Plant-based chef Michael LaCharite makes corned tempeh for his St. Patrick’s Day boiled dinner. Photo by Michael LaCharite

For almost a decade, Robyn Renee Gray of Old Orchard Beach has been making vegan boiled dinner and hot cross buns every St. Patrick’s Day for her husband and son. She has plenty of company.

In my informal survey of Maine vegetarians, a plant-based boiled dinner of cabbage and root vegetables is a top go-to dish to honor the holiday, which is celebrated Sunday.

The pickling spices traditionally used to corn the beef for boiled dinner, among them peppercorns, cloves, mustard seeds and bay leaves, are what give New England boiled dinner its distinctive flavor. Pickling spices are also how Maine’s veg community is able to reproduce the taste of this traditionally meat-heavy dish.

“I love the way the corned beef spices flavor the vegetables,” Gray said of her plant-based boiled dinner recipe. She adds peppercorns, bay leaves, coriander seeds, cloves and cinnamon, along with vegetable stock and apple cider vinegar, to her boiled dinner pot. If she’s in a rush, she makes the dish in a Crock-Pot. Either way, she serves it with her homemade vegan cream sauce.

Often, but not always, a plant-based stand-in for corned beef is added to the pot or cooked separately. Seitan, tofu and tempeh are common. Vegan sausage is also popular. Three Dollar Deweys in Portland is serving a vegan bangers and mash special this weekend, featuring Beyond Sausage and mashed potatoes topped with Deweys’ mushroom gravy and roasted red onions.

Plant-based chef Michael LaCharite of Topsham thinks tempeh marinated in beet juice and pickling spices and then boiled briefly on the stovetop is the best stand-in for corned beef. “Over the years, I’ve tried all sorts of things to simulate corned beef,” said LaCharite, who has experimented with corned tofu and corned seitan. “But I think this tempeh version is the best and the most nutritious.”


LaCharite, who previously worked for Tootie’s Tempeh in Biddeford, cooks his corned tempeh separately from the vegetables and then plates them together.

Gracie Hall celebrates St. Patrick’s Day with a vegetarian boiled dinner made with tofu in place of the traditional corned beef. Photo by Gracie Hall

Gracie Hall of Windsor prefers using tofu. Like LaCharite, she cooks the tofu separately. After slicing it into quarter-inch slabs, she marinates it for a few hours in a mix of pickling spices and Guinness. Then she bakes the tofu until it is crispy on the edges and serves it with the boiled dinner vegetables. “I hate feeling left out when everyone is enjoying corned beef,” Hall said.

Many people serve soda bread instead of hot cross buns, and accompany their boiled dinner with a side of vegetarian baked beans or vegan colcannon. I’m a fan of colcannon, and make a simple plant-based version. I mash unpeeled, cooked potatoes with some of the salted cooking water, soy milk and a pat or two of plant-based butter. Then I scoop the potatoes into bowls, which I top with caramelized onions and quick-seared cabbage.

Some people pair their vegetarian boiled dinner with a glass of Guinness (vegan since 2017), a shot of almond milk Baileys, a cup of Irish tea, or a green oatmilk mocktail. Gray’s family saves room for a special holiday dessert.

“We like to finish the meal with shamrock shakes,” said Gray, who mixes one pint of Oatly vanilla ice cream with one ounce of Torani brand green mint syrup and roughly a cup of plant-based milk.

It’s a sweet way to finish a plant-based meal celebrating St. Patrick.


Robyn Renee Gray’s New England Boiled Dinner

1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
6 cups vegetable stock or 6 vegetarian bouillon cubes and 6 cups water
3 medium turnips, peeled and quartered
2 pounds red potatoes, quartered
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound pearl onions, peeled, or 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 head cabbage, cut into eighths with stem intact

1 cup vegan sour cream (such as Forager brand)
1 tablespoon grated horseradish
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste

To make the boiled dinner, combine the spices and vinegar with the stock in a large stock pot or slow cooker. Add the turnips, potatoes and carrots.

Stovetop: bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer on medium low for 20-30 minutes. Add the onions and cabbage and simmer for 20 minutes more, or until the vegetables reach desired doneness.

Crock-Pot: Cook on low for 4-6 hours, then add cabbage and onions and cook on high for 1 hour, or until desired tenderness is reached.


To make the Cream Sauce, combine all the ingredients in a bowl.

Remove the vegetables from the broth to a platter and serve with the Cream Sauce. Strain and serve the broth separately.

Michael LaCharite’s Corned Tempeh

You can use 4 teaspoons of pickling spices in place of the combined allspice, peppercorns, and mustard, coriander and dill seeds. Plan ahead, as the tempeh will need to marinate for 4 hours before it’s cooked.

Serves 4

8 ounces tempeh
2/3 cup beet juice, strained from (15 ounce) can cut beets
1/4 cup malt vinegar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon dill seeds
1/2 teaspoon allspice berries


Cut the tempeh in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into diagonals from top to bottom to create maximum surface area.

Combine all the ingredients except the tempeh in a pan. Stir to mix. Add the tempeh and cover. Refrigerate and marinate for 4 hours, stirring often to coat the tempeh.

Bring the mixture to a simmer on the stovetop and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the seeds from tempeh before serving.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

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