Five vegetarian showstoppers for your holiday dinner table

A timbale layered with strips of eggplant sits on a silver serving platter.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Five recipes for plant-forward entrées so exquisite that even carnivores will not miss the meat.


Gurus of food, cooking and health — from James Beard Award-winners Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman to Dr. Mark Hyman (all of whom are bestselling authors) — agree: Put more plants on the plate. And there’s no better place to do so than at your holiday table, where you can feed your loved ones beautiful and delicious food that will contribute to their good health and that of the planet. For an impressive presentation and fabulous flavor, try one of these vegetarian test-kitchen favorites.

Simple and stunningly delicious, Evan Kleiman’s Lasagne ai Funghi is one of the most luscious pasta dishes I have ever eaten. The sheets of pasta are layered with bechamel, Parmesan cheese and a mix of mushrooms sautéed with garlic and herbs. That’s it. Note that this is lasagne with an E — a reference to the noodles themselves — rather than lasagnA — the layers of pasta, cheeses and meat sauce ubiquitous in the States.

Kleiman’s stunning Eggplant Timbale is an eggplant lover’s fantasy on a plate. Think of it as a slightly reconfigured parmigiana — the fried eggplant (minus the breading commonly used in America) forms an outer “crust” to encase layers of chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and more eggplant. With just enough sauce to lend flavor and moisture and just enough cheese to umami-fy without overpowering, it is a truly spectacular dish. For the best result, make it a day in advance and serve it at room temperature or just slightly warmed.


Use the multi-step process that making paella requires to your advantage when making Martha Rose Shulman’s Paella With Artichokes and Mushrooms. Sautee the vegetables a few hours ahead and leave cooking the rice and the final assembly for closer to when you want to actually serve dinner. Between the subtle flavor of the artichokes and the umami and texture of the mushrooms, nobody will miss the shellfish or meat.

Visually, Eggplant Osso Buco, Mushroom Bolognese, Rustic Polenta will have your guests thinking you are serving them “the real thing.” Rich with the texture of a Bolognese-style sauce and flavorful from mushrooms, it could lead you to question whether there might be meat in the dish. Fully vegetarian — could be vegan if you switch out dairy in the polenta for vegetable broth, margarine and nutritional yeast — the dish will have everyone guessing, as well as marveling at its succulence.

Ben Mims’ Roasted Mushroom Stroganoff puts umami-ful mushrooms center stage. For a festive holiday dinner, pull out all the stops and splurge for more flavorful, visually striking and dramatic king oyster mushrooms and chanterelles. This vegetarian riff on the classic dish (made with beef) will not disappoint — nor will any other of these extraordinary dishes.


Lasagne ai funghi

Lasagne is a layered, luxurious delivery system for flavor, made with thin egg noodles and bolstered by silken pools of the thickened buttery sauce known as besciamella in Italian.
Time 2 hours
Yields Serves 8 to 12

Eggplant timbale

This eggplant cake-like creation has just enough cheese to add umami without being heavy. The sweet-acid tomato sauce balances the rich, fried eggplant.
Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Yields Serves 6 to 8

Paella with artichokes and mushrooms

Aromatic paella is made with artichokes and mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, saffron, mushroom broth and rice. Not a sausage or a piece of chicken, a shrimp or a mussel to be found.
Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields Serves 6

Eggplant Osso Buco, Mushroom Bolognese, Rustic Polenta

Seasoned, seared eggplant "steaks" (studded with hearts of palm ) are plated over a rustic polenta, topped with a rich mushroom Bolognese sauce and served with broccolini.
Time 2 hours 20 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Roasted Mushroom Stroganoff

Roasting the mushrooms infuses this creamy, meatless stroganoff recipe with umami flavor, making it the ultimate vegetarian main dish that's just as hearty.
Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Yields Serves 4 to 6.