Whether you're a vegan or an omnivore, the menu you choose for Valentine's day can say as much about the state of your relationship as deciding whether to go out or stay in (hint: don't go out). Are you trying to set the mood with a light and elegant meal with fancy plating and candles? Do you like to get things heated up with cuisine from some hot and spicy corner of the world? Or maybe you're in the "we'd rather snuggle in PJs" phase where comfort from the cold February weather and a nice warm couch with each other's company are all you're craving.
No matter what you're looking for, there's a menu here for you.
An Elegant Vegan Menu That Pulls Out All the Stops
If you want to pull out the real restaurant-quality show-stoppers, this is the menu for you. Start with this Cream of Mushroom Soup With Crispy Shiitake Chips that has tons of mushroom flavor, and a silky-smooth texture, without a drop of dairy. Next it's this Miso-Marinated Portobello Carpaccio, a take on classic carpaccio that actually packs more flavor than the beefy original (those thin-sliced roasted portobellos are flavor sponges).
Pasta may seem like the easy way out, but there's so much more than just pasta going on in this Sweet Potato and Mushroom Cannelloni with Braised Escarole and Butter Beans. Crisp, creamy, and packed with contrasting flavors and textures, it's a dish that's built to impress.
I like to serve it with a nice crunchy salad on the side like this Carrot and Rye Berry Salad with Celery, Cilantro, and Marcona Almonds, or this Roasted Chickpea and Kale Salad With Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette.
The soup, carpaccio, and salads can all be made fully ahead of time, while the canneloni can be prepared up until the point it goes into the oven. Oh, and so can this banana coconut ice cream. Just saying.
Get Your Fires Started With a Red Hot Mexican Menu
I love chilies, and so does my wife, which makes Mexican food a staple in our date night dinners. For this menu, we start with this Roasted Carrot Salad With Peanut-Sesame Mole, a dish that not only combines complex flavors like peanuts, chocolate, pumpkin seeds, and a slew of spices, but also looks really really pretty on the plate (and yes, looks DO matter).
For the main course, these Spinach and Hominy Enchiladas With Spicy Cashew Cream may seem a little complicated at first, but the good news is that it can all be made in advance, which means all you've got to do is pull it out of the oven (browned and bubbly cashew cream and all), serve, and wait for the compliments to come rolling in.
Dishes this complex don't really need sides, and I'm sure that some of you may take issue with recommending beans on Valentine's day, but damned if these Spicy Vegan Refried Beans aren't tasty as all get out.
For dessert, Avocado Lime Ice Cream is easy, creamy, and delicious and fits the theme nicely. It's the kind of dessert which is gonna seal the deal, meaning that you should have all the ingredients on hand to make some Chilaquiles With Pepitas, Charred Corn, and Black Beans for breakfast on the morning of the 15th.
A Sichuan Feast That's Hot but not Heavy
Chinese food has a reputation for putting you straight to sleep, but it doesn't have to be that way. Vegetable-based dishes that aren't heavy on starches make a great meal that is packed with fiery flavor (spicy foods are perfect on Valentine's day to get the blood and adrenaline flowing). Start with a couple of these Steamed Buns with Simmered Daikon and Shiitake, Pickled Bean Sprouts, and Spicy Mayonnaise, then move onto a bit of Dan Dan Noodles, which we make 100% vegan with the help of crisp, finely chopped mushrooms.
So far, these two dishes can be made pretty far ahead. The trick with a good Chinese menu is not to overload the work onto your wok at the last minute. Even a quick stir-fry can keep you in the kitchen for quite a while if you're making a couple of them. Luckily, both this Vegan Mapo Tofu (one of my favorite recipes ever and a dish that I genuinely prefer over the meat-filled traditional version) and these Sichuan-Style Braised Eggplant With Pickled Chilies and Garlic (Yu Xiang Qie Zi) can be made ahead and reheated in a pot or in the microwave just before serving.
That frees up your time to stir fry-up a batch of this show-stopping Crispy Kung Pao Tofu.
Vegan Pasta Dishes That Won't Weigh You Down
Start off with a big ol' bowl of heartwarming comfort with this Polenta and Kale Soup, which uses miso paste to add savory umph. Next, move on to this Marinated Kale and Chickpea Salad With Sumac Onions, the perfect salad for date night because it can be made 100% in advance, dressing and all. All you've got to do is toss it gently, place it in a bowl, and watch your partner swoon.
Then we move on to the main course: Zucchini and Roasted Tomatoes With Pasta and Dried Olive Flavor Shake. By reversing the ratios in a typical Italian pasta dish, the vegetables become the true stars with the pasta playing a supporting role. (Doing so also makes the dish lighter, an important advantage on a night like tonight.) The real kicker is the Dried Olive and Miso Shake that gets stirred into the dish and sprinkled on top. It's so darn flavorful you may find yourself eating it straight from the spoon.
For dessert, look no further than this Raspberry-Campari Sorbet. Its juicy, bittersweet flavor makes it the perfect refresher.*
* Strict vegans may have avoided Campari in the past since it used to be made with carmine, a coloring extract made from beetles. But Campari's current recipe is 100% animal-free.
Snuggling Your Thing? Comfort Classics Will Put You in the Mood
Some nights we have plans after dinner. Other nights, all we want to do is curl up on the couch with some warm drinks and good conversation. This is the menu for those types of nights. A belly full of comfort food will always put me in a happy mood.
15-Minute Creamy Tomato Soup is almost as fast as opening up a can and has the advantage of tasting fresher and more balanced (and it's 100% vegan!). The trick is to emulsify the soup with some bread and olive oil to get a rich, creamy texture that lets the tomato flavor stand out.
I'm really happy with this vegan cheese sauce recipe. So happy, in fact, that I'm suggesting you make not one, but two dishes with it. Start with some Cheesy Baked Potatoes With Broccoli, then move on to a big ol' bowl of Stovetop-Style Macaroni and Cheese. It's glossy, gooey, creamy, and delicious, and has just enough of that familiar blue box flavor to put a smile on your face.
Nothing says comfort like carbs with carbs, so this Easy No-Knead Olive-Rosemary Focaccia With Pistachios has a place on this menu as well.