I am in the restaurant business and Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year. In my first year in business, I was looking forward to a day off. My plans for a much-needed day off had nothing to do with cooking or eating or the demands of feeding others. But, when a regular customer who would have be eating alone and wanted to eat a plant-based meal for the holiday, asked me to make him a little something, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.
I had been vegetarian for over a decade. I had celebrated Thanksgiving at potlucks and cooked with vegetarians who were proud to have "saved a turkey." I had also been invited to eat at the tables of some serious home cooks who meticulously followed recipes published in the now defunct Gourmet magazine or from books like The Silver Palate or The Joy of Cooking.
One Thanksgiving after I had become a pretty good vegetarian cook, I attempted to prepare the turkey at my mother's table. I wanted to prove to my family that I was tolerant enough to cook what they wanted and good enough to make traditional recipes past down from the hierarchy of great southern cooks of which I belonged to. I wasn't carrying the Southern cuisine baton as I shunned Crisco from the get-go. Still I was aware that I was continuing the lineage of one who had been graced with the skill and creativity to cook. And besides, would it hurt them if I made some of the traditional holiday recipes with a twist of healthiness?
I was clueless about how to cook a bird. I followed a step by step Martha Stewart recipe. In the end, even after all that time I took to brine and stuff and macro-manage the oven, that organic bird came out too dry and a little bit tough.
Thank goodness, my side dishes came to life. From the traditional mashed garnet yams to a stuffed acorn squash to my mother's rendition of asparagus casserole using crème of mushroom soup, to putting my spin on my grandmother's beloved corn meal stuffing; these dishes made up for the turkey failure, sort of. Today, my family still likes to "rib me" about the turkey disaster.
Nevertheless, all this came rushing back into my memory as I said yes to my hungry guest for his order of a Thanksgiving meal, vegan style. As the budding restaurateur I was at the time, I figured I might as well offer this meal to others. I so needed the day off, that I made a deal with the customers to let me give them this meal the day before Thanksgiving. Thankfully, they all agreed and I got my day of rest and they got fed.
Over the last two decades, I have perfected Thanksgiving in both my restaurants and in my own home kitchen. What started as a few dishes has now grown into every thing Thanksgiving from soup to pumpkin pie and each year we are proud that we spared the life of a turkey. Are you aware that 45 million turkeys are killed, cooked and eaten in America at Thanksgiving?
As the popularity of this annual feast in my restaurants grew, it grew beyond just singles and couples that wanted to eat a plant based meal. Hostesses who were cooking for their family and friends wanted to supplement with a creative plant protein dish. Each year we receive more single orders for our "faux turkey breasts" and our savory gravy. And this year, when gluten sensitivity is such an issue, I changed the flours in the gravy and stuffing to a gluten-free flour. I actually l think these savory flours enhance these recipes.
Photo by Stephanie Carbone.
Today, people are more relaxed about what kind of eaters are coming to dinner and more willing to make sure that they offer them something that is creative and satisfying. What a joy it is to set a table and invite all kinds of eaters. I've found my meat eating friends are willing to do what I did for years; politely and without judgment enjoy the food that has been set before them.
Here are a few of the Thanksgiving recipes that I will be making for my family this year. Whether or not you want to forgo the turkey, these recipes can be great substitutions or additions to your holiday meal. My commitment to preparing dishes that are both delicious and health-minded stays strong at the holidays. These recipes nourish on a lot of levels. Enjoy your cooking and consider saving a turkey. If not, then at least honor the non-meat eaters at your Thanksgiving meal. Here are eight perfect recipes to make. These recipes are published in my two cookbooks: Vegan Family Meals, Real food for Everyone published by Andrews McMeel Publishing and The Real Food Daily Cookbook published by Ten Speed Press.
•Holiday Herb Mix
This savory herb mixture is used in the Faux Turkey Breasts and the Corn Sage Stuffing. It is easy to make this ahead and keep using it throughout the holiday season. Makes about 1 1/4 cups
1/2 cup dried rubbed sage
1/4 cup dried marjoram
1/4 cup dried rosemary
1/4 cup dried thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Stir all the ingredients in a small bowl to blend. Transfer the herbs to a glass jar and seal with the lid. The herb mixture will keep up to 1 month, stored airtight at room temperature.
•Faux Turkey Breasts
2 (8-ounce) packages soy tempeh
1 (12-ounce) container water-packed firm tofu, drained
1/3 cup yellow miso
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons Holiday Herb Mix
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Quarter the tempeh squares and tofu square into rectangular blocks. Using the food processor fitted with the shredding disc, shred the tempeh and tofu (the mixture will appear crumbled). Stir the miso and mustard in a small bowl to blend. Set the tempeh-tofu mixture and miso-mustard aside.
Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté for 8 minutes, or until they are translucent. Stir in the herb mix, salt, and black pepper. Then, stir in the shredded tempeh-tofu mixture and miso-mustard mixture. Sauté for 8 minutes, or until the mixture is well blended and golden brown. Set the tempeh mixture aside until cool enough to handle.
Brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over a heavy large baking sheet. Using your hands and about 3/4 cup of the tempeh mixture for each, shape the tempeh mixture into eight 4 to 5 inch-long oval patties that are about 3-inches wide and taper at one end to resemble chicken breasts. Arrange the patties on the prepared baking sheet. Brush more oil over the patties. The patties will keep for 2 days, covered and refrigerated.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the patties are golden and heated through.
•Corn Sage Stuffing
1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup neutral cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
8 celery stalks, finely chopped
4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons Holiday Herb Mix
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons tamari
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
12 cups coarsely crumbled Southern-style Skillet Cornbread (see recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 teaspoon of oil. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Stir in the celery, carrots, herb mix, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Stir in the water and tamari. Bring the water to a simmer. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in the parsley.
Place the corn bread in a large bowl. Add the vegetable mixture and toss to coat. Transfer the stuffing to the prepared baking dish. The stuffing can be made ahead up to this point. Cover the stuffing with foil and refrigerate it until ready to bake and serve.
Bake the covered stuffing for 30 minutes, or until it is heated through. Uncover and continue baking 20 minutes longer, or until the stuffing is crisp on top.
•Southern-style Skillet Corn Bread
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
or 2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 cups plain soymilk
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Sift the cornmeal, white flour, pastry flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk the soymilk, 1/3 cup of oil, maple syrup, and salt in another bowl to blend. Stir the wet ingredients into the cornmeal mixture. Set aside.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to a 12-inch-diameter cast iron skillet and swirl to coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. Heat the skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and spread evenly. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until the corn bread it firm to the touch, golden brown on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean. Cool slightly.
•Savory Gluten-Free Gravy
Makes 4 cups
1/2 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup gluten-free flour (such as Bob's Red Mill)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds (optional)
4 cups water
1/4 cup tamari
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Stir the nutritional yeast and flour in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until pale golden and fragrant. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, sage, and thyme, and sauté for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Whisk in the flour mixture and ground flaxseeds. Whisk in the water, tamari, and pepper. Bring the gravy to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Continue simmering until the gravy is thick and creamy.
The gravy will keep for 2 days, covered and refrigerated. To rewarm, bring the gravy to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
8 pounds yams (about 12; red-skinned sweet potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup plain soymilk 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
Cook the yams in a large pot of boiling water for 20 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Return the potatoes to the pot and mash. Mix in the maple syrup, soymilk, cinnamon, and allspice. Season with salt and pepper.
The yams will keep for 1 day, covered and refrigerated. To rewarm, transfer them to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until heated through.
•Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac
4 small heads celeriac, (about 11 ounces total), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 large russet potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 pounds total), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 tablespoons (vegan) butter
1 1/2 cup (about) non-dairy milk, warmed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, divided
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
Fine-grained sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Boil the celeriac in large saucepan of salted water for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and boil until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes longer. Drain well.
Return the potatoes and celeriac to the saucepan. Stir over medium-high heat until dry, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the butter and mash until the vegetables are smooth. Add enough milk to moisten. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the rosemary and all of the chives. Season the mash to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer the mash to a serving dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1teaspoon of rosemary and serve immediately.
1 (12-16 oz) package fresh or frozen cranberries
2/3 cup maple syrup
1 small orange juice and zest
In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.