10 Tips For Cooking Up A Meatless Thanksgiving

November 23rd, 2009

cartoon by Roberto Mangosi from hellocrazy.com

For many of us, Thanksgiving just wouldn’t be complete without a beautifully prepared turkey. But Thanksgiving brings together a variety of palettes, and you may find yourself sharing dinner with those who prefer a meatless Turkey Day. Whether you enjoy a herbivorous holiday or something a little meatier, Kim O’Donnel has you covered. Here are Kim’s 10 tips for serving up a meatless (or veggie-full) Thanksgiving dinner:

1. Snacks & Apps: Everybody likes a little pre-feast nosh, whether catching the fourth quarter of the game or sipping on the first glass of vino. I’ve got two meat (and dairy) free tricks up my sleeve: A sweet potato “hummus’ and a fig-olive tapenade, both of which can made in advance.

2. Soup: If you’re already doing sweet potato at the snack stage, think winter squash for the soup course. It couldn’t be easier: Peel, seed and dice a butternut squash. Boil and puree and season. Mix ‘n’ match with flavorings and seasonings, including pear, apple, fennel, honey, herbs and chipotle chiles.

3. Mashed’.

Consider two twists on this perennial favorite buttermilk and parsnips. The cultured milk lends a tangy richness with less fat and the parsnips offer an extra layer of flavor and all kinds of potassium.

Estimate 1-2 medium potatoes per person. For every 2 potatoes, add 1 parsnip. Estimate up to 1 cup buttermilk, depending on how creamy you like your mash. Consider the addition of 1 or 2 cloves of garlic and some chopped fresh rosemary. Salt and pepper and hand masher, please.

4. ‘ And gravy

So what if you don’t have turkey drippings. You can make a luscious gravy with a few onions: Slowly cook in butter over low heat (this is called caramelizing) until they get sweet and jammy. In a separate saucepan, make a roux (equal parts butter and flour – for every cup of gravy, you need 2 tablespoons each) and cook until blonde; to that, add vegetable stock (Estimate ½ cup stock per person). Stir to combine, then add onions and wine, if you like, plus herbs and salt.

5. Stuffing is a stale bread makeover. Remember that when you leave out the sausage and oysters and anticipate a plate of bland. The key is bread-liquid ratio (2 to 1 in most cases) and doing the math before mixing. Some of my best stuffing over the years contains a simple mix of onion, garlic, chile, sage, celery and lemon zest. More flavor combinations and tips can be found here.

6. Someone recently asked me what’s my must-have item on the Thanksgiving table: With or without turkey (which I can definitely live without), my heart belongs to homemade cranberry sauce, which I can eat all by its lonesome if I’m not mindful.

7. Many who do without the bird often complain that a meatless Thanksgiving can feel like a buffet of sides and goshdarnit, we meatless folk deserve a special entrée, too. A few weeks ago, I shared details for a scrumptious butternut squash lasagna, but if that fails to inspire, consider these roasted stuffed onions from Gourmet back in 2002.

8. Get your greens. It may sound crazy to say “Eat your vegetables’ in this company, but you’d be surprised at all the carbotarians out there.

Exhibit A: Brussels sprouts, halved and seared, stovetop, in butter and olive oil, deglazed with balsamic vinegar and then finished in a hot oven. (Can be done in advance, covered with foil and reheated just before serving.) OR’.make a cutie pie stove-top slaw with thinly sliced Brussels, 1 or 2 tart apples, a good squeeze of lemon and a handful of pecans. Addictive.

9. Vegetables, Take 2: Consider a bunch of tatsoi, a quick-cooking relative of the Brussels in the Brassica family. This dish is so quick you can actually whip it up just before sitting down. You’ll make a hot mustardy vinaigrette, then add the tatsoi leaves and let them wilt, which takes about 3 minutes. One of my all-time fall-ish faves.

10. Try going nuts this season! Make these and make lots of friends.

If you would like more inspired ideas visit Kim’s Meatless Thanksgiving Chat for wonderful reader suggestions and answers to your culinary questions!