Turkey Day Without the Turkey

Even vegans feast on Thanksgiving, but just without the meat and dairy products the pilgrims prepared.

By Kristin Belz and Meaghan Morawski November 18, 2012


Thanksgiving has changed since Normal Rockwell painted "Freedom From Want." It doesn't always involve turkey anymore.

As you have no doubt noticed, this is Thanksgiving week. Which means you’ve probably given at least a moment of thought to what you’ll be eating for dinner Thursday night, and with whom you’ll be sharing that meal. While some of us feverishly debate the best way to cook a turkey (to brine, or not to brine?), for others of us, turkey is not in the picture, and definitely not on the dinner table. Not because we get all creative and cook duck or Cornish game hens or ham, but because the dinner includes no animal products. Yes, Virginia, vegans celebrate Thanksgiving too.

Vegans have come a long way in the past couple decades. The word “vegan” no longer sounds to most people like an alien life form encountered in some long lost episode of Star Trek. But sticking to a vegan diet is hardly the norm, either. And during the holidays, many a home cook will be welcoming guests with different dietary needs. So if this year you find yourself wanting to veganize Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve got some tips. (Thank goodness they involve neither “vegan-aisse” nor Tofurkey.)

Portland Monthly web intern Meaghan Morawski is here to guide us through the veganization of Thanksgiving. As she puts it, “With the major holidays coming up, vegans must be dreading the phrase ‘traditional holiday meal.’” This year Meaghan was inspired to create a 100% animal-product-free Thanksgiving feast because her vegan friend Alex will be visiting from London. With that special meal in mind, she’s devised a menu comprised of “vegan recipes and substitutes to make life easier for all the holiday-happy vegans in Portland and their potentially carnivorous friends and family.” Luckily for us, she’s willing to share.

To start off Meaghan's menu, here's her guide to some basic vegan substitutions: 

Butter = vegetable Crisco or Earth Balance (a “buttery spread” blending natural oils)
Milk = soy, oat, or almond milk (each has a subtle flavor suitable for the Thanksgiving recipes, though of course there are other non-dairy milks you can choose from)
Cheese = various options; try this link for suggestions
Turkey = seitan, tempeh, or tofu-based products. (You could also try this lentil walnut concoction from the OhSheGlows website.) 

I'll let Meaghan take it from here as she reveals her plansLinks to recipes are included in most cases. 

Meaghan Morawski's very vegan Thanksgiving 

Seitan Roast Stuffed with Shiitakes and Leeks  - If you’re feeling left out of the turkey parade, this seitan roast is bound to be a more than stellar replacement. It will taste great with some mushroom gravy drizzled over it and will fill the void when it comes to a dish that the rest of your Thanksgiving dinner can revolve around. Alex tried it last year and has been dying to make it again ever since.

Mushroom Gravy - Probably my favorite thing about vegan recipes is the rather large use of mushrooms. I love mushrooms so much that sometimes I will just stand by the fridge and eat them raw (though I know many mycologists would not recommend that). For the perfect vegan topper, this is the recipe.

Mashed PotatoesMaking mashed potatoes vegan is just a matter of replacing butter with something like Earth Balance, and trading out dairy milk for almond, soy, or oat milk. Some recipes get into things like vegan-aisse, but I think that for something as classic as mashed potatoes it’s good to keep it simple.

Stuffing - Instead of stuffing a bird, make this stuffing as a side dish and marvel at the fact that no bits of bird lurk in this heavenly bread concoction. Plus, if you've got stale bread around, this recipe allows you to waste not.

Green Bean Casserole After all the bread and mashed potatoes and non-meat-loaf you’ll be eating, why not balance things out with something green, like a green been casserole? It’s a vegetable – kind of…! The traditional casserole is definitely more delicious this way though: use fresh green beans instead of canned green beans. (Canned green beans taste like that hot lunch you ate in elementary school, and just happened to discover one of the lunch lady’s Band-Aids in.)

Pumpkin Pie What's a more traditionally satisfying Thanksgiving dessert than pumpkin pie? Answer: Nothing. Though your average pumpkin pie is riddled with eggs, evaporated milk, and butter, this pumpkin pie has come highly recommended to me as a vegan-friendly substitute. The ingredients used to make the crust are a bit unusual (spelt); I would suggest making a basic pie crust, substituting vegetable Crisco for butter.

Apple PieOne of my first roommate situations involved living in a house with five vegans. Having never really been around vegans before at that point in my life, I became intent on learning how to make food that the whole house could eat together. For my infamous apple pie I learned to substitute vegetable Crisco for butter, and seal together the top and bottom crusts with agave nectar. If you are feeling especially daring, rub some vanilla over the crust.

Baked SquashI seriously make meals based around baked squash. It is so simple and it tastes amazing! Buy a huge squash that looks appealing (I suggest acorn or butternut), wash the skin, and cut it into as many big or little pieces as you desire. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place the squash slices in a baking dish. Drizzle olive oil over squash and sprinkle salt, pepper, and any other herbs you’d like on top. When the oven is 375, bake the squash dish for 45 minutes, or until tender, and then serve!

Cranberry SauceCans of this stuff are super cheap, and the odds of them being vegan are pretty darn good. (Of course, make sure you check the label before buying just to be 100% positive.) If you feel like homemade cranberry sauce is the best route though, just buy some cranberries, crush them up and add some sugar and orange juice until you reach a sweetness that is just right for your tastebuds.

Rolls - I am lazy on this front as well and just buy the Pillsbury Crescent Rolls because they are delicious and so easy and fast! Serve up with your favorite vegan butter, or dip it into your mushroom gravy.

That's it for Meaghan's menu. Now if only she'd tell us what time dinner will be... And I sure hope she brings any leftovers into the office. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

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