What does Thanksgiving mean to you? For most of us there’s giving thanks and sharing a sumptuous, satisfying feast with friends and family. And for a growing number of celebrants, that family-friendly feast does not include a turkey centerpiece or any animal products.
More than two percent of Americans consider themselves vegan, drawn to a veggie-rich, dairy-free diet for health or for ethical reasons. Eliminating animal products from everyday meals may be easy enough but what about the holidays? Can vegan Thanksgiving fare leave diners satiated and full enough? Definitely.
Here are a few suggestions for a Thanksgiving spread free of animal products:
Make the most of seasonal fare.
Nutritious seasonal vegetables supply the fall palette and flavors we associate with the autumnal celebration. Including a variety of sweet potatoes, squash, apples, walnuts and cranberries in the menu pleases the palate. To round out the meal, offer a variety of carbs, such as sweet potatoes, turnips, and mashed potatoes plus a rice or couscous casserole. Fill halved squashes with crumbled bread, apples and raisins and bake in the oven. Roast up root vegetables such as carrots and turnips with olive oil and create a circular centerpiece of veggie goodness.
Explore seasonal seasonings.
Add flavor to your savory dishes with fresh thyme, sage, oregano and parsley. Create desserts that dazzle with ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg.
Convert the classics.
There’s something to be said for tradition but most traditional Thanksgiving dishes can easily and tastily be converted. Potatoes can be mashed with veggie stock, vegan spread, rosemary and garlic. No need to forego stuffing because you’re not roasting a bird. Cook it separately. Stuffing can consist of rice or bread or cornbread with sauteed onions, pine nuts and raisins or cranberries and walnuts
A hearty soup can add substance to your holiday spread. Consider a curried sweet potato, cauliflower or pumpkin soup, a squash soup blended with pears or a corn chowder.
Don’t diss dessert.
Chocolate cheesecake. Coconut creme pie. Carrot cake. Apple pie. You can also find Thanksgiving cookies to buy that’s made without animal products. Making them vegan at home only involves simple adjustments and substitutions, which you can learn about in vegan dessert cookbooks, such as My Sweet Vegan.
Think turkey substitutes. Or go wild!
There are vegan turkey substitutes made from tofu or seitan to please those who miss the traditional bird. Some are even prepared in the shape of a turkey so they can sub as a centerpiece. Another option is to serve a dish that supplies protein via nuts, such as a wild rice pilaf featuring pecans and dried fruit or a magical mushroom pate made with walnuts.
Our recommendation: Vegan Wild Mushroom Pate from Sylvan Perez of Gezellig Catering. The paté can be used as an appetizer or the main dish. Or serve it up at a meal that caters to both meat eaters and vegans.
3 – 5 cloves garlic minced
2 shallots, finely diced
8 oz. Shiitake, sliced
8 oz assorted seasonal, wild mushrooms, diced
4 oz. white button mushrooms, roughly chopped
½ to 1 cup breadcrumbs
⅓ cup walnuts, finely chopped
¼ cup vegetable stock
⅓ cup brandy (cognac or sherry brandy preferred)
Few sprigs thyme
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar (for finishing)
Heat a couple of tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan, add shallots, toss to coat completely with oil. Cook until translucent. Add all the mushrooms, a touch more olive oil and season with salt and pepper, a little thyme. When the mushrooms begin to soften, add the minced garlic and cook until soft. Raise the heat slowly until mixture begins to sizzle.
De-glaze the pan with the brandy (you can use white or red wine or extra stock if you don’t want to use alcohol) and lower the heat. Add the walnuts just after the brandy dissipates. Just as soon as the pan starts to sizzle again, add the stock for a second deglaze. Lower the heat and cook until most of the moisture is absorbed/evaporated. Season with salt, pepper, and more thyme. Add a teaspoon more oil.
When a little cooler, add breadcrumbs, starting with ½ cup and gradually adding more until you get a slightly less stiff than dough consistency. Pulse in a food processor with oil as needed until a smooth, uniform texture is achieved. Place it into the container you plan to serve it in and chill overnight until it sets.
Before serving, finish by drizzling some thick aged balsamic vinegar and olive oil on the paté and top with a sprig of thyme.
One last thing:
Just for the record, if anyone accuses your vegan spread of not being traditional, you can point out that first Thanksgiving meal eaten by the pilgrims was probably nothing like the meals served today. To be historically accurate, you might have to stick to bread, corn and some game which does not include turkey. Holiday meals were meant to be reinvented.