Here’s a classic from 2010.
Did you know that turkeys weren’t served at the first Thanksgiving? Or the second? The tradition didn’t begin until three years had passed, so a vegetarian Thanksgiving is actually the most historically accurate and traditional way to celebrate our gratitude for a bountiful harvest.
The idea of celebrating our harvest is really key in creating a delicious Thanksgiving feast. Elevating and enjoying the amazing autumnal foods is the goal in my Thanksgiving menu. Since flavor primarily comes from fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, a vegetarian approach accomplishes this beautifully. Last year two newbie veggies were invited to my table. They both expressed how much more my menu tasted like Thanksgiving than the meat-based meal they were used to.
Over the years I have tried many different veggie recipes for Thanksgiving. Even though vegetarianism opens the door of culinary exploration, my pallet appreciates the traditional tastes of Thanksgiving. I always reference Simon and Garfunkel when choosing my herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Over the course of this week, I will share with you my beloved recipes. To begin, here is a simple guide to help you plan your own menu, so you can pick and choose my offerings and your family favorites.
Vegetarian Thanksgiving Guide
Not being bound by the turkey tradition really opens up the doors of creativity. I must admit, I have never tried Tofurkey. My approach to vegetarianism is to use plant-based recipes with whole foods, rather than meat substitute products. Soy that is supposed to mimic turkey invites the meat comparison and is bound to feel inauthentic and unsatisfying. I prefer to prepare something that embodies our harvest. Here are some ideas:
Harvest Nut Loaf: This is my very favorite and I will give you my recipe. The richness of the nuts scream holiday and the herbs and spices speak to Thanksgiving specifically. I wish I had a more elegant name for this dish, because it truly is extraordinary.
Stuffed Acorn Squash: Roasted acorn squash stuffed with a combination of wild rice, dried fruits, herbs and beans is another great choice. Serve each guest half of a filled squash for a lovely presentation.
Harvest Lasagna: For an Italian spin, make a butternut squash lasagna with caramelized onions and homemade applesauce.
Three Sisters: Prepare the traditional Native American stew of corn, beans, and squash that was served at the first Thanksgiving. You can google recipes.
Just because you’re not killing and stuffing a bird, doesn’t mean you should forgo this classic Thanksgiving dish. You can adapt almost any recipe you like by using vegetable broth instead of chicken stock. (I would stay away from adapting a sausage-based recipe as it probably relies too much upon the spices in the sausage for flavoring.) I have to say, my Elegant Apricot Dressing with Crisy Sage Leaves recipe rocks! It’s a combination of my grandmother’s traditional sage (updated with fresh sage, instead of her powdered canister of spice) and my uncle’s recipe featuring apricots soaked in Grand Marnier. Amazing! Best yet, it’s topped with crispy fried sage leaves that are so delicious I make two batches, because I always gobble up one in the kitchen. No apologizes, cook’s privilege.
Depending on how many people are enjoying your feast (and how many people are helping to prepare it), you can choose either a sweet potato dish or a squash dish. Sweet potatoes don’t need added sugar to make them sweet, so don’t go overboard. If you love a sweet, gooey topping that’s fine, but leave the actual potaotes without added sugars. I have a great recipe for Sweet Potato Puree with Maple Meringue. Roasted acorn squash rings are terribly easy and elegant if you want a savory orange side.
Is it too much to ask that a green vegetable actually remains green by the time it reaches the table? The traditional green bean casserole is so laden with a heavy cream sauce, you hardly get to taste the beans. A simple steam and flavoring with lemon or orange zest, sea salt and black pepper would be a vibrant relief from what is ordinarily a rather gray casserole. Brussels sprouts are another option that has become trendy with foodies. Can you believe it? Brussels Sprouts are trendy? I have a great leafy recipe for them called Park Avenue Brussels Sprouts. Broccoli or kale sauteed with garlic and seasoned with nutmeg are also lovely, easy and simple sides.
No Can! No way, no how. The sauce is easy to make. Nana’s recipe was a simple sugar version. I kicked up the flavor by adding orange and apple in my Citrus Cranberry Sauce. It’s still very traditional, but just a touch more vibrant.
Gravy doesn’t need to come from meat drippings. I have a lovely Wild Mushroom Gravy that is earthy and rich. Better yet, it doesn’t need to be made at the last minute, unlike the non-vegetarian version.
My Irish family may kill me, but I think I’m skipping these this year. I just won’t have enough people to justify a million side dishes. I will give you a great recipe for Pan-Roasted Rosemary Potatoes. T0 make excellent mashed potatoes, add 1 or 2 heads of roasted garlic to your mash. Butter and a splash of heavy cream make them rich. Add chives, black pepper and a lot of sea salt to brighten the dish.
Pumpkin and Apple Dessert
Pies, tarts, cheesecakes, cozies or crisps. Whatever version you want to make is fine, but Thanksgiving needs at least one apple and at least one pumpkin dessert. Cranberry desserts and pecan pies are also popular, but make sure you get your pumpkin and apple on the table. Please either make them yourself or ask a guest to make them. They are so much better homemade. I have a great recipe for Pumpkin Spice Mini Cakes with Orange-Maple Glaze and another for Apple Tartlets. Growing up in Washington State has given me with a plethora of excellent choices, but I chose this for it’s simplicity and elegance.
Notice how I didn’t mention these first? So much work goes into Thanksgiving dinner that appetizers seem like an afterthought. They really shouldn’t take much effort. A simple veggie tray, hummus, pita wedges and marinated olives are just fine. Alternatively, a cheese plate with red grapes is also nice. Choose something easy that won’t encourage people to fill up before the main event.
A Note About Timing
Almost everything can be made in advance and there isn’t the stress of a turkey taking up an entire oven for hours to worry about. Vegetarian meals require more chopping and prep work, but less actual cooking time. I make the pies and cranberries the night before and sometimes I prepare the nut loaf. I also leave out my bread cubes to dry and like to get at least half of my chopping done. A good friend and some good wine make this a lot of fun. On Thanksgiving day itself, I simply go about finishing the meal. Everything holds beautifully. Greens are the last thing I cook, because I like them nice and fresh.
Under no circumstances whatsoever does the cook participate in the clean-up.
Please email me questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving.