It’s time for the most anticipated, thought-out and well-planned meal of the year. Yes, the Thanksgiving dinner that is talked about, written about and strategized for months but probably only takes less than an hour to eat. Whether you are serving two people or twenty-two friends and relatives, this is the time to pull out all the stops and fill the table with delicious dishes everyone will be thankful for. Don’t worry about not having a turkey on the table for your guests. When you set out a feast of amazing food, everyone will be so busy eating, they will forget all about the turkey.
Here are some ideas for how to make your Thanksgiving dinner festive, fabulous and flesh-free:
1. The Centerpiece
When turkey is not on the menu, the big question is what the centerpiece of the table will be. There are so many incredible dishes that can have this place of honor on the table, dishes that can feed two or twenty. Try making The Unturkey Roast which is two pounds of vegan deliciousness that can feed the whole family. This Seitan Pot Roast combines the entrée with the vegetables in a stew that is hearty, amazing and will definitely have everyone asking for seconds. For a gluten-free entrée, make V-Turkey which is my vegan, gluten-free version of turkey cutlets. Flavored with sage and other herbs, this will satisfy everyone including the meat-eaters.
There is no law that says the main entrée has to be something meat-like. No one with any taste buds would argue about having a hearty casserole or pasta dish on the menu. Make room on the table for this Creamy Pumpkin and Spinach Lasagna, Butternut Squash Lasagna, or this Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna. How about a huge pan of Ooey-Gooey Baked Ziti or this Butternut Squash, Portobello and Spinach Casserole with Vegan Sausage? Yes, please!
One of my favorite pasta dishes is Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Kale and Vegan Mozzarella. To make it: melt 1 Tbs. vegan butter in a large skillet or saucepan that has a lid over medium heat. Add 1 package of gnocchi and toss to coat in the butter. Cook until the gnocchi is browned and crisped up a bit, about 6 minutes. Transfer the gnocchi to a bowl. Add another Tbs. of butter to the pan. Add 4 cups of cubed butternut squash and cook, stirring, until slightly golden and soft, about 8 minutes. Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp. dried sage, ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper taste. Cook until the garlic softens, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth to the skillet. When it starts to simmer, stir in one large bunch of chopped kale and cover the pan, letting the kale wilt slightly. Uncover the pan and add the gnocchi, stirring to coat. Add 1 cup vegan mozzarella shreds and toss to combine everything. Transfer the food from the pan to a casserole dish. Sprinkle with ¼ cup grated vegan parmesan, reserving some for garnish. Broil until golden and bubbly, about 4 minutes. Serve while warm.
You can really wow your guests when you serve them this Portobello Wellington, Vegetable Lentil Shepherd’s Pie, Vegan Tofu Scallops or Mushroom Stroganoff. Stuffed foods are not only satisfying but they make a beautiful presentation. Try these Roasted Acorn Squash with Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf. For more suggestions, check out 10 Meatless Thanksgiving Main Courses.
2. The Stuffing
You don’t need a turkey to enjoy an amazing stuffing. This Thanksgiving Cornbread Stuffing with Gravy is incredible as is this Chestnut Mushroom Stuffing. If you prefer rice stuffings to those with bread, try this Wild Rice Stuffing with Cranberry, Apricot and Scallion or this Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries and Pecans.
I like to make individual stuffing muffins so each person gets their own adorable portion. My Onion, Celery and Mushroom Stuffing is a simple stuffing that is perfect for the holidays or any day. Everyone gets one or two muffins to top with gravy. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil and 4 Tbs. vegan butter over medium-high heat until melted. Add in 1 large diced onion and 3 sliced celery ribs and cook 4 minutes or until the veggies soften, but don’t let them brown. Add 10 oz. chopped mushrooms and cook for 7 minutes until they are browned. Mix in two minced cloves of garlic, 1 tsp. dried sage, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ½ tsp. dried rosemary, ½ tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. black pepper, a pinch of nutmeg and one fresh bay leaf. Add ¼ cup fresh chopped parsley and 8 cups of bread cubes to the skillet. Moisten the cubes with up to 5 cups vegetable broth until they are soft but not wet. Cook for 5 minutes, then remove the bay leaf and let the mixture cool a bit. Transfer the mixture to greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, turning the pan halfway through, until the stuffing is set and crisp on top. Let cool before removing the muffins from the pan. For more stuffing recipes, check out these Brilliant Thanksgiving Stuffing Ideas.
3. The Sides
To me, the side dishes are the best part of the Thanksgiving meal. These are the dishes everyone always wants seconds and thirds of. The first thing I reach for is the mashed potatoes. Change up your usual recipe by adding some root veggies into your mash. Parsnips work well with potatoes or try this Mashed Potatoes and Celery Root dish. For something really different, try Mashed Rutabagas which are a bit sweeter than potatoes. Speaking of sweet and potatoes, your Thanksgiving table has to have some type of sweet potato dish. These Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Apples and Bourbon, Maple and Tarragon Sweet Potatoes and Yam Banana Mash sound like perfect dishes. Winter squash are at their peak and just in time to make Butternut Squash Risotto, Sauteed Delicata Squash Rings, and Smokey Pumpkin Grits with Maple-Roasted Pepitas.
I think the two most common vegetable dishes eaten on Thanksgiving involve green beans and Brussels sprouts. Make this Green Bean Casserole or these Easy and Delicious Roasted Rosemary String Beans. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Maple-Mustard Glaze and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sherry-Maple Vinaigrette are wonderful additions to the table. Here is how I make Roasted Lemon-Thyme Brussels Sprouts: preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place 2 lbs. halved Brussels sprouts on a large baking sheet. Toss with 2 Tbs. oil, salt and pepper. Roast 20 – 25 minutes until browned, rotating the pan halfway through. While the Brussels are roasting, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the zest and juice of one lemon, 1 Tbs. agave nectar or maple syrup, 2 Tbs. tamari, 2 Tbs. of oil, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 tsp. thyme and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the Brussels sprouts are browned, transfer them to a serving bowl. Pour the lemon-thyme sauce over them and toss to coat. Serve while warm.
For more vegetable dishes, try these Pomegranate Balsamic Roasted Vegetables , Tzimmes orRoasted Root Vegetables on Quinoa with Yogurt Sauce and read The Ultimate Guide to Thanksgiving Sides.
4. The Salads
In my opinion, every meal should come with a salad. For the holidays, jazz up your salads by adding seasonal fruit, veggies, nuts and spices. This Seasonal Sweet Fall Salad makes a lovely presentation. Try my Apple, Cranberry, Arugula and Fennel Salad with an Apple Honee Vinaigrette, Grilled Beet Salad with Almonds and Dried Cranberries, or this Mizuna, Fennel and Mulberry Salad. If you love kale salads, you must try my Massaged Kale Salad with Pesto, Dried Cranberries and Almonds, thisJazzylicious Kale Salad and this Kale and Golden Beet Salad. For more Thanksgiving salads, readNot Just for Summer: 7 Tips for Making Satisfying Fall and Winter Salads and 10 Beautiful and Healthy Thanksgiving Salads.
5. The Gravies and Biscuits
Please pass the gravy! There is nothing better than spooning thick, luscious gravy down over your potatoes or seitan roast. Check out my tutorial for making the perfect brown, white or mushroom gravy and then try these amazing recipes: Easy Mushroom Gravy and Vegan Thanksgiving Gravy. The only thing better than a rich gravy is having biscuits to dunk into that gravy. Try these Vegan Biscuits and Sausage Gravy and these Gluten-Free Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy.
Or make my Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Biscuits with Soy Feta which are flaky, tender and delicious. In a large bowl, combine 2 cups gluten-free, all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. xanthan or guar gum, 1 Tbs. + 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice and 1 tsp. kosher salt. Mix well to combine. Add 1 cup non-dairy milk and ½ cup melted vegan butter or olive oil and mix until you have a thick batter. Fold in 4 oz. vegan feta cheese crumbles. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup sprayed with cooking oil, drop dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush milk on the tops of the biscuits. Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown. Serve with your favorite gravy.
6. The Desserts
All these dishes are so incredible, it will be hard to leave room for dessert but you have to try because look at all the recipes and ideas I have for that course! Celebrate the season with my Pear and Apple Cobbler, Gluten-Free Blueberry Apple Pie Cake, and Carrot Cake with Walnuts and Cream Cheese Frosting. Of course, the classics should be represented so serve this Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust, Apple Pumpkin Pie Tart, Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Pie,Chocolate Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato Maple Mousse Pie, and this No-Bake Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Pie. For more dessert ideas, see 10 Winning Thanksgiving Desserts and for your gluten-free guests, read Tips for Baking the Best Fall Treats – No Gluten Required.
7. The Company
No matter what food is on the table, remember that the goal of the evening is to have a good time with the people you love. The dinner table is not the time or place to get into arguments or debates. If anyone asks about your choice to not eat meat, eggs or dairy, let them know you will be happy to explain it to them after dinner. If anyone gives you a hard time or mocks you, smile and move on to another conversation. Don’t let people get a rise out of you. If you don’t give them the response they want, they are the ones who will look foolish. Make your stand by being confident and proud of your position. When someone offers you turkey or mashed potatoes with milk, simply smile and say, “Thanks but I don’t eat ____ but could you please pass the veggie lasagna?” For more pointers, read 5 Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving without Turkey on Your Plate.
Whether Thanksgiving is your most favorite holiday or not, it can be a day filled with extraordinary food. Sharing vegan dishes, whether at your own home or by bringing some to your host’s place, is a great way to show people just how delicious plant-based food can be. I know I’m thankful for that.
By: Rhea Parsons