How to Dish Up Thanksgiving Without the Turkey

If you’re thinking of planning a turkey-free Thanksgiving holiday, you’re not alone. An estimated 7.3 million vegetarians in the US will be planning their holiday tables sans the “gobble, gobble”. And that’s not even counting the 22.8 million people in the US who are “vegetarian-inclined”. Increasingly, it’s important to offer plant-based menu items on a holiday table. And when it comes to Thanksgiving, it’s even more important. After all, this is the holiday all about giving thanks to a wholesome, abundant food supply that nourishes the mind, body and soul. What better way to honor it than focusing on delicious, nutrient-rich, health-protective plants!

Historians say that our very first Thanksgiving menu of 1621 likely included a variety of local, seasonal, plant foods, such as wheat flour, Indian corn, pumpkin, peas, beans, onions, lettuce, radishes, carrots, plums, grapes, walnuts, chestnuts, acorns, leek, currants and parsnips. Today, our traditional Thanksgiving plant foods have broadened to include seasonal favorites, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower, carrots, winter squash, apples, and cranberries. These are the very foundation for a plant-centric, holiday menu.

So, how do you make your plant-based Thanksgiving table shine? Just keep in mind, that when it comes to Thanksgiving, even die-hard carnivores wax poetic on the side dishes: stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie. You can use this as your starting place, and then go on from there. Check out my tips for planning a fabulous shindig below.

How to Dish Up Thanksgiving Without the Turkey

Roasted Butternut Squash with Dates, Figs, and Pistachios

1.  Focus on the Veggie Sides. Do you have a fabulous sweet potato casserole recipe or creamed corn that you learned at your mother’s side? From creamy Brussels sprouts to glazed carrots, there are so many classic vegetable sides in American cuisine. Resurrect those plant-based traditions by offering several vegetable side dishes on your table. You can make these vegetarian (or even vegan) quite easily with a few substitutions. Skip bacon add-ins, and use vegetable broth instead of meat or poultry broth in sauces; for vegan dishes, substitute plant-based milk (i.e., soy or almond) for milk in sauces, plant-based cheese (there are lots of options in supermarkets these days) for cheese in casseroles, and dairy-free margarine or olive oil for butter in recipes. Let your local farmers market guide you to the most delicious plants to inspire your menu. Check out one of my favorite holiday side dishes, Roasted Butternut Squash with Dates, Figs, and Pistachios.

Cranberry Leek Whole Grain Stuffing

2.  Don’t Skip the Dressing. Just because there’s no turkey roasting in the oven, it doesn’t mean you can’t do dressing. After all, these days most people bake their dressing on the side, rather than stuff their bird and risk food safety issues. This savory side dish is a must, served with plenty of tangy cranberry relish. Check out my flavorful recipe for Cranberry Leek Whole Grain Stuffing.

Lentil Patties with Basil Arugula Cashew Cream

3.  The Star of the Plate. Even those sides can benefit with the touch of a hearty, plant-based entrée. Many people turn to faux turkey products, such as Gardein Holiday Roast, Field Roast Celebration Roast and Tofurky Feast. These are all great options. But you can make something more home-made and personalized, such as a savory grain and nut loaf (my favorite recipe is in my book Plant-Powered for Life) or a lentil patty, such as this recipe for Lentil Patties with Basil Arugula Cashew Cream.

Quince Apple Compote

4.  Don’t Forget Dessert! Some of the best, holiday desserts start and end with fruit: apple pie, pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie. I rest my case! Try this easy Quince Apple Compote for something a bit different. In the end, a plant-powered Thanksgiving table can be just as delicious and celebratory as one focused on a turkey. And it just might leave you pushing away from the dining room table feeling just a tad bit lighter than in years past.

For other holiday recipes, check out some of my favorites:

Mashed Potatoes and Heirloom Carrots with Basil, Garlic, and Olive Oil
Oat Cranberry Pilaf with Pistachios
Broccoli Walnut Au Gratin

Image: Stuffed Butternut Squash with Sage Lentil Filling, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

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