Homemade gifts are always appreciated by recipients, and food gifts are as much fun to give as they are to make. Whenever you buy products that come in glass jars, from jams and jellies to artichoke hearts, keep those jars so you can fill them with homemade epicurian delights and share them with your nearest and dearest. Here are 10 fabulous recipes for edible vegan gifts that will please any palate, plus suggestions on how to decorate those upcycled jars before giving them away!
A note before beginning: In addition to the pretty label you’ll place on the front of each jar, it’s a good idea to also slap a label onto the back of the jar with a recommended “use by” date, and instructions on safe storage. Food gifts that haven’t been pickled, or water bath- or pressure- canned will break down and spoil if kept at room temperature, so a general rule to follow with any non-preserved food is to keep it refrigerated and consume within a week’s time. Pickled foods can last for a month or more if refrigerated diligently, but it’s a safe bet that these small (delicious) batches won’t stick around that long.
1. Olive Tapenade with Capers
This spread is fabulous on crackers or endive spears, and can also be used as a base layer for bruschetta. Or just spooned out of the jar. I like to make mine with giant green olives, little black Spanish olives, and either salt-cured Moroccan or gorgeous purple Kalamatas, but that’s just a serving suggestion: use whichever olive varieties you like best.
- 1/3 cup EACH of 3 different varieties of olives, but make sure that they have their pits removed. (You should have 1 heaping cup of olives in total.)
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until coarsely chopped and combined well. Adjust lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste, and transfer into your jars.
2. Roasted Strawberry-Balsamic Preserves
No special canning procedure needed: this stuff disappears before it could ever go bad. It’s beautiful on toast, stuffed into croissants, drizzled on pancakes, or just spooned right out of the jar. This will make a little over 1 cup of jam, so feel free to increase the quantity: you’ll want to save some for yourself.
- 2 pounds of strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced into halves
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 tablespoon high-quality dark balsamic vinegar
Toss strawberries and sugar in a large bowl until they’re mixed together thoroughly. Set aside and let them macerate for about half an hour. Heat your oven to 250 F.
Spread berries on a 9 x 12 inch baking dish and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. Pop the dish into the oven and bake for 90 to 120 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so. You’ll want to bake them until they’re a very dark red, and some of them may have dry edges.
Pour the berries into a bowl and squish them with a potato masher or fork. There will be a fair bit of liquid, so drain that off into a spare jar and set it aside for whatever nefarious purposes you have in mind.
Adjust flavors as desired (add more sugar if you like, or a pinch of spice, even some cracked black pepper…) and transfer into your upcycled jars.
3. Cashew and Mushroom Pate
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 1 tablespoon Earth Balance or other vegan margarine
- 4 cups sliced mushrooms (I like to mix portabellos with button, cremini, oyster, and wild mushies, but use whatever you have on hand.)
- 1/3 cup white or yellow onion, minced
- 1 green onion, slivered
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon onion salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon dry white wine
Toast your cashews in a dry frying pan until they’re just golden on all sides, then set aside to cool.
Heat your margarine on medium-high heat, then add your minced onion. Reduce heat to medium and stir until they onions go translucent. Add the mushrooms and crank the heat up a bit – you want to brown these babies a little. Once they start to brown, add your garlic, green onion, and spices. Stir well until nearly all liquid has evaporated and it’s all gloriously fragrant.
Pull the mushroom mixture to the sides of the pan and pour your wine onto the exposed pan to deglaze it. Use a spatula to move all the pan’s contents around, scraping gently at the pan’s bottom to release any bits of caramelized deliciousness. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
Add cashews and mushroom mixture to a food processor, then pulse gently until all is chopped up and combined well, but don’t puree it! You’ll want to keep some texture here. Season to taste with salt, add a generous twist of cracked pepper, stir well, and transfer to your jars.
It’s fabulous on toast squares and crackers, as well as cucumber rounds, celery sticks, and green pepper spears.
4. Salsa Verde
Fresh and bright with lime and cilantro flavors, this salsa is fabulous on tortilla chips, huevos rancheros, or scooped over a veggie burrito bowl.
- 6 medium or 8 small tomatillos, husks removed
- 1 jalapeño pepper, chopped finely (wear gloves!)
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro, removed from the stem and chopped finely
- 1 large green onion/scallion, sliced thinly
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Slice up those tomatillos and place them in a saucepan with the onions and jalapeño pepper. Add water until they’re just covered, and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the tomatillos have softened. Drain through a sieve and add to a blender.
Add the rest of the ingredients into the blender and puree on medium until the mixture is combined and ground well, but not liquefied. Adjust lime and salt as desired, and transfer into your jars.
5. Cherry Ketchup
Tangy, musky, and salty-sweet, ketchup adds a unique note to everything from veggie burgers to fries. This nightshade-free version gets a smoky kick from the chipotle peppers.
- 1 pound cherries, with pits removed
- 2 medium onions, diced
- 1.5 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced finely (or ground to paste in a mortar and pestle)
- A pinch of mustard powder
Process all ingredients in a blender until pureed smoothly.
Heat this mixture in a saucepan on medium until it starts to bubble. Turn down the heat and allow it to simmer gently for 40 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Once thickened and glossy, transfer into your jars and allow to cool.
Keep refrigerated until ready to use; this will stay good for 2 weeks if kept cool.
6. Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
- 1 and 1/2 cups raw hazelnuts with skins removed, roasted or toasted (to roast, bake in an oven at 350F for about 10 minutes, stirring often. To toast, roll them around in a pan on the stovetop at medium-high heat until browned and fragrant on all sides)
- 1/2 cup organic cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup almond milk or coconut cream
- 1/2 cup sugar or agave syrup (If using agave, use slightly less milk so your mixture doesn’t get too liquidy.)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of pink salt (optional)
Process hazelnuts in a blender or food processor until they’re smooth and creamy. You’ll need to stop occasionally to scrape down the sides, but continue the process until all have been pureed.
Add the coconut or almond milk, sugar, and vanilla to the nut mixture, and blend until well combined. Feel free to adjust the sugar content to attain the sweetness you desire. I like to add a tiny pinch of salt to enhance the chocolate flavor, but feel free to omit.
Scoop your choco-nutty spread into glass jars, and lick all spoons and spatulas clean. This will stay fresh for a week if refrigerated, but do you really think it’ll last that long?
7. Spiced Carrot Cake “Marmalade”
Marmalade is traditionally made with citrus rinds, but this one is like a gooey slice of carrot cake in a jar. It still has citrus notes, but also SO much more.
- 4 medium carrots, peeled and grated finely
- 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
- 1 can crushed pineapple with juice
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3 cups cane sugar
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1 packet (approximately 1 3/4 oz) powdered pectin
- 1/3 cup raisins, rehydrated (I rehydrate mine in hot rum, but hot water, juice, or apple cider work too)
Pour all ingredients except for the pectin, coconut, and raisins into a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Bring heat down to medium-low, pop the cover on it, and let that simmer down for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat, and stir in the powdered pectin. Place back on the heat and keep stirring for a couple of minutes until everything has combined well, then remove and set aside.
Add the coconut and raisins and stir to combine thoroughly. Spoon into your decorative jars and allow to cool before sealing. Since this hasn’t been water bath canned, it’s known as a “fridge jam”, and will stay fresh in the fridge for 2-3 weeks, if it lasts that long.
Hide in a closet with the spoons, ladles, and saucepan so no-one else will bug you to let them lick them clean.
8. Pickled Pepper Relish
This goes spectacularly well with baked vegan almond feta “cheese” spread, especially on crisp crackers.
- 4 sweet red peppers, seeded and chopped
- 1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 orange pepper, seeded and chopped chopped
- 1 mild poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
- 3 medium vidalia onions, chopped
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
Put all peppers and onion through a food processor until ground quite finely.
Scoop pepper-onion mixture into a saucepan with the 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, then drain. Keep in the saucepan, but set aside.
In a separate saucepan, dissolve your sugar in the vinegar on medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then add the salt. Stir to make sure that everything has dissolved evenly, and then pour that over the pepper-onion mixture.
Put that saucepan full of peppery deliciousness over med-high heat and bring back up to a boil, then reduce to low heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the liquid has reduced. Set aside to cool, and then transfer to your jars.
9. Caramelized Onion and Roasted Garlic Jam
- 1 head of garlic, roasted (Here’s a good how-to guide for roasting garlic.)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 large Vidalia (or other sweet) onions, diced or slivered
- 2 parsley sprigs
- 1 rosemary sprig
- 1 thyme sprig
- 1 cup sugar (I use turbinado, but coconut sugar, or refined sugar would work well for this. If you prefer to use agave syrup or honey, just reduce the mixture on low heat for a bit longer during the last step so the extra liquid evaporates.)
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar (dark or light)
- Sea salt
Heat the olive oil in a large pot until it starts to dance. Add the onions and turn the heat down to medium, and stir occasionally until the onions turn a lovely golden brown. This can take a while, but be patient! Properly caramelized onions are things of beauty.
Pop the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins, and mash them into a fine paste. I do this with a mortar and pestle, but you can do so with a fork or food processor as well.
Tie the herbs together with some kitchen twine or cotton string to make a bouquet garni, and add that to the onion mixture and stir it around until they release their fragrance. Sprinkle the sugar evenly all over the onions, but don’t stir! Allow the sugar to dissolve, and slowly increase the heat until a rich brown caramel begins to form. This should take approximately 10 minutes, but judge by appearance, rather than the clock.
Pull out the herb bouquet and set it aside to be composted. Add the balsamic vinegar and mashed garlic puree, and stir gently and regularly over low heat until the jam thickens, then remove from heat, season it with salt to taste, and set aside to cool. Once it’s cooled to room temperature, scoop it into clean glass jars, and refrigerate. Lick any spoons or other utensils that may still have remnants of jam on them.
This is best served at room temperature, but you might like to experiment with different temperatures just to make sure which you like best.
10. White Bean Spread with Sumac
Similar to hummus, only a bit thicker and without the tahini, this gets a great lemony kick from the ground sumac. If you can’t get your hands on sumac (it’s normally found in Middle Eastern grocery stores), you can substitute a bit of grated lemon rind and a pinch of smoked paprika.
- 1 1/4 cups canned white cannelini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice (or to taste)
- Pinch of powdered cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground sumac (or substitute)
- Salt to taste
Puree all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Adjust lemon and salt to taste, and transfer into your decorative jars. If desired, top with a sprig of parsley and a sprinkle of sumac or paprika before fastening the lid.
*Note: If you’d like to make a bean-free version of this, just use 1 1/4 cups of pureed roasted cauliflower instead.
How to Decorate Your Jars
Now that you’ve determined which comely comestible(s) you’ll be filling them with, it’s time to pay a bit of attention to the containers themselves. Jars with interesting shapes or textures are fun to use, so whenever you buy fancy jams, artichoke hearts, etc., be sure to keep that jar once you’ve finished with its contents.
One of the easiest ways to “pretty up” a jar is to decorate the lid. Some people like to paint theirs, but my favorite technique is to just cover it with a lovely piece of fabric and tie that in place with jute or other twine. You can find pre-cut squares of cotton quilting fabric at just about any craft or fabric shop, or you can recycle fabrics that you already have at home. If you have pinking shears, use those to create an interesting texture around the cut edge, if you like. Just cut the fabric so its diameter is about 2 inches greater than your lid, so you can tie it into place without worrying about slippage.
For the labels, you can buy some adhesive labels (or even full sheets of adhesive paper) at any place that sells office supplies, and then download some decorative templates online. You can find many free ones to play with, but there are also some gorgeous ones on Etsy and such that only cost a few dollars to download. Then, just write down the contents on the front label, and if you like, add another label with the “use by” date on the bottom of the jar, as mentioned earlier.
All images via Shutterstock