw shelled pistachios
2 cups filtered water

½ to ¾ cup unsweetened baking cocoa or cacao powder
¼ to ½ cup date paste
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Dash Himalayan pink salt

Hot Chocolate with Pistachio MilkFor the pistachio milk, soak the nuts overnight in a bowl of water.

Rinse before placing them into a high-speed blender with the 2 cups of water. Blend until the mixture is completely puréed and milky.

Strain mixture through a nut milk bag or cheesecloth; then add the nut milk back into the blender.

Add all other ingredients and blend at a high speed until thick.

Note: If using a regular, slower blender, re-warm the hot chocolate on the stove top. It may not be as thick and frothy but will taste good.

Courtesy of Sophia DeSantis,

This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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