Whether you’ve recently had a Jonathan Safran Foer moment or you’re just trying to impress that cute vegan you keep running into at the co-op, deciding to go turkey-free on Turkey Day is no longer a dirty-hippie move that forces you to eat sad meat substitutes and wonder about your life choices. In fact, with the recent backlash against industrial meat processing, it’s quite the de rigueur choice; even if you’re just taking a brief respite from your normal carnivorous ways, eating plants is a nice way to give thanks for the bounty of the harvest without feeling like you’re contributing to the downfall of the American food system. To ease the transition, here are a few ways you can make your feast just as (if not more!) delicious as your normal poultry-centric fare. (And if you miss the post-meal tryptophan coma, just pop a few Benadryl and proceed with your normal nap/dessert/nap/football/nap/drinking routine.)
Avoid the fake meat
The surest way to mess up a vegetarian Thanksgiving is to attempt to substitute processed bean curd for real meat. You wouldn’t serve spam in place of your Christmas ham, so serving Tofurkey instead of the real deal will just make you wonder why you didn’t pre-order a 24-lb bird and be done with it. Instead of trying to recreate the show without the main attraction, adjust your perspective to focus on the cornucopia of veggies that can be stuffed, grilled, broiled and delicious-ified to become the stars of your cruelty-free dinner. If you’re jonesing for something meaty and autumnal, serve hearty stuffed eggplant or squash as your main dish. If you feel adventurous, then take your Thanksgiving global with Indian, Italian or Middle-eastern veggie dishes that are filling and veggie-centric. Round out your menu with dishes like roasted autumn vegetables and a wild rice pilaf (substitute veggie broth for chicken stock) for a bountiful, filling spread.
Utilize the quintessential flavors and colors of Thanksgiving
Chef Gary Woo of E & O Trading Company in San Francisco suggests “highlight[ing] grains and seasonal produce… breads with dipping sauces, chickpea curry, lemony lentils and a saffron rice pilaf” to showcase the flavors of fall, as well as using “warm earth colors … in table decor and menu” to set the Thanksgiving mood for guests from the moment they walk through your door. A trip to the farmer’s market (or even a conversation with the produce stockists at your local supermarket) will tell you what’s in season in your area of the country, which should inform what dishes you serve and what flavors you highlight in your cooking. The first few Thanksgiving dinners were, by necessity, celebrations of only what was in season, so by showing off seasonal vegetables in your menu, you’ll actually be paying glorious, gluttonous homage to your forefathers (and proving what a true patriot you are in the process).
Focus on tradition
Lucky for you, most traditional Thanksgiving dishes are either already vegetarian or very easily modified to be so. Stuffing, for example, tastes just as delicious sans questionable meat additives as it does when filled with ham or giblets. Cranberry sauce, yams and mashed potatoes are completely meat-free, and meatless gravy spiced with lots of salt and pepper tastes delicious whether it’s made with or without the help of animals. Anyone who’s ever had a turkey disaster knows that a birdless Thanksgiving can still be saved by family, football and the fine art of consuming obscene amounts of food and wine at 2 PM, so as long as you serve up a boatload of tasty dishes and keep the wine flowing, everyone will feel the Thanksgiving love even in the absence of Turkey Tom.
For a do-it-yourself vegetarian Thanksgiving, find recipes at:
And, if all else fails, get the damn thing catered. Almost all vegetarian restaurants features some type of Thanksgiving catering special, but your favorite haunt will also be able to tailor a menu to your dietary needs if necessary.