Veggie Thanksgiving Tips & Recipes

Give Tom Turkey a break this season with this vegetarian feast

Thanksgiving is, hands down, my favorite holiday. There's no stress of gift-giving, no major decorating to contend with (and then dismantle afterwards), and it hasn't been ruined by over-commercialism. Nope, it's just about being with family and friends and, of course, eating a delicious homemade meal.

But I've always been least enthused by the turkey itself. Give me the sweet potato casserole, the cornbread stuffing, the pumpkin pie. That obligatory slice of turkey always takes up the least space on my overloaded plate.

Naturally, turkey also has no place on the plates of my numerous vegetarian friends and family members. No matter — there's plenty of other stuff for them to eat, right?

Not so fast. This year, I asked some of my friends and family members what it's like to be a vegetarian at the biggest feast of the year. And, dinner hosts, take note: there's plenty you can do to make their meals more enjoyable, without relegating them to a dinner of side dishes.

Turkey terror

For many vegetarians, going meatless is an ethical choice they're very passionate about. Just seeing that whole turkey on the table is a turnoff.

"I hate that I know how that plump carcass cooking in the oven was raised," says my brother, Jake, who became a vegetarian after doing some disturbing reading about the meat industry. "I have lived a life of sheer bliss compared to the conditions the turkey was raised and ultimately slaughtered in."

And, for many of my meatless friends, Thanksgiving becomes a time when they're questioned, nagged or even teased for their live-and-let-live ethic. One friend said that her brother actually torments her vegetarian husband during the meal by clucking like a turkey!

Not ready to forgo the turkey altogether? Make your vegetarian guests less queasy by leaving it in the kitchen and carving it there. And don't be afraid to step in if you feel someone's questions or comments are making a veggie guest uncomfortable — especially if it crosses the line into bullying territory. It's the mark of a good host or hostess to make sure every guest feels welcome and respected.

How to host veggie guests

Philosophical and moral debates aside, there are a few suggestions I'd like to make on behalf of vegetarians everywhere:

  • Make it easy on yourself — and your veggie guests — by making some easy substitutions that will enable everyone to enjoy your side dishes, such as using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock in the stuffing and in gravies.
  • Don't double up. "My biggest pet peeve is that one side of our family will often make two versions of the same thing when it's really not necessary," says my friend Amy. She says she hates when there are two versions of stuffing and it is pointed out that the vegetarian version is "special." (Translation, "weird.")
  • Be aware of hidden ingredients that might render a dish inedible by your vegetarian guests. For instance, marshmallows (or anything else containing gelatin) are not vegetarian. So leave them off the sweet potatoes. And, it goes without saying, don't use fatback or pork to flavor baked beans or soup. And be careful not to contaminate other dishes with the juices of the turkey.
  • Don't make a fake-meat main dish unless you know that your guests will want one. My friend Hope hates Tofurky. "Vegetarians don't have to have a turkey replacement," she says.
  • If you are going to make a meatless entrée, keep the flavors and ingredients somewhat simple, so that they don't compete with the sides. For instance, a dish like vegetable pot pie would be too substantial and would likely render some of those yummy side dishes redundant.

Turkey-free recipes that are sure to please

Whether you have vegetarians at your dinner table this year or not, these recipes are sure to be enjoyed by everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!

Quorn Cutlets Stuffed with Cranberry, Sage and Goat Cheese

Quorn Cutlets Stuffed with Cranberry, Sage and Goat CheeseThe flavors of Thanksgiving are captured in this fast and easy vegetarian main course. It's so yummy you'll probably want to make it even when it's not holiday time! The leftover goat cheese mixture is delicious on crackers or toast points.

  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • ¼ cup canned cranberry sauce (with whole berries), divided
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage
  • A pinch of chipotle seasoning or cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 Quorn cutlets, defrosted (see note below)
  • 4 whole sage leaves

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a small saute pan, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add shallot and saute until translucent and starting to turn golden. Transfer to a small bowl and allow to cool. To cooled shallots, add the goat cheese, 2 to 3 heaping tablespoons cranberry sauce and sage, stirring until creamy and completely combined. Add chipotle or cayenne, salt, and pepper to taste.

Make a horizontal slit into the side of each quorn cutlet, making the pocket as deep as possible without cutting through to the other side. Brush each cutlet on both sides with olive oil. Using a butter knife or your fingers, stuff each cutlet with some of the goat cheese mixture and place the stuffed cutlets on a sheet pan. In a small bowl, stir about 1-2 tablespoons cranberry sauce (berries removed) until it has a liquidy consistency. Add a pinch of chipotle or cayenne to taste. Brush the top of each cutlet with cranberry sauce. Brush sage leaves with olive oil and press one sage leaf into the top of each cutlet. Bake for 15 minutes or until heated through.

If desired, top each cutlet with a dollop of the remaining goat cheese mixture.

Note: This recipe can also be prepared using Veat Vegetarian Breasts or other meatless cutlets in place of the Quorn.


Cornbread-Sage Stuffing

Cornbread-Sage StuffingServes 8 as a side dish.

In my household, there's an endless debate over whether cornbread or white bread stuffing is better. In my opinion, this stuffing recipe, adapted from the one my mother has been making ever since I can remember, would win any stuffing contest. You can serve it plain, or use it to stuff a squash, zucchini, small pumpkin or, yes, a turkey.

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced thinly into half-moons
  • 1 9x13-inch pan day-old cornbread, crumbled into small chunks (see note below)
  • ¼ cup fresh sage, julienne, or 2 tablespoons dried sage
  • 1 cup vegetable broth (or more to taste)
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery and saute over medium-low heat until they are soft and the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss together cornbread and sage. Add onion-celery mixture and toss until well combined. Add enough vegetable broth to moisten cornbread, about 1 cup. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a baking dish, cover (use aluminum foil if the dish does not have a lid), and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until heated through and top begins to brown.

Note: I use two packages of cornbread mix. (Make sure to check the ingredients, as some brands contain lard, beef fat or other animal products.) If you don't have time to let the baked cornbread sit out for a day, then crumble it up, place it on a sheet pan, and bake it in a 250 degrees F oven until it dries out a little, about 20 to 30 minutes.


Sage and Onion Gravy

Sage and Onion GravyYields 4 cups.

Even for those who've never been to The Grit vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia, the restaurant's cookbook, The Grit Cookbook by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer (Chicago Review Press, 2006), is a bible in many vegetarian kitchens. Be sure to use nutritional yeast, not brewer's yeast, for this sensational vegetarian gravy.

  • 2-2/3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegan margarine
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground sage or 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
  • 1/2 scant teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 generous tablespoon onion powder
  • A pinch of dry mustard (optional)

Combine water and soy sauce; set aside.

Melt margarine in a saucepan over medium-high heat and add sliced onions. Saute until onions are translucent, approximately 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining ingredients. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Increase heat enough to maintain simmer while gradually adding soy sauce mixture. Stir continuously over heat until gravy thickens, approximately 5 minutes.


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Harvest Recipes Across the U.S.

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