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Who Needs Turkey?

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— October 29, 2017

Who Needs Turkey?

  • Whip up a vegan Thanksgiving that even your carnivore friends will chow down on.
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Whip up a vegan Thanksgiving that even your carnivore friends will chow down on.

S U R E ,  T H A N K S G I V I N G  I S  centered around family or friends. But it’s also centered around a meal, traditionally with a big, flippin’ bird at the center of the table. If you’re vegan, that ain’t gonna happen. But a plant-based Thanksgiving feast can be a lot better than some tofu-based fake-turkey dinner. Not that folks who serve up lame stuff like this are bad, mind you. “I can kind of understand the pull of people recreating the tradition,” says Nava Atlas, author of Vegan Holiday Kitchen (Sterling). “But what I try to remind people is that Thanksgiving is not a festival of turkey; it was originally a harvest festival for settlers to thank the Native Americans for teaching them how to survive in a new land. Sure they had fowl and fish, but corn, beans, and squash were the real traditional foods.” Atlas offers tips for creating a vegan Thanksgiving meal everybody can love.

Star of the Show

For the main dish, Atlas tends to serve acorn squash that can be stuffed with anything from a wild rice-and-mushroom blend to polenta and beans to mashed potatoes and peas. “It’s festive and easy to make, and everybody seems to like it,” she says. For part of the stuffing, you can use parboiled specialty grains, such as farro or spellt, for quicker and easier cooking, and feel free to get creative with the other ingredients. Another go-to main dish for Atlas is a vegan chili she calls Three Sisters Stew, made with a tomato base, diced sugar pumpkin or butternut squash, corn, and red beans. “It comes together in a really flavorful way, and it’s familiar,” she says. “Almost everyone likes chili.” A casserole, lasagna with non-dairy cheese or another pasta dish, and even a creative (non-dairy) pizza can also do the trick.

A Little on the Side

Stuffing: The ultimate holiday comfort food goes vegan with Atlas’ polenta, vegan sausage, and mushroom stuffing. Here the store-bought polenta tube replaces bread for a gluten-free version, or an apple walnut stuffing can be made with a bread base. “The stuffing usually starts with a pretty good onion saute, and then you throw everything else together,” she says. “It has to be carefully seasoned with rosemary and thyme.” Mashed Potatoes: Atlas offers a time-saving hack called smashed potatoes with mushroom gravy. “Instead of peeling and dicing and mashing, you just bake the potatoes, cut them in half, and smash them with a potato masher, which makes all kinds of nooks and crannies for the gravy,” she says. Or microwave the potatoes to save time and oven space. Gravy: Instead of creating it from the turkey drippings, use a broth base. “Prepared vegetable broth makes a flavorful gravy,” Atlas says. “Add some cornstarch (nutritional yeast is optional) and red onion sauteed with two cups of mushrooms. Vegetables: You can create a deliciously creamy base for a green bean casserole using silken tofu or white beans blended with fried onions, Atlas explains. She also adds mushrooms, fries up fresh onions for the topping and sprinkles it with breadcrumbs. Roasted brussels sprouts are another traditional Thanksgiving side, and a simple salad with dried cranberries and nuts offers a seasonal flair. Dessert: Don’t skimp on the beloved pumpkin pie. “That is probably the easiest to veganize,” Atlas says. “I use silken tofu combined with pureed pumpkin and it firms up while it bakes.” Top the pie with almond or coconut ice cream and yum!

Transitioning Away from Meat

Keep It Simple: You’re not in a Food Network cookoff, so don’t try for elaborate vegan dishes that you may not be able to pull together come crunch time. “I’m one for simplicity,” Atlas says. “Even from scratch, many recipes have only five to seven ingredients.” Follow Your Tastes: Focus on meals you like, and veganize them. “Many vegan cookbooks make it look exotic and time-consuming,” Atlas notes. “So you already know you like pizza; it’s so easy to convert with non-dairy cheese. Just start with familiar flavors.” Spice It Up: Fresh herbs and spices can make a real difference. Herbs such as thyme and basil are often available in small packages. And ditch those dusty, musty little tins rattling around your pantry in favor of new spices.

Butternut Squash with Whole Wheat, Wild Rice & Onion Stuffing

4 medium-small butternut squashes (about 1 pound each) 3/4 cup raw wild rice, rinsed 1½ tbsp olive oil 1 large red onion 2-3 cloves garlic, minced 2½ cups firmly packed torn whole wheat bread (use gluten-free bread if you’d like) 1 tbsp sesame seeds ½ tsp dried thyme 1 tbsp salt-free mixed season blend (such as Frontier or Mrs. Dash), or to taste ½ cup vegetable broth A few sliced fresh sage leaves (or leave whole if small), optional Juice of 1 small orange (about ¼ cup; or omit and just use more vegetable broth) Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. 2. Wrap the squashes in foil. Place on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 40-45 minutes, or until you can pierce through the narrow part with a knife, with a little resistance. (You can do this step ahead of time.) Let the squashes cool somewhat, then cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds and their surrounding fibers. 3. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Stir in the wild rice, reduce to a simmer, then cover and cook until the water is absorbed about 40 minutes. 4. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until golden. 5. In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked wild rice with the sautéed onion and the remaining ingredients. 6. Scoop out the squash pulp, leaving firm shells about ½-inch thick. Chop or dice the pulp and stir it into the wild rice mixture. Stuff the squashes, place in foil-lined baking dishes, and cover. Place in a preheated 350°F oven and bake 15-20 minutes, or just until well heated through. ( Serves 8; prep time: 30 minutes, cook time: 1 hour )

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