Is it Thanksgiving Without Turkey or Ham?
At Thanksgiving many of us celebrate family and friends, spend time reflecting on the past year, and express gratitude for all we have. We also eat—a lot. Traditionally that meal has included turkey and/or ham as a main course.
But does it have to? Increasingly, for various reasons of health or conscious, people are embracing a vegetarian lifestyle. A 2008 study by Vegetarian Times concluded that 3.2 percent of U.S. adults, or 7.3 million people, follow a vegetarian-based diet. In addition, 10 percent of U.S., adults, or 22.8 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.
If this is you, or someone in your family, how can you adapt your traditional Thanksgiving dinner to accommodate those who choose not to eat meat? How do you expand your holiday table to include everyone? Fortunately meatless options for Thanksgiving have grown considerably in the past decade.
Some historical perspective
While turkey has been widely associated with Thanksgiving since it was proclaimed a holiday by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the original Pilgrim dinner more likely featured goose or duck, according to an article by Megan Gambino on SmithsonianMag.com. But vegetables would also have been prominent at that early gathering.
In fact, when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians sat down for supper back in 1621, their table was probably filled with the kind of vegetable side dishes that have become common on today’s Thanksgiving menu, Gambino wrote, but there would have been other dishes as well, ones that haven’t been popular for years. While fowl and venison were the main dishes, they were likely accompanied by pumpkin dishes (though not pumpkin pie), peas, beans, onion, lettuce, leeks, parsnips, and radishes.
Bringing the past forward
So, a vegetable-based Thanksgiving dinner would be both tasty and historically accurate. This year, why not consider dishes like roasted winter vegetables, roasted green beans with shallot crisps, or a roasted vegetable salad? (See full recipes below.)
Vegetarianism and Thanksgiving
To further the connection, around the time Lincoln introduced Thanksgiving as a national holiday, vegetarianism was also making headway into American culture, according to an article in Saveur magazine by Linda Monastra. The Civil War ushered in the progressive era in the United States, and vegetarianism based on health, diet, and animal welfare concerns, was among the many reforms made popular by that movement.
Monastra wrote that Chicago hosted the first recorded vegetarian Thanksgiving when, in 1895, the Vegetarian Eating Club at the University of Chicago served chestnut soup and pumpkin pie as part of its meal. Also on the club’s menu was pasta d’Italia, which, while seemingly incompatible with Thanksgiving traditions, provides an excellent starting place for anyone looking to add heartier fare to their vegetarian Thanksgiving menu. Dishes from other cultures, like vegetable lasagna, can help you set your table with filling options.
One of the most enjoyable things about planning a vegetarian Thanksgiving is the freeing of your creativity. With no “rules” to apply, i.e., you must have turkey and stuffing, you can try anything you want. Quinoa and vegetable stew? Why not? The skies the limit. And, of course, if you want to mix in more traditional options such as candied yams, cranberry sauce, and roasted carrots, you’re free to do that as well.
As great as the Thanksgiving meal may be, what really makes the holiday special is the gathering together of loved ones. Whether you go totally vegetarian or just enhance that segment of your meal, having options on your menu that will satisfy anyone is an important part of making everyone feel comfortable and welcomed.
Putting together a vegetarian Thanksgiving menu can teach you new cooking techniques, stoke your creativity in the kitchen, and take you back—literally—to the roots of the holiday.
- 1 medium pumpkin, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 3 medium potatoes (do not peel)
- 2 onions, cut into wedges
- 2 turnips, peeled and cut
- 2 beets, peeled and cut
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
Clean pumpkin by de-seeding, peeling the skin, then dicing it into chunks. Cut unpeeled potatoes into chunks. Cut onions into wedges while leaving the root end intact so the wedge stays together when cooked.
Peel turnips and cut into wedges. Peel beets and cut into chunks. Protect your hands and cutting board as best you can as beets will bleed and stain clothes and surfaces.
Spread the vegetables on a roasting pan. Place the beets separately from the other vegetable on parchment paper so they don’t stain the other vegetables.
Combine garlic, cumin seed, extra virgin oil, lemon juice, brown sugar and pepper. Pour this mixture on to the vegetables and toss to coat evenly. Season everything with salt.
Bake at 400 F for 25 – 35 minutes or until tender and golden brown.
A modern version of the green-bean bake
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (about 5 to 6 shallots)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
- salt and freshly ground pepper
My grandmother never knew I was the culprit; she never caught me red-handed, snitching the canned French-fried onions off the top of the green-bean bake she made every Thanksgiving. But every year, most of those crisp onions disappeared before anyone began filling a plate from the buffet table. That was some 35 years ago. Now that I’m at the helm when it comes to cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve updated that classic recipe.
I still love crisp onions, green beans have always been a favorite vegetable, and the combination is a natural. So, in my pursuit of using fresh vegetables whenever possible, I offer this modern version of the green-bean bake. Keep your eye on the buffet table, though, because these shallot crisps are mighty good.
Shallot Crisps: Set a plate lined with a double thickness of paper towels next to the stove. Heat the vegetable oil in a 6-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Using a slotted spoon, add half of the shallots to the oil.
Fry until they are crisp and turn a dark golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining shallots. Set aside at room temperature until ready to garnish the beans. The shallot crisps can be made several hours ahead.
Green Beans: Heat a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil, swirl to coat the pan, and then add the green beans. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the beans are bright green and crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the beans to a warmed serving bowl and garnish with the shallot crisps. Serve immediately. Serves 8-10.
Tip: Test the temperature of the oil by adding 1 slice of shallot to the hot oil. If the oil begins to bubble and sizzle without splattering, and the shallot turns golden, then the oil is ready.
Diane Morgan, The Thanksgiving Table (Chronicle Books, 2001).
- 1 large zucchini, (about 8 ounces.)
- 2 small yellow squash, (about 8 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
- 4 small carrots (about 8 ounces)
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3 or 4 small fresh beets, peeled
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Fit food processor with multipurpose slicing blade. Using thinnest setting, slice zucchini and yellow squash. Remove to mixing bowl, toss squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper until evenly coated. Spread slices in a thin layer onto large baking sheet. Roast 15-18 minutes or until beginning to brown on bottom. Remove; set aside.
Meanwhile slice carrots and red onion using thinnest setting. Remove to mixing bowl, toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Arrange over one half side of large baking sheet. Slice beets using thinnest setting; toss with remaining oil, salt and black pepper. Arrange beets on other half of same baking sheet with carrots and onions. Roast 12-15 minutes or until beginning to brown on bottom. Remove.
For dressing, fit processor with mini-bowl and mini multipurpose blade. Add basil, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, Dijon mustard, sugar, salt and black pepper. PULSE until basil is finely chopped.
Combine all roasted vegetables on one of the baking sheets. Drizzle evenly with dressing. Toss gently; arrange on serving platter in wreath shape, about 12 inches in diameter. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Makes 6 servings
Recipe courtesy of KitchenAid
Hearty vegetable lasagna with sure to please with every bite
Basic Tomato Sauce
- Three 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Béchamel Sauce with Parmesan
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 green bell pepper, thin sliced
- 2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 16 ounces small mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 16 ounces lasagna noodles, cooked
- 8 ounces chèvre cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
- 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
- 8 ounces mozzarella, grated
To make the tomato saucePut the tomatoes through a food mill or tomato press. Reserve.
Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the garlic and pepper flakes for 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, covered.
To make the béchamel sauce: In a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Stir in the flour and cook for 3 minutes. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Increase the heat to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the Parmesan. Set aside, covered.
To make the lasagna: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the peppers and onions in 2 tablespoons of the oil until cooked through but not browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and sauté the mushrooms for 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Coat the bottom of a 15″ x 11″ lasagna pan with a small amount of the tomato sauce. Arrange one-third of the lasagna noodles over the sauce. Top the noodles with half of the peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Cover the vegetables with half of the béchamel sauce. Crumble the chèvre on top of the sauce.
Top with half of the basil and spinach. Top with about 1 1/4 cups tomato sauce. Place on another layer of lasagna noodles and repeat the vegetable, béchamel and spinach-basil layers. Top with a final layer of lasagna noodles. Spread the remaining tomato sauce over the noodles and top with the mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes, until browned and bubbling. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes before slicing. Serves 6 to 8.
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped fine
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 carrots, sliced into 1/2- inch rounds
- 2 stalks celery, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 1-1/2 cups corn, frozen
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded , rough chopped
- 1 cup peas, frozen
- 1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic sauté 3 to 4 minutes until onions soften. Add carrots and celery, and sauté an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Add paprika, coriander, and cumin and stir to combine. Add broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in quinoa and continue to simmer for 8 to 10 additional minutes. Stir in corn and red pepper. Continue to simmer until vegetables and quinoa are just tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, peas and asparagus, and let heat through, about 2 minutes until asparagus is tender crisp.
Remove from heat and stir in cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.