Your Very Vegetarian Guide to Thanksgiving

It’s November, Persephoneers! Chances are you’re writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, remember, remembering the 5th, and if you’re in the US, you’re possibly starting to think about that up and coming feast we like to celebrate toward the end of the month: Thanksgiving. This is the first of a 4-part series on how to cook traditional Thanksgiving dishes for non-omnivorous lifestyles.

First up in our series are the vegetarians. Omnivores tend to cringe when I talk about vegetarian Thanksgiving, because to them we’re missing the whole point of the Thanksgiving feast: the big, dead bird in the middle of the table.

Picture of Sesame Street Characters gathered around a dinner table with what looks like a roast turkey with Big Bird's legs sticking out of the bottom and a banner that reads Happy Thanksgiving.
No, not THAT big, dead bird.

To be honest, in our own (vegetarian) home, we skip turkey replacements because we think Tofurky is kind of gross and there’s so much other food that we love. But if that’s your thing, most major grocers carry that gelatinous, kind of sad excuse for a turkey in either the frozen section or in the special vegetarian refrigerated section.

For the rest of you:

Mushroom Gravy: Melt 1/2 c. butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When it starts sizzling, add 1 lb. sliced mushrooms: any old kind you want will do! Stir for about 10 minutes, until the mushroom juices have evaporated and the mushrooms have begun to brown (not blacken). Stir in about 1/3 c. flour (any kind will do; it’s working as a thickener eventually, so if you aren’t using wheat flour, stick to the less-sweet varieties) and reduce your heat to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Whisk in 1 c. of a quart of cold vegetable (or for a more poultry-ish flavor, no-chicken) broth, and when incorporated, stir in the rest. Add a couple tablespoons of cream (or soy milk if you’re of that persuasion), 1/2 tsp. thyme, season with salt and pepper to taste, and there you go. If you want it thicker, heat and reduce to your desired thickness. If you want it thinner, add more broth. The big thing is breaking up the possible clumps of flour that were stuck to your mushrooms. A whisk or fork can do that just fine. Vegans, replace butter with either vegan butter or about half that amount of olive oil to cook the mushrooms in, replace the cream with soy- or rice-milk.

Stuffing: First, anyone who tells you you can’t have stuffing that’s vegetarian because you have to cook it in the bird eats dry turkey and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Cooking stuffing in the bird ruins the turkey and isn’t great for the stuffing overall either. Cook it separately either way, and I promise it will turn out amazing. Here’s what I do: I make a loaf of Irish Soda Bread* a few days before Thanksgiving, slice half of it into thinnish slices, and let them dry out a little for a day (the rest I reserve for the Thanksgiving feast as bread for dipping in gravy, or for after-Thanksgiving sandwiches). Then I cut those slices into small squares, think croutons, and bake them in the oven at about 425° F for about 15 minutes: enough to toast them. I combine them in a casserole with a quart of vegetable broth, half a chopped onion, 2-3 chopped stalks of celery, and about a tablespoon each of salt, white pepper, thyme, and marjoram. You can mix in walnuts or pecans (I am not a chestnut fan and think they’re too damn much work to prepare), cranberries, and/or peppers for some spice if you like, but stir the whole thing together, dot with butter, and bake at about 350° F for 40-50 minutes. When you’re done, if it’s too dry, sprinkle a little more broth, tablespoons at a time, until you achieve the consistency you desire. For a less dense stuffing, try cornbread, prepped the same way. Vegans, choose a vegan-friendly bread and don’t worry too much about dotting with butter. You can drizzle a little of your favorite oil sparingly over the top if you’d like the nice browning.

Mashed Potatoes: You can use any potato you like. I love red potatoes with the skin still on. Any potatoes you want, just cut them into about 1-2″ cubes, boil completely submerged until they softly crumble at the slightest pressure from a fork, and drain. Add to this pile of boiled potatoes 1/4 c. butter, softened or cut into small pieces, 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic if desired, and about 1/4-1/2 c. cream. Mash with a potato masher until you reach the consistency you desire; add more cream for smoother potatoes and keep mashing. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For vegan options, try vegenaise instead of butter and increase the quantity of milk, substituting soy milk instead.

I am pretty much making an assumption that vegetarians can handle their own rolls, celery sticks, cranberry sauce, and pie. Am I missing anything? Let me know in the comments and I will gladly supply a recipe!

Next week, we’ll be covering Thanksgiving from the gluten-free perspective. Yes, I’ll tell you how to roast a turkey then. Bon appetit!

*Will happily supply this secret family recipe to anyone who requests it because screw secret recipes.

By Meghan Young Krogh

Meghan had a number of quality writing mentors over the course of her education, which just goes to show that you can't blame the teacher for the way the student turns out. Team Oxford Comma represent.

16 replies on “Your Very Vegetarian Guide to Thanksgiving”

While my family is not vegetarian, we did have vegetarians over for Thanksgiving before, so that’s where this is coming from. In addition to turkey, we had a vegetarian main dish that was a vegetable pie. It had phyllo dough and lots of vegetables. Fancy pie!

Also, my mom’s take on stuffing involves apples, and crasins (dried cranberries), and golden raisins, and you can use apple juice instead of broth. Or vegetable broth. I forget exactly. She makes it up as she goes along, so…anything will work!

Not to forget the noodle pudding. If you’re not Jewish, you will think I am a nut. It’s not a pudding that is soft, it’s more like…um…a cheesy pudding with noodles in it? More noodles than chessy stuff? And it’s sweet. It also has raisins in it. I love it. If interested, I can give out that recipe!

Cashew loaf! I’ve served this to a group of veggie and omnivore friends two Thanksgivings in a row, and it’s a huge hit even with the meat eaters.

Brown a couple of sweet onions and a bunch of garlic in butter (or olive oil if you’re making it vegan) and toss your favorite savory herb mix in once the onions start to brown. Chop 3c of raw cashews in your food processor, and mix the browned onions & garlic, chopped cashews, and a cup and a half of bread crumbs. Add enough vegetable or mushroom broth to make it stick together well, about 1/2 – 1c, salt to taste, put it in a loaf pan or a 9″ cake pan, and bake for 30 minutes at 400 F.

You can throw mushrooms in there too — but I like those better in the gravy, myself.

Ohh man! I need to plan a menu soon for my vegetarian thanksgiving. Last year’s went like this: baby greens with cranberry vinaigrette, herbed bread, orecchiette in pumpkin-mushroom sauce, and cranberry and pumpkin ice creams for dessert. The year before involved stuffed acorn squash. This year will need something new. New main dish! New ice cream flavors! Woo!

Pasta sauce is from the following link, and oh, it’s actually pumpkin parmesan, but there are plenty of mushrooms, hence my memory.

I changed up the pasta, used veggie broth instead of chicken, and tossed the mushrooms in the food processor for a smoother sauce, myself.

As for the rest, you’re out of luck! I can’t find the squash recipe, and the rest were just improvised.

Though I’ll add one more suggestion to make up for it: mini-pies. Nutella. Mini-pies. Take your pie crust (store-bought roll-out kind is fine) and use a cookie cutter or glass to cut out smaller circles of dough. Place a dollop of nutella in the center of one. Place another on top, and seal the edges with your fingers or a fork. Make as many as you want/can, and then bake until the dough is all nice and golden brown, or whatever, with temperature help from the directions on the package. This also works with pretty much any other filling you want. Squash year I made mini-pies of nutella, apple, and pumpkin.

Have you had Quorn’s fake turkey roast? While I liked Tofurkey’s fake turkey well enough, I think Quorn’s roast approximates the texture of chicken or turkey a lot better and it tastes less processed/fake. My parents became vegetarians a while after I did, and last year my mom cooked a Quorn roast with carrots and leeks and my dad made some gravy to go over it, and it was really tasty! I do agree with you, though, that there’s so much other Thanksgiving-y food that’s awesome that I really wouldn’t miss a turkey replacement – at least three different tater dishes, green bean casserole, homemade bread, pumpkin pie…now I’m hungry!

Ha, I hate pickles and olives so much (no, I don’t know what’s wrong with me), the only thing I ever ate off my mother’s “relish plate” was celery with peanut butter.

Casseroles are amazing. I’m not much of a sweet potato-with-marshmallow fan because I think they work so well with savories, so I often cook sweet potatoes as medallioned slices and top with chopped walnuts, goat cheese, bell peppers, celery. Also, potatoes gratin is a favorite in our home.

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