Thanksgiving dilemma: what to feed vegetarians

Not on everyone’s menu
photo: knm3290 via Flickr

Say the word “Thanksgiving” and the first thing that comes to mind is “Turkey”.  It’s so ingrained in our culture, I’m sure even vegans think “turkey”.  But of course, they won’t eat it.  Which bring up an increasingly common dilemma at the Thanksgiving table: what to feed the vegetarians and vegans.  I’ve got some ideas to help make life easier for the hosts and the non-turkey guests, so everyone is happy and peace is maintained.

Here are some ground rules I go by:

  1. No “tofurkey“.  If you’re going to be vegetarian or vegan, and give up meat, why eat pretend meat?  I really dislike fake food.
  2. No soyburgers.  See #1.  Not to mention, most vegans and vegetarians already eat their fill of soy burgers every week.  They’re not special.  Thanksgiving should be special, so I don’t sub soy burgers for turkey
  3. Thanksgiving is one meal.  Vegans won’t suddenly go protein deficient if one meal is primarily vegetables and grains.
  4. If the idea of cooking another dish specially to please a vegetarian guest is creating too much stress, I just don’t bother.  Again, everyone will survive.  There are plenty of other non-meat dishes on the table.
  5. Judgmental comments about the food choices or avoidances of anyone is banned.  This also applies to gluten-free, paleo, low carb and calorie counters.  No calorie counting at Thanksgiving dinner, or at least not out loud.

What to serve?  Vegetarians and most vegans can eat plenty of the other traditional foods, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberries, vegetables, infamous green bean casserole, salad, bread and even stuffing if it wasn’t cooked inside the bird.  Apple or other fruit pies are good for everyone, and vegetarians should have no trouble with pumpkin pie.  So if you’re not inclined to go out of your way for a non-turkey-eating guest, there are plenty of other options.

If you want to make a special dish, or if your entire Thanksgiving dinner will be vegetarian, there are some other delicious possibilities that make use of seasonal produce:

Vegetable gratin: a basic gratin is a mix of vegetables in a creamy sauce, baked in a shallow dish with a topping of breadcrumbs and grated cheese.  Perfect for vegetarians.  For vegans, you could make the sauce with plain (non-sweetened) soy milk, and omit cheese in the topping, perhaps using a mix of ground nuts and seasoned croutons instead.  Gratins aren’t just about potatoes, although they make a nice addition.  Broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, green beans, onions, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, yams and even some greens like kale or chard will work.  Sun dried tomatoes will add intense flavor.  Use 2-4 different vegetables for color and variety.  For example: onions, mushrooms, kale and Yukon Gold potatoes.

Baked Squash: winter squash is in season, so make good use of all the different varieties.  Halve 2-3 different types, like acorn, butternut, Blue Hubbard, Delicata or buttercup.  Scrape out the seeds and brush oil on the cut sides.   Turn the halves cut side down on a baking sheet that’s lined with parchment.  Bake until a fork pierces the skin easily, from 30 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the squash.  You can cut the cooked halves into wedges toss with olive oil and seasonings and sprinkle with grated hard cheese or ground nuts.

Grilled Vegetable Kabobs: Skewer chunks of potato, sweet potato, peppers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, onion or even chunks of fruit like apple, pineapple or underripe pears.  Brush with oil and grill until done.

Vegetable Pot Pies: You can make little individual pies or one 9-inch one, using homemade or purchased crust.  Roast a variety of vegetables like celery, brussel sprouts, broccoli, potatoes, carrots, onions, rutabagas, turnips or sweet potatoes until barely done.  Frozen green beans, peas and corn can also be used after thawing.  Line your pie pans with crust.  Load vegetables in, so they pile up above the rims, depending on your preferences.  Pour a gravy-type sauce over, made with meatless broth and seasoned according to your taste.  You can make this a creamy or cheesy sauce if no one is vegan.  Top with crust, poke holes in the crust, put the pan(s) on a baking sheet and bake until bubbly and the crust is done, according to crust directions.  Another variation: individual deep dish veggie pot pies with a bread crumb/nut/cheese topping instead of pie crust.

Stuffed peppers or squash: There are lots of recipe possibilities for these.  Fillings can include grains, vegetables, crumbled tofu, nuts, cheese, breadcrumbs and beans.  Peppers are great for stuffing.  Or use small winter squash, like Delicata or Buttercup, halved and seeded.  Or zucchini, if you can find it at this time of year.  For a grander looking dish, you can use a larger squash that feeds everyone, such as Hubbard or even a pie pumpkin.

If your entire meal will be turkey-free, add some whole grain dishes, like a barley pilaf or quinoa salad.  Round out the meal with leafy green salads, bread, roasted potatoes, vegetable crudites, cranberry relish and, of course, pie.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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