Chances are you have a vegan in your life - a real dyed-in-the-natural-fiber-cruelty-free-wool vegan for whom all animal products are off limits. And perhaps that vegan is threatening a visit to your Thanksgiving table this year.
Thanksgiving is stressful. Everyone knows that; the very history of it is stress. The original celebration was not what people had to eat, but that they had anything to eat at all. Maybe things aren’t as bad as all that today, but it can still be stressful when someone needs a special menu.
But one of the great things about vegan meals is that everyone can enjoy them. (Provided they don’t have a nut allergy, or a wheat allergy, or...well maybe we oughta just go out for Chinese food.)
If your first thought was an eye roll, or something along the lines of, “That’s their choice - I don’t have to cook for them,” or if you think they can get by on salad and cranberry sauce, well, honestly, don’t even invite them. Somewhere there’s a welcoming table where the lentils overfloweth, and they will take your vegan in.
But if you actually like them, maybe even love them, or if your loved one loves them, or if you want them in any way, shape, or form to have a great time as your guest, then read on. Along with religion and politics, we may view dietary choices as something that is driving family and friends apart, but instead, let’s see it as a chance to bring us together. Here’s the thing: you can’t eat your Uncle Roger’s opinion on Obamacare. But you know what? Those chickpea cutlets smothered in white pepper cashew gravy are pretty dang delicious. And I can tell you it’s nearly impossible to argue about Iran, or Israel, or China when you have a coconut cream pie stuffed in your face.
My point is, you don’t have to agree on the ethics to agree on good food. So while other political opinions may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, the only bitter you’ll find at your table will be an arugula salad - preferably made with local greens.
But it's tradition!
I know what you’re thinking: this all seems so unfamiliar. Whatever happened to tradition? But let’s take a look. Did the first Thanksgiving really occur at Plymouth in 1621? Or did it occur in Texas in 1598, as others claim, or in Virginia in 1619? And what about the indigenous tribes before them? Certainly they gave thanks, too, for bountiful harvests with celebratory feasts.
Then there’s the bird. Scholars can’t even confirm that a turkey was present at the first “Turkey Day.” Nor will they tell you it was a national “tradition” until another 200 years or so had passed. And what was with all the buckles? Everyone, it seems, had belts wrapped around their heads and feet back then. Why don’t we do that anymore?
It’s not that I think tradition isn’t significant, it’s actually that I think it is. But tradition in and of itself is not carte blanche to do whatever you want, is it? History is fraught with some pretty terrible traditions.
We all have emotional attachments to food and I think that is a positive quality. If the world seems a little wonky, what’s the harm in the fact that some sage-scented cornbread stuffing can set it right? I love that there are tastes and flavors that ground us and make us feel at home.
But a larger tradition for Thanksgiving is inclusiveness. Or, at least, that is what we’re supposed to tell our children. Let's keep that tradition by providing something out of nothing. Or, more specifically, cutlets out of chickpeas. Here’s to new traditions!
But what's in it for you?
A newfound love of lentils? An additional set of cooking skills? Do you know the wonders of cashew cream or how to emulsify a dressing without eggs? How about massaging kale? Yes, that is a thing. And you just might find it as relaxing as a regular massage.
And not to get all preachy (I am, after all, a vegan) but plant-based eating is the way of the future, if only out of necessity. It’s lower on the food chain, uses fewer resources and is better for the planet. Perhaps this will lead you to Meatless Mondays or to Vegan Before 6 or (best case scenario) to becoming a level seven vegan. Because we all want to have a planet on which to keep celebrating Thanksgiving!
But it goes both ways.
Well, yes and no. No one is asking you to have a completely vegan Thanksgiving (although, hey you never know.) Different families have different solutions. Some set a portion aside before adding dairy products, and others opt for the everything-vegan-except-for-the-turkey approach.
But it would definitely benefit us vegans to chill out a little bit this time of year, as well. Yeah, we’ve all heard those same Thanksgiving jokes from all of our uncles through all those years. You know, when they pass us the turkey or tell us that maybe some bacon would improve our butternut squash bisque.
The truth is, your uncle loves you. He is making that comment not so you will complain about him in an angst-ridden Facebook status later in the evening. He is just trying to relate to you in whatever way he can; he is trying to make you smile. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make you smile, that is neither here nor there, but that is his intent. So smile anyway.
Now that I've convinced you to feed the vegans in your life...
Should you go out and simply buy a Tofurkey? I think that most in the veggie set will recognize your gesture as somewhere from kind to totally the most generous thing ever. But what about going all out?
There are some incredibly easy things you can do to transform your non-vegan dinner into a veritable feast for all your guests. Make the stuffing vegan, using olive oil instead of butter. Try coconut oil in the whipped sweet potatoes. Even the green bean casserole - yes, that one with the crunchy onions on top - can be made vegan. A creative mix of oils makes for a fabulously flaky pastry crust for all of your pie needs. Mashed potatoes using almond milk are totally delish. And I’ve saved many a Thanksgiving with mushroom gravy.
I guess I should also mention that vegans love Thanksgiving. I don’t know why. They love it more than anything. And they will be happy to help you in the kitchen until the cows come home (to the farm sanctuary, of course.) Honestly, you could go get a pedicure and they will make the whole darn thing. But that’s not what this is about, now is it?
Do something great for animals and the planet all while showing the vegan in your life that you love them more than pumpkin pie can say - or at least that much.
Vegan Holiday Recipes Kale Salad With Butternut and Lentils Serves 6
The trick with eating raw kale is to work it really hard with your hands, like you’re ROLFing it (which is a deep tissue massage, that looks kind of fun.) Work it at every step, including when you rinse and drain it. Use your hands to really scrunch the leaves up to get the water out, almost like ringing out a sponge. Don’t worry, kale can take it! In fact, afterwards it might feel a little like you after a massage; tender, relaxed and ready to be smothered in vinaigrette.
1 lb butternut squash 1 tablespoon olive oil 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 lb kale, stems removed, torn into bite sized pieces (about 8 cups) 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (or a 15 oz can, rinsed and drained)
Vinaigrette: 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 3 tablespoons olive oil 2 teaspoons agave syrup (or maple syrup) 1 teaspoon dijon mustard 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely minced (or microplaned) 1 cloves garlic, finely minced (or microplaned) 1/4 teaspoon salt
Roast the squash: Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel the squash and divide the round part from the long part. Cut the round part in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice everything into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch pieces.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread squash out in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. The single layer is important because if the baking sheet is overcrowded the squash won’t brown, it’ll steam and just get mushy. Sprinkle with salt and toss with your hands to coat.
Pop in the oven for about 25 minutes, flipping every 15 minutes or so. They’re done when lightly browned on the outside and tender inside. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Assemble the salad: Stir the vinaigrette into a large mixing bowl – everything will be going in there so make sure it’s large enough to hold all that kale.
Add the kale and take a minute or so, using your hands, to rub the vinaigrette into the leaves and really swish it around in there. Add the cooled butternut and lentils and toss to coat. Give the flavors a few minutes to settle in, then taste for salt and serve.
Recipe notes: For the ginger and garlic, you want to get them to be almost a paste. A microplane grater works perfect for this, or you can just mince the hell out of them.
15 minute option: Don’t feel like butternut squash, or just looking for something a little less labor intensive? Replace the roasted butternut with apple. Just peel two tart apples, like Granny Smith, and dice them into 1/2 inch pieces.
Make ahead: Roast a mess of squash an evening or two before as a side dish for dinner, and use the leftovers (about 2 cups) for this salad.
Sweet Potato Soup With Ginger and Vanilla Vanilla bean and ginger holding hands in a field of creamy sweet potato, with pretty bursts of lime lighting their way, and just a touch of heat.
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 medium yellow onion, diced medium 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 3 lbs garnet yams, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks 4 cups vegetable broth 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (tip to use a steak knife) 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Preheat a 4-quart soup pot over medium heat. Saute the onions in oil with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add ginger and red pepper flakes, and saute another minute or so.
Add yams, veggie broth and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat a bit to a slow simmer and cook until potatoes are tender – usually 5 more minutes or so.
Once tender, add the vanilla beans. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Or transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor to puree. Be sure to let the steam escape in between pulses so that the steam doesn’t build up and explode all over you. Then transfer the soup back to the pot.
Add maple syrup and lime and taste for salt. Thin with a little water, if necessary. You can eat immediately, but the flavor develops a lot as it sits. The lime mellows out and the vanilla becomes more pronounced, especially the next day. Serve garnished with lime, if you like. You may also want to do a coconut swirl, or something like that, if you’re feeling fancy.
Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies Makes 24 cookies A sublime combination that tastes like the holidays!
1/2 cup refined coconut oil, softened 2 tablespoons lightly packed, finely chopped fresh rosemary 1/4 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup light brown sugar 1/4 cup almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk) 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (golden preferred) 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 cup chocolate semisweet chips
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two large baking sheets.
In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to beat together the coconut oil and rosemary, until relatively smooth. Add the sugar, and beat for about a minute.
Add the non-dairy milk and flax seeds, and beat once again, for 30 seconds or so. Mix in the vanilla.
Add about half the flour, as well as the salt and baking soda, and mix well. Add the remainder of the flour, along with the chocolate chips, and mix well until it looks like, well, cookie dough.
Scoop about 2 tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheets in rounded spoonfuls. Flatten gently with your hands. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown.
Let cool on sheets for 3 minutes or so, then transfer to cooling racks to cool the rest of the way.
Stuffed Thanksgiving Burgers Makes 6 burgers You can turn these burgers into an entree simply by serving with gravy and without the bun.
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided Small yellow onion, diced medium 2 ribs celery, thinly sliced 8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced 2 cloves garlic, minced Fresh black pepper 1 teaspoon dried thyme 1 teaspoon dry rubbed sage 4 cups baguette sliced into cubes 1 cup vegetable broth 1/2 cup hazelnuts 1 cup cooked green or brown lentils (1 16 oz can, rinsed and drained) 3/4 teaspoons salt 1/4 cup dried cranberries
To serve: 6 sourdough rolls Kale [or your preferred greens] Vegan mayo (storebought or homemade)
Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan non-stick (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Saute onion in one tablespoon olive oil for about 3 minutes with a pinch of salt, until translucent. Add mushroom, celery, garlic, black pepper, thyme and sage and saute for 7 to 10 minutes, until mushrooms have released most of their moisture.
Add baguette cubes, and drizzle in the other tablespoon of oil. Toss bread to coat in the mixture and cook for 5 minutes or so, tossing often, to lightly brown the bread.
Add the vegetable broth and use your spatula to really mush the bread up in the broth, so that it absorbs all the liquid and resembles stuffing. Let it cook about 3 more minutes, to sop up all the flavor.
While everything is cooking in the pan, place hazelnuts in food processor and pulse until they are chopped (not pureed.) Pieces should range from itty bitty to pea sized. Transfer nuts to a large mixing bowl. (No need to clean it out for the next step.)
Add the lentils to the food processor and puree until relatively smooth. Now add the bread mixture from the pan into the processor and pulse 10 to 15 times. You want the mixture to hold together, but there should still be mushroom and celery visible, it shouldn’t be a puree.
Transfer this to the mixing bowl with the hazelnuts. Add in the cranberries and salt. The cranberries like to stick together so make sure you separate them. Combine thoroughly, using your hands if need be, to form a firm but still malleable mixture. Taste for salt and pepper.
Let the mixture cool completely. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or so, just to help it firm up and let the flavors meld a bit.
Rinse out your cast iron, and preheat on medium-high. Roll the burgers into 6 equal sized tennis balls. Wash your hands often and keep them a little damp during this process for that the burgers don’t stick to your hands.
Flatten into 1 1/2 inch thick patties. Cook in a thin layer of oil for about 4 minutes on each side. Serve on buns with greens and mayo. Die of happiness!
Recipes used with permission of Isa Chandra Moskowitz