Sure, Thanksgiving is centered around family or friends. But it’s also centered around a meal, traditionally with a turkey at the center of the table.
If you’re vegan, that isn’t going to happen. But a plant-based Thanksgiving feast can be absolutely delicious without the big bird.
“I can kind of understand the pull of people recreating the tradition,” says Nava Atlas, author ofVegan Holiday Kitchen (Sterling). “But what I try to remind people is that Thanksgiving is not a festival of turkey; it was originally a harvest festival for settlers to thank the Native Americans for teaching them how to survive in a new land.
“They had fowl and fish, but corn, beans and squash were the real traditional foods.”
Atlas offers tips for creating a vegan Thanksgiving meal everybody can love.
Transitioning Away from Meat
New to vegan cooking, especially for a crowd (some of whom may be dedicated carnivores)? Atlas offers the following suggestions.
Keep Vegan Cooking Simple
You’re not in a Food Network cookoff, so don’t try for elaborate vegan dishes that you may not be able to pull together come crunch time. “I’m one for simplicity,” Atlas says. “Even from scratch, many recipes have only five to seven ingredients.”
Follow Your Tastes
Focus on meals you like, and veganize them. “Many vegan cookbooks make it look exotic and time-consuming,” Atlas notes. “So you already know you like pizza; it’s so easy to convert with non-dairy cheese. Just start with familiar flavors.”
Spice Up Your Meal
Fresh herbs and spices can make a real difference. Herbs such as thyme and basil are often available in small packages. And ditch those dusty, musty little tins rattling around your pantry in favor of new spices.
Squash: Star of the Show
For a main dish, Atlas tends to serve squash that can be stuffed with anything from a wild rice-and-mushroom blend to polenta and beans to mashed potatoes and peas. “It’s festive and easy to make, and everybody seems to like it,” she says.
For part of the stuffing, you can use parboiled specialty grains, such as farro or spelt, for quicker and easier cooking, and feel free to get creative with the other ingredients.
Another go-to main dish for Atlas is a vegan chili she calls Three Sisters Stew, made with a tomato base, diced sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, corn and red beans. “It comes together in a really flavorful way, and it’s familiar,” she says. “Almost everyone likes chili.”
A casserole, lasagna with non-dairy cheese or another pasta dish, and even a creative (non-dairy) pizza can also do the trick.
Other Dishes: A Little on the Side
The ultimate holiday comfort food goes vegan with Atlas’ polenta, vegan sausage and mushroom stuffing. Here the store-bought polenta tube replaces bread for a gluten-free version, or an apple walnut stuffing can be made with a bread base. “The stuffing usually starts with a pretty good onion saute, and then you throw everything else together,” she says. “It has to be carefully seasoned with rosemary and thyme.”
Vegan Mashed Potatoes
Atlas offers a time-saving hack called smashed potatoes with mushroom gravy. “Instead of peeling and dicing and mashing, you just bake the potatoes, cut them in half, and smash them with a potato masher, which makes all kinds of nooks and crannies for the gravy,” she says. Or microwave the potatoes to save time and oven space.
Instead of creating it from the turkey drippings, use a broth base. “Prepared vegetable broth makes a flavorful gravy,” Atlas says. “Add some cornstarch (nutritional yeast is optional) and red onion sauteed with two cups of mushrooms.
Vegetables for the Vegan Table
You can create a deliciously creamy base for a green bean casserole using silken tofu or white beans blended with fried onions, Atlas explains. She also adds mushrooms, fries up fresh onions for the topping and sprinkles it with breadcrumbs. Roasted brussels sprouts are another traditional Thanksgiving side, and a simple salad with dried cranberries and nuts offers a seasonal flair.
Don’t skimp on the beloved pumpkin pie. “That is probably the easiest to veganize,” Atlas says. “I use silken tofu combined with pureed pumpkin and it firms up while it bakes.” Top the pie with almond or coconut ice cream and yum!
Butternut Squash with Whole Wheat, Wild Rice & Onion Stuffing
4 medium-small butternut squashes (about 1 pound each)
3/4 cup raw wild rice, rinsed
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion
2–3 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups firmly packed torn whole wheat bread (use gluten-free bread if you'd like)
1tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp salt-free mixed season blend (such as Frontier or Mrs. Dash), or to taste
1/2 cup vegetable broth
A few sliced fresh sage leaves (or leave whole if small), optional
Juice of 1 small orange (about 1/4 cup; or omit and just use more vegetable broth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked wild rice with the sautéed onion and the remaining ingredients.
Yield: 8 servings
Source: Reprinted with permission fromVegan Holiday Kitchen © 2011 by Nava Atlas (Sterling Publishing)
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.