Thanksgiving dinner seems to get more complicated every year, as guests bring a whole host of dietary restrictions, eating preferences and food issues to feasts across the country along with the customary bottle of wine or pumpkin pie. Vegetarians and vegans are perhaps the most common people hosts find themselves catering to nowadays, and finding ways to offer good meal options that don't include meat or animal-based products can be a difficult task.
But the good news is that with a little creativty, a meatless Thanksgiving doesn't have to be a joyless or flavorless one. Amateur cooks and chefs alike will find that side dishes, entrees and desserts that eschew meat in favor of vegetables, substitutes and other ingredients can sometimes be as good as, or superior to, their flesh-based counterparts.
This Thanksgiving, consult the list below for some fresh takes on old standards, as well as a few less traditional dishes that guests, whether vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, will enjoy. Some are healthy to boot, while others contain the fat, carbs and decadence so integral to any Thanksgiving smorgasbord:
1. Green bean casserole -- This dish goes with Thanksgiving like beans in a pod, but many traditional versions contain butter, milk, cheese and other non-vegan ingredients that will keep some of your guests wondering why a veggie dish was rendered off-limits to them. There are many options for vegan green bean dishes that will please guests of all stripes, so here are a few favorites. This recipe for roasted green beans with garlic, sage, rosemary and thyme is a great savory option. These roasted green bean "bundles" featuring Dijon mustard and red onion offer a unique presentation of the popular veggie. And even green bean casserole is not off-limits just because dairy and meat are no-no's for some guests, as this delectable vegan version of the classic dish featuring cashews, white mushrooms and vegetable stock proves.
2. Mashed potatoes -- The name of this standby suggests that it should be vegan, but the modern American interpretation renders it anything but, as cooks blend cream cheese, cheddar cheese, sour cream, butter and often even bacon into the mix. But the task of making a version of mashed potatoes that taste like they include some or all of the above while still adhering to vegan principles is not as difficult as one might think. This simple version featuring vegan butter, chives and roasted garlic is a good option. For the more adventurous, these unique mashed potatoes featuring hemp seeds, turmeric and optional tempeh bacon will please everyone and likely have guests asking for the recipe.
3. Stuffing -- On the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims didn't share a box of fire-roasted Stove Top stuffing with the Native Americans, but it seems like Americans have been enjoying this favorite ever since. But stuffing is a tricky option for vegans, as bread often contains dairy, and varietals like oyster stuffing and bacon stuffing have made this a minefield for the non-meat-eaters of the nation. Luckily, there are some great stuffing recipes that will keep vegans and carnivores reaching for more. Here's a link to ten recipes worth checking out. The standout just may have to be this fruity version, which features cranberries, scallions and apricots.
4. Gravy -- One of the great joys of any Thanksgiving dinner is pouring way too much gravy over everything in recognition that it's all going to the same place anyway, as many mothers will be quick to point out. But gravy is typically a meat-centered indulgence -- it's even often identified as "chicken gravy" or "beef gravy," in case anyone was unsure. It's often made from the drippings of whatever cooked animal awaited its juicy goodness. But terrific vegan takes on gravy have been developed as well, and this mushroom gravy (ignore the stuffing recipe accompanying the gravy recipe) is a standout. It smothers as well as the meaty kind, and it will keep any area PETA protesters from picketing the family home.
5. Sweet potatoes -- Yams and sweet potato dishes are another vegetable-centric category that has been overdressed by the American palate. Americans love to load the healthy veggies with marshmallows, butter, cream and other ingredients that are off-limits to vegans. But tasty vegan versions of this critically important Thanksgiving side dish are luckily abound. One of the most interesting out there is this scrumptious vegan version of sweet potato gratin, which relies on coconut milk, molasses, pecans, curry, and cardamom to spice up the recipe in a way that will have no one complaining that there are no Jet-Puffed marshmallows in sight.
6. Stuffed pumpkins -- A successful and tasty entree is often the hardest thing to adapt for vegetarians and vegans on Thanksgiving, when turkey typically rules the roost. Stuffed pumpkins are a fun, autumnal way to solve that issue, and can easily be prepared in both vegan/vegetarian and meaty varietals to satisfy both sides of the culinary divide. As a pumpkin can be stuffed with nearly any ingredient, sausage or pulled turkey can be used in the omnivore versions, while tofu or vegetables can be substituted for the herbivores. Just be sure to remember which are which so no one's stuck eating something they can't stomach. Here's a great recipe for stuffed pumpkins with meat, and here's a vegan version featuring wild rice, mushrooms and spinach that everyone can enjoy.
7. Brussels sprouts -- For years, Brussels sprouts were some of the most hated veggies on Thanksgiving tables each year, because the preparation seemed eternally limited to boiling or steaming them with a bit of salt and pepper. But the past decade or so has seen a rennaissance for these green orbs of flavor, as they have been reinvigorated with everything from bacon and mustard to pancetta and curry. That innovation has not been limited to meaty versions, however, as this scrumptious version of fried Brussels sprouts with shallots, vingear and cilantro shows. Just be sure to hold the fish sauce or buy or make a vegan version.
8. Pumpkin pie -- No Thanksgiving would be complete without pumpkin pie a la mode to expand everyone's waistbands to bursting. The a la mode part is easy to convert for vegans, just buy a tub or two of dairy-free vanilla ice cream, or better yet, make some from scratch. But it can be difficult to find a solid recipe for pumpkin pie that doesn't rely on condensed milk, lard or other dairy ingredients. This stunning no-bake pumpkin pie recipe solves that problem for hosts, and it's so creamy there's no reason anyone other than the vegans will ever need to know that it doesn't contain any of the dairy generally associated with such indulgence.