For weeks, we’ve been talking about meatless dishes that would rock any Thanksgiving, so I wanted to end with a list of my Top 20 Vegetarian Holiday Meals, which includes one new recipe: Parmesan Grits with Roasted Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese (no. 14). Dig in!

1. Apple, Leek and Butternut Squash Gratin. A simple, perfectly balanced dish made with layers of sliced butternut squash, leeks sautéed with sherry and sage, sliced apples and blistered Parmesan. It’s as homey, satisfying and delicious as anything smothered, covered or creamed. Pure magic.

2. Butternut Squash Casserole. This casserole is filling but not heavy, with warm butternut squash and fresh spinach baked with buttery onions, buttermilk, eggs, bread crumbs, cheddar, thyme and toasted pumpkin seeds.

3. Butternut Squash, Kale, and Cheddar Bread Pudding. Cubes of bread soaked in a savory custard and layered with sautéed kale and shallots, sweet roasted squash and several big handfuls of extra-sharp cheddar cheese. You’ll count the minutes until it comes out of the oven, all baked and golden, full of flavors and textures that shouldn’t make sense together but do. You just can’t say the same about tofurkey.

4. Candied Walnut, Pear, and Leafy Green Salad. A big plateful of color, texture and flavor that will make you wonder why you don’t eat more salads.

5. Chickpeas with Escarole and Caramelized Onions. There’s nothing bland or boring about a big, warm bowl full of creamy chickpeas tossed with wilted escarole, caramelized onions and raisins. Raisins! I almost left them out, but those little pops of sweetness make total sense mixed in with the bitter greens and nutty chickpeas. Good enough to steal an extra bite or two before you put the rest in the fridge.

6. Coconut-Sweet Potato Bisque. A silky, sweet-and-spicy vegan soup flavored with brown sugar, maple syrup, pumpkin pie spice and cayenne.

7. Cornbread Salad with Black Beans, Red Bell Peppers and Cherry Tomatoes. This Southern-style panzanella starts with cornbread croutons that add a lot of crunch at first, but then they start to absorb the flavors of the vinaigrette, black beans, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, scallions and basil and bring everything together. Scrumptious.

8. Curried Pumpkin Soup. You can make this lovely, creamy, exotic concoction in less than 10 minutes with pumpkin, mushrooms, onion, curry powder, vegetable broth, evaporated milk, honey and nutmeg. BOOM goes the dynamite!

9. Fennel and Mushroom Pie. This crustless pie is formed with layers of bread crumbs, mushrooms sauteed with garlic and onions, sweet boiled fennel and carrot, a sprinkling of parsley and basil, big handfuls of mozzarella and cheddar cheese, and new potatoes mashed with milk and butter. Delicious.

10. Gardener’s Pie. A full-bodied layer of perfectly seasoned vegetable stew – thick and brimming with onion, green pepper, carrots, corn, peas and kidney beans – crowned with golden, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth mashed potatoes. Seriously, it’ll make you thank God for Spanx.

11. Instant Tamale Pie. For something completely different, cook up this Mexican-inspired casserole with layers of polenta, pintos, corn, salsa and cheese. Quick and crazy-good.

12. Mushroom, Leek and Lemon Risotto. A thick, creamy risotto filled with soft, sauteed leeks and meaty mushrooms that gets a ton of flavor from additions like freshly grated Parmesan, chives, lemon zest and lemon juice.

13. Nuevo Texas Waldorf Salad. This version is as crisp as the fall air, with a cornucopia of apple slices, toasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese and a mountain of mixed greens tossed with a homemade rosemary vinaigrette and topped with a few fried wonton strips for extra crunch. Amazingly delicious.

14. Parmesan Grits with Roasted Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese (pictured above). Grits, how I love thee. This recipe starts with a big bowl full of smooth, creamy grits infused with butter, Parmesan and rosemary that you top with sweet caramelized squash and tangy blue cheese.

15. Roasted Potato Leek Soup with Crispy Shallots. You won’t believe how much flavor is infused into this amazing concoction. It starts with roasted potatoes, leeks and arugula. Then you add some white wine and vegetable stock. And, sure, you could stop here and have a perfectly respectable soup, but when have we ever been respectable? Instead, we take it completely over the top with heavy cream, creme fraiche and Parmesan. And a pinch of crispy shallots. We take it to church, people. We take it to church.

16. Spinach in Puff Pastry. This recipe defies all logic. You’d think the spinach filling (made with scallions, onion, cheese, bread crumbs and pine nuts) would fall right out of the thin, crisp puff pastry, but it slices beautifully into long, buttery strips that stay perfectly intact. Looks complicated, but couldn’t be simpler. Bask in the compliments.

17. Sweet Potato Risotto. Absolutely full of flavor. A skillet full of sautéed sweet potatoes, onion and ginger mixed with soft Arborio rice, dry Riesling wine and a few big dollops of rich mascarpone cheese topped with toasted walnuts for a little crunch.

18. Tuscan White Beans. A pot of beans this good – beans that have been simmered with fennel, carrots, garlic, sage and rosemary – deserves respect. Wouldn’t they be good with that Nuevo Texas Waldorf Salad (no. 13)? Mmmmmm.

19. Vegetable Pot Pie. Who could resist digging into this pepper-speckled pastry to get to the rich vegetable filling just underneath? Onion, fennel, potatoes, asparagus, butternut squash, carrots, corn, peas … I might need to be alone.

20. Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Cranberry-Pecan Salsa. Cranberry salsa! It’s a tiny revelation, like tasting strawberries with balsamic vinegar for the first time. Sweet, sour, fruity and crunchy. A perfect foil for the blast of umami that is the mushroom filling – wild and commercial mushrooms sautéed with butter, chopped onion, minced garlic, Worcestershire sauce and white wine – as well as the richness of the Monterey jack and goat cheese swaddled in each tortilla.

P.S. If you’d like to see one more holiday-inspired recipe, check out my guest post on Sara Foster’s Rosemary Cheese Crackers at Beantown Baker. Those things are addictive.

Parmesan Grits with Roasted  Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese

Adapted from “Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen” by Sara Foster

  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped or sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow grits (Or, use quick grits prepared according to package directions.)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup (3 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled blue cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the squash with the olive oil to coat evenly, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until golden brown around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  3. While the squash is baking, bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the 2 teaspoons salt, and slowly add the grits in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Reduce the heat to low, and cook and stir for 15 to 20 minutes, until the grits begin to thicken.
  4. Add the milk to the grits, and continue to cook and stir for another 5 minutes., until the grains are tender and the mixture is thick.
  5. Remove the grits from the heat, and add the Parmesan cheese, butter, and rosemary, stirring to melt. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper, if desired.
  6. Place the grits on a platter, or divide evenly between individual serving plates, and scatter the roasted squash on top. Sprinkle with the blue cheese, garnish with rosemary, and serve.