I follow a food calendar. If all is well in my world, certain foods appear like clockwork as part of a holiday meal: apple cake for Rosh Hashanah, soda bread for St. Patrick’s Day, potato latkes for Chanukah, and potato salad for Labor Day. For Thanksgiving, my food calendar and table are crowded with a Norman Rockwell-style array: turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, salad, a green vegetable, and pie.
But the world does change and I try to change with it. Donna Reed and Don Draper would not have known any vegetarians, let alone invited them to share a holiday meal, but I do. And while I’m a confirmed carnivore, I want to make all feel welcome. With a spirit of compromise that might be a good starting point for the fiscal cliff negotiators, I begin with 3 basic propositions:
- There will be turkey;
- The turkey will be displayed, so anyone who is morally opposed should avert their gaze or pretend for this one night that it doesn’t bother them; and
- There will be plenty for a vegetarian to eat and it will be good stuff, not just rolls and salad – we don’t treat anyone like a second-class eater.
With those groundrules and a menu already full of veggie-friendly items (cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, salad, green vegetable and pie), I move onto stuffing and main courses that the meatless eaters among us will enjoy.
- In some cases, adaptation easily turns a poultry-infused stuffing into a veggie-friendly one. My favorite stuffing recipe (cornbread stuffing balls from my friend Lafe) calls for chicken broth. When vegetarians are at our Thanksgiving meal, I substitute vegetable broth; the switch is barely noticeable, especially after the meat-eaters slather their stuffing balls in gravy.
- For a more traditional stuffing, sauté vegetables(e.g. celery, onion, carrots, parsnips and red, orange or yellow bell pepper) in a generous amount of butter and/or oil. Add unseasoned stuffing bread cubes, salt and pepper to taste, along with fresh or dried herbs. Chopped apple, dried apricots and cranberries and chopped nuts are optional. Mix all those ingredients together, add just enough hot vegetable broth (boxed is fine) to moisten the mixture, and pour it into a buttered baking dish. About 1-2 cups of chopped vegetables, 14 -16 ounces of bread cubes and 1½ – 2 cups of broth should yield about the right proportions for a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish, but the joy of this “unrecipe” is that you can tinker endlessly with it. Dot the stuffing with at least several tablespoons of butter and bake at 375 degrees until the top is browned and crunchy – about 30-45 minutes.
- Mushroom and rice stuffing, with (or without) dried fruit and nuts is an alternative that works for both the vegetarians and turkey fans. You can find many recipes, but needn’t be too concerned about the specifics. My goal would be colorful (as well as flavorful), so I would include a bit of wild or dark rice, such as black and/or mahogany, with dried fruit and perhaps chopped bell peppers, along with mushrooms and nuts lightly sautéed.
Vegetarian Main Dishes
- I’ve always been partial to stuffed portabella mushrooms (this version with spinach and cheese) as a vegetarian main dish. A large portabella mushroom looks substantial and fits in well with the other Thanksgiving foods.
- Stuffed bell or poblano peppers are another easy option. I haven’t tried this basic recipe, but it meets my “Thanksgiving vegetarian main dish” criteria – beautiful and easy. I would use red, orange or yellow peppers (not green) because they are sweeter than green. To simplify last-minute preparations, I would make the peppers ahead of time and refrigerate them until about an hour before eating, take them out of the refrigerator while pre-heating the oven and bake it for a bit longer than specified. If you are tight on oven space, I’ll bet a few of these would bake fine in a large toaster oven.
- Tofu Stir-Fry – Despite what you may think, I haven’t departed from my traditional mindset. My mom traditionally made a stir-fry vegetable at Thanksgiving when oven and burner space was at a premium in her apartment kitchen. A stir fry with tofu is protein-rich and if you follow the lessons I’ve learned from Grace Young about stir-frying, measuring out all the ingredients ahead of time and listing the steps, you can whip this dish up in a flash.
If I haven’t satisfied your veggie-friendly Thanksgiving curiosity, check out this luscious spread of inspiring vegetarian dishes. Happy menu-planning!