Vegan Thanksgiving: Celebrating a Turkey-Free Table (Recipes Included!)
So you’ve realized there’s no good reason to bother any turkeys, in order to enjoy a day of abundance and thanks. Wonderful! Now let’s get down to business: celebrating Thanksgiving vegan-style, in our meat-soaked food culture, can pose special challenges. Maybe it’s your first Unturkey Day since going vegan, and you’re wondering what to serve. Perhaps you’re traveling to visit non-veg relatives, or hosting omni guests. Social pressure to conform to others’ visions of ‘tradition‘ can be daunting, especially coming from family members or close friends. Not to worry! With a bit of planning and forethought, there’s no reason for your vegan Thanksgiving to be anything other than joyful and delicious.
First Things First: the Food!
In launching a first-ever turkey-free Thanksgiving, new veggie cooks sometimes feel daunted by ‘what to do instead.’ The first thing to remember is that you don’t have to do anything ‘instead!’ We’re conditioned to expect one big centerpiece dish — and that’s fine, if you want to make one! — but it’s completely optional. You can create a delicious smorgasboard without a Be All End All One Big Thing at the middle of the table: imagine a buffet of all your favorite foods… then create it!
There’s no rule saying you can’t have a less formal ‘tapas-syle’ feast, or make a meal of what are usually called side dishes. That said, though, many folks do prefer to see a lovely ‘ooh-ah’ dish play a starring role in the meal — especially if you’re newly vegan, or cooking for omnis, this theme feels more ‘traditional’ and pleasantly familiar.
Many dishes we’ve learned to associate with Thanksgiving are easy to veganize, just by substituting vegan butter, Earth Balance, or refined coconut oil for dairy-based butter — I like avoiding palm oil, so tend to use coconut oil. Like butter or margarine, it’s solid at room temperature; and the refined version offers a neutral rather than coconutty flavor.
Cashew cream tops desserts as lusciously as dairy-based whipped cream, and soy or almond milk fills the same role in recipes as dairy milk. Type ‘vegan recipe [whatever dish]’ into any search engine, and you’ll find a million ways to prepare delicious green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, stuffings, pies, and any other holiday dishes you like, without the animal junk.
Cashew gravy comes together quickly and tastes indulgently rich — this recipe, with freshly ground black pepper and about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of poultry seasoning added, competes with any nonvegan gravy in terms of sheer deliciousness! I like to pre-mix the ingredients for a double-batch the night before, and finish it on the stovetop right before feast time.
For stuffing I like to make vegan cornbread, cube it, then let it sit out for a couple hours to dry slightly; toss with a handful of dried cranberries, about 1/2 cup chopped pecans, one peeled and diced apple, and sauteed chopped celery and onion. Make it a heartier main dish by tossing in some cubed vegan sausage or field roast. Moisten with a little gravy (or premixed/ uncooked gravy), cover, and bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees; remove the cover and bake another 10 minutes, then serve with the rest of the gravy on the side.
If you do want a big pretty centerpiece dish, all of these also work beautifully for Thanksgiving feasting:
- Unturkey Roast, surrounded by cornbread stuffing (as above) — make the roast a day ahead, then slice and bake with the stuffing and gravy.
- Sunday Dinner Roast and Roots, made with ‘no-chicken’ vegan bouillon, a dollop of extra-virgin olive oil, and a splash of white wine instead of the broth recipe given.
- Cranberry Wild Rice Casserole
- Elegantly Simple Stuffed Bell Peppers
- Harvest-Stuffed Acorn Squash
Roasted Brussels sprouts and fresh bread make delicious additions to your holiday table.
Recipe: Maple-Balsamic Roasted Sprouts
- 1 lb fresh Brussels sprouts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2-1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2-1/2 tablespoons real maple syrup (NOT maple-flavored pancake syrup)
- salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim sprouts, and cut in half or (for larger ones) quarters. Toss with oil and balsamic vinegar, spread in a single layer on well-oiled cookie sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once, until edges of sprouts are just starting to brown. If you’re making this dish ahead of time, stop here. Let cool completely at room temperature, then store in fridge until about 30 minutes before mealtime.
Toss sprouts with maple syrup, and roast another 15-20 minutes at 425 degrees (longer if they were refrigerated between steps), until the syrup carmelizes a bit and the sprouts are well browned. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, and then try not to eat them all between oven and table!
Find other excellent menu ideas here, including:
- Fluffy Mashed Potatoes with Savory Mushroom Gravy
- Warm Cabbage Apple Slaw
- Nutty Curry-Stuffed Squash
- Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding
Now that we’ve taken care of the menu, let’s consider some other vegan Thanksgiving issues that are likely to arise: namely, the people problem.