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Natural Awakenings Sarasota / Manatee / Charlotte

Beyond “Tofurkey:” How One Local Restaurant Is Reinventing Meatless Holiday Meals


by Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer 


‘Tis the season to be feasting. Plates are loaded with turkey and ham, green bean casserole, buttermilk biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy. These delicacies are traditional and cultural touchstones––the holidays just wouldn’t be complete without them. Right?  

Not so fast. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, seasonal foods can actually pose a dilemma. You might feel a sense of conflict between engaging with friends and family around the table versus maintaining your own nutritional preferences. This balancing act often leads to anxiety during mealtimes, especially since it can seem like you’re burdening the host with your particular eating habits. The fact is, however, it’s entirely feasible to avoid the intake of meat or dairy without sacrificing the pleasure of sharing a meal with those you cherish.  

To offer more insight on how to practice healthy, mindful––and plant-based––eating in the midst of the festivities, I spoke with Annette Weinberger, co-owner of Café Evergreen in Nokomis. This local institution specializes in natural, organic, fresh and wholesome dining with a creative seasonal menu––most of which is meatless. If anyone has proof that holiday feasting can be vegan or vegetarian friendly, it’s her!   


Natural Awakenings: Do you have any suggestions for making the holiday season less of a hassle for those on a vegan or vegetarian diet? 

Weinberger: If you adhere to a special diet, minimize the holiday stress by offering to bring an item that fits your specific dietary requirements. An example of this would be a butternut squash casserole which is filling for you and a delicious side dish for everyone else. There are also twists and modifications you can add to certain foods which make them healthier without compromising taste. For instance, serve fresh green beans with cranberries to replace the bacon. 


NA: What are some common misconceptions about the difficulty or inconvenience of preparing a meatless and dairy-free holiday meal? 

Weinberger: Many people assume that preparing meatless and dairy-free meals will make the food taste unsatisfying. To avoid this issue, be generous with the spices or herbs, and cook with healthy fats to satiate both your stomach and brain.  

Here’s an example of a meal at Café Evergreen that meets all these requirements: avocado slider on dehydrated onion bread (starter), vegan Reuben sandwich with a side of baked sweet potato fries (entrée) and vegan chocolate mousse (dessert). This meal is both flavorful and substantial for everyone. 

Also, when some people hear the words “healthy and organic,” they get sensitive or nervous because, unfortunately, there are many bland nutritious recipes out there. But sometimes you can just present the food without mentioning it’s healthy, then allow everyone to partake and enjoy. For instance, our roasted cauliflower starter with garlic, walnuts and peas can always win over the toughest skeptics. 


NA: What are the some of the most popular vegan or vegetarian dishes on Cafe Evergreen’s seasonal menu during this time of year? 

Weinberger: Right now, our cranberry kombucha spritzers are in high demand. We start with fresh cranberries slow cook them until tender and allow them to cool. Then, to prepare the drink, we use the fresh cranberry juice added to our raspberry-hibiscus kombucha, and the result is a light, effervescent and refreshing spritzer––the perfect holiday drink! In addition, our vegan squash and pumpkin soup, vegetarian butternut squash ravioli and pumpkin pie dessert made with coconut milk and organic pumpkin filling are all popular items too. 


NA: What are some of your favorite meatless holiday recipes that appeal to vegans or vegetarians, as well as the carnivores at your table? 

Weinberger: I love to get creative with the spices and seasoning. For example, I make a flavorful stuffing with vegetable broth, sautéed garlic, onions, celery, shallots and carrots, then I add a few dashes of turmeric to make it even healthier. I also enjoy whipping up mashed potatoes with olive oil and roasted garlic or baking vegan corn muffins. I season leafy greens with smoked paprika, onions and garlic––my dinner guests don’t even miss the ham! Another favorite entrée is roasted Brussels sprouts with shallots or cook acorn squash filled with quinoa stuffing. 


And cue the mouth-watering. I’ll have seconds, please! 



Café Evergreen is located at 801 Tamiami Trail S, Nokomis. To make a reservation, call 941-412-4334. For more information and to view the menu, visit  


Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer is the Managing Editor of Natural Awakenings Sarasota–Manatee. She also works as a freelance writer, blogger and social media marketer based in Southwest Florida. Her personal blog features practical tips for embracing an active, nutritious and empowered lifestyle.  

Natural Awakenings of Sarasota June 2020 Digital Edition


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