Whether the person planning Thanksgiving dinner is a vegetarian or a meat-eater, it’s easy to come up with a bountiful menu for everyone to enjoy. The key is not making vegetarians at the table feel shut out, providing a balanced meal for everyone, and not relying too heavily on tradition to the loss of creative meal planning.
What To Do About the Turkey – Creating a Vegetarian Centerpiece
If the guests at Thanksgiving are mixed, or mostly meat-eaters, the table doesn’t necessarily have to be turkey-free. The host should ask any vegetarians attending in advance whether they will be bothered by a turkey on the table, but many vegetarians will be thrilled to find that the rest of the meal is meat-free and not mind the presence of a turkey. What’s most important is to keep meat-based products out of the side dishes, so that vegetarians don’t find themselves having to ask about every dish. The host can also announce at the beginning of the meal that everything but the turkey is vegetarian-friendly to make it clear. Usually, a Thanksgiving dinner is so filling that the absence of a turkey isn’t really a loss!
Of course, vegetarian families, hosts whose guests are particularly concerned about the turkey, or those who simply want to try their hand at an all-vegetarian Thanksgiving will need to come up with an alternative. Tofurkey may come to mind, but in truth imitation meat may not be the best option. First, it often is not as flavorful as “naturally” vegetarian options. Second, many vegetarians do not enjoy the taste of meat. One idea is to make a vegetarian “main” dish, such as stuffed acorn squashes or a nut roast. Vegetarian Times recently printed a recipe for mushroom tagine baked in a winter squash (October issue) that is sure to impress.
Another option that works very well for a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal is to simply leave out the centerpiece. If there are five to ten different options, guests can just pick and choose, trying the flavors they like and not feeling forced to eat something they don’t enjoy.
Suggested Elements of a Vegetarian Thanksgiving Meal
One useful trick to planning the meal is to try and balance colors. If there are a lot of oranges from sweet potato, pumpkin, or squash, a couple of green vegetable dishes will balance out the table. Hosts should look for what’s in season in the area, as fresh is always best. Some options to consider are crispy roasted Brussels sprouts, braised leeks, steamed chard, or even stewed green tomatoes.
The host should also sure the meal is filling by including some grains like quinoa, couscous, or bulgur. Of course, rice is also a good traditional option. Stuffing can be made without meat, but check the box before using any pre-made stuffing. Vegetarian gravy is also a wonderful treat, as are homemade biscuits. Many Thanksgiving dishes are already vegetarian, like sweet potato casserole, cranberry relish, and of course all the desserts!
Hosts should keep an eye out for ingredients that aren’t vegetarian-safe, like chicken broth or gelatin. If guests are vegan, there should be a few dairy-free options. One simple idea is to cut a few acorn squash in half and bake them cut-side up in the oven for an hour at 400 F with a little bit of water in the pan, and the hollows filled with a pat of vegan margarine, some brown sugar, and a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. This is a fantastic meat- and dairy-free fall side dish.