Cheap and Chic Gifts from the Vegan Kitchen

I don’t know about you, but every year I’m in the same quandary about holiday gift-giving. I want to give all the special people in my life at least a token to express my affection for them, but I don’t want to bankrupt myself. Making something always sounds like a good idea, but finding the time to sit down and knit or embroider or make a piece of pottery for everyone on my list just isn’t going to happen. Besides, most folks I know already have more stuff than they need.

Recent studies on happiness suggest that we’d all be happier with more social interactions and less stuff. With that in mind, these gifts from the kitchen can serve a triple purpose: They let the recipient know that you thought enough of them to spend your time putting together something really delicious just for them, they won’t sit around collecting dust like another (fill in your favorite dust-catcher here), and they’ll give the recipient of your gift an excellent reason to invite a few friends over to enjoy your delicious gift(s). Who knows? Maybe they’ll invite you!

Besides the recipes below, other home-made gift ideas include home-canned fruits, vegetables, jams, or chutneys, home-baked cookies, brownies, breads (quick or yeasted), your own special granola, or a frozen casserole in one of those new-fangled oven-safe disposable trays. Make sure you always label your gifts with ingredient lists and any instructions your recipient might need, like re-warming directions for the casserole. If you’re not secretive about your recipes, a hand-printed or computer-generated recipe card is also a nice touch.

Whatever winter holidays you celebrate, I hope they are happy, warm, and bright!

The Recipes:

Pssst – don’t tell anyone you’re giving these to, but they’re all really quick and easy!

You can double, triple, or even quadruple any of these recipes as needed.

Doubly Hot Horseradish Mustard
This makes a nice gift along with a hearty bread (homemade or not).

Recipe from Jane Brody’s Good Food Gourmet
Serving Size: 12
Preparation Time: 0:15

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons mustard seed yellow
1/4 cup mustard powder mild and/or hot
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon bottled horseradish , drained

Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor (use your mini-jar for a single batch), and process the ingredients at high speed until the mixture is smooth.

Transfer the mustard to a small, clean (pretty) jar, cover the jar tightly, and refrigerate until serving. Keeps well for 6 months to a year.

Notes: You can find mustard seeds and ground mustard powder in Sevananda’s bulk herb section.

Make sure that you are using pure horseradish and not “creamed” horseradish, which actually has cream in it!

This mustard keeps for months refrigerated (up to a year if sealed well), so make a big batch by doubling or quadrupling the recipe.

Per serving: 24 Calories; 1g Fat (34% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 3g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 2mg Sodium


Olive-Basil Tapenade
Take along as a hostess gift to any cocktail parties you’re invited to this season and try not to eat it all yourself! Crisp water crackers make the perfect accompaniment.

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size: 24
Preparation Time: 0:15

2 cups green olives with pimentos
1 bunch fresh basil washed and dried
6 cloves garlic chopped
extra-virgin olive oil as needed

Drain the olives and set aside. Strip the basil leaves from their tough stems.
Grind olives, basil leaves, and garlic in food processor, adding olive oil a little at a time until the mixture becomes a medium-thick paste. Taste – it should be salty, sharp, and pungent. Add more olives, garlic, or basil as needed to balance flavor. The spread looks best when left a little chunky so that the pimento pieces stand out against the green olives and basil. Very Christmas-y!

Pack into a pretty jar, pour a thin layer of olive oil on top, and seal tightly. Keep refrigerated until use. The layer of oil on top will keep it fresh and bright green for several days, but this spread should be used soon. Serve with crisp water crackers, or use it to brighten up pasta dishes.

If you’re not giving this as a gift, you can freeze it in small amounts to use as needed. Pack it into an old ice-cube tray (which will pick up the pungent herbal smells – reserve this tray for pestoes and tapenades from here on out!), and transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer bag after a day or two. Use within 3 or 4 months.

(nutritional analysis unavailable)


Sweet and Salty Toasted Pecans
These are addictive! They look pretty in cellophane bags tied with ribbons, or in recycled jam jars topped with a jaunty bit of fabric or gift paper.

Recipe By: Sally Pasley Vargas, Food for Friends
Serving Size: 16 – Makes 4 cups or two 2-cup gifts
Preparation Time: 1:00

4 cups pecan halves
1 1/2 cups water
3 cups sugar unbleached
2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt kosher or coarse
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and brush them lightly with vegetable oil.

Combine the pecans, water, and sugar in a saucepan and, stirring occasionally, bring to a boil over medium heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and spread them on the prepared baking sheets in a single layer. They should not be touching. Bake the nuts for 25 minutes, or until they turn a deep, toasty brown.

Remove the pans from the oven and let the nuts cool slightly. Leave the oven turned to 325 F. Push the nuts into a mound in the center of each baking sheet, making sure the nuts are not stuck together.

Drizzle half of the oil and vanilla over each mound and toss to coat evenly. In a small bowl, sift together the salt, cinnamon, and pepper until well mixed. Sprinkle the mixture over the nuts, again using half for each baking sheet. Toss until the nuts are evenly coated with the spiced mixture.

Spread the nuts out in a single layer. Bake for 10 more minutes, or until browned and crisp. Let cool completely. Store the nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.

Per serving: 342 Calories; 20g Fat (50% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 43g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 135mg Sodium
Food Exchanges: 1/2 Starch/Bread; 2 1/2 Fruit; 4 Fat; 2 1/2 Other Carbohydrates


Sand Art Brownies in a Jar (with Gluten Free Option)
Plain canning jars are fine for these since the ingredients themselves become the “art”. If you have kids, let them help. These are very, very easy and fun to make.

Recipe adapted by Lisa Bennett from several online sources
Serving Size: 16
Preparation Time: 0:15

Layer in order:
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon Ener-G Egg Replacer powder
1/2 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup brown sugar or Sucanat
2/3 cup unbleached sugar
Top with:
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (opt.)
Later, recipient adds
1/2 cup canola or safflower oil
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Layer dry ingredients except chips and nuts carefully in a wide-mouthed quart canning jar. (A wide-mouthed funnel like the ones used in canning makes this a snap.)

Insert the handle of a wooden spoon or a slender chopstick along the inside of the glass jar to make valleys in the ingredients. Make sure you vary the lengths of the “valleys”. This makes it look like “sand art”. Top the jar off with chocolate chips and nuts.

Make sure that ingredients fill jar to packed level. This will keep the ingredients from shifting. Screw on the lid securely. Add the following label to the jar:

Sand Art Fudgy Brownies (Vegan)
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Mix the contents of this jar with 1/2 cup canola or safflower oil, 1/2 cup water, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Spread evenly into a 9 X 9-inch baking pan and bake for 30 minutes or until brownies just begin to crack on top and pull away from the sides of the pan. Don’t overbake!

You might want to list the ingredients on the jar label as well if you have friends with food allergies or sensitivities. You can make the jar even prettier by giving it a “cap” – a 7″ square of fabric, gift paper, or even brown paper trimmed with pinking shears tied on with a ribbon or raffia.


“Flour” can be part unbleached wheat flour and part whole wheat pastry flour or any gluten-free flour you might want to use. Rice flour works well. I made a batch of these with garbanzo bean flour (besan or gram – available in Indian grocery stores) and they came out gooey and delicious! If you want to make sure that the mix is gluten-free, use a gluten-free baking powder like “Featherweight” and be sure that your chocolate chips are not grain-sweetened. Barley malt contains gluten.

To give these brownies your own special twist, you can add spices or other flavorings. For mocha brownies, add 2 teaspoons espresso powder. For Mexican Chocolate Brownies, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. For Indian-Spiced brownies, add 1 teaspoon of garam masala. Use your imagination and get creative!

You can make these into carob brownies by substituting carob powder and carob chips for the cocoa and chocolate. A half-teaspoon of almond extract is a nice addition to the carob brownies – it helps to round out their flavor – so you might want to add that as a suggestion on your label directions.

Per serving (as prepared, made with unbleached wheat flour, including oil, water, and vanilla): 250 Calories; 14g Fat (46% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 0mg Cholesterol; 129mg Sodium


Chai Mix

Another excuse to recycle some of those pretty jam jars you’ve been saving! This recipe is just a guide – you can use more or less of any of these spices, or add dried orange peel, fennel, nutmeg, mace, juniper berries, or rose petals. I’m not an anise fan, so I leave it out of my chai, but it looks very pretty in the jars.

Recipe adapted from Sally Pasley Vargas, _Food for Friends_
Serving Size: 24
Preparation Time: 0:30

5 tablespoons cardamom pods
2 tablespoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
8 2-inch cinnamon sticks, broken
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 whole star anise (optional)
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine all of the ingredients except the ginger in an ungreased heavy skillet. Stir over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, or until fragrant, to toast the spices.

Add the ginger and spoon the mixture into a mortar in manageable batches. Pound briefly, just enough to crush the spices coarsely. (You could also break them up with a rolling pin or pulse them briefly in a spice grinder.) Transfer to an airtight container for storage.

Make the following label for your jar:

Directions for making Chai for Two

In a small saucepan, combine 2 cups water with 2 rounded teaspoons Chai Mix. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add 1 cup of your favorite “milk” (soy, rice, almond) and 2 teaspoons of black tea leaves (Assam preferred). Stir lightly. Remove from heat and steep for 2 minutes. Strain into cups and sweeten to taste with your favorite sweetener.

(nutritional analysis not available)