A family Thanksgiving can be stressful enough, but for vegans and vegetarians, it can be a particularly grueling event. Is sticking to your animal free diet during this feast holiday too stressful? Au contraire! Thanksgiving is a great time to show the whole family how delicious vegan food can be. If you are not accustomed to vegan cooking, it may seem daunting at first but with a lot of chutzpah and a little luck, you can pull off a delicious feast that even the most devout carnivore will enjoy. Just watch a couple of episodes of the Post Punk Kitchen and dive right in!
Your first concern may be the kids as they are usually the most vocal critics. Thankfully, the vegan Thanksgiving menu is pretty easy to keep kid-friendly. Kids are naturally compassionate towards animals so going vegan for them is easy.
Simply walking a child through the process of how a turkey goes from farm to table will most likely be enough to get them fully on board with a turkey alternative this year (if you are not already a vegan family). You could even have your own turkey pardoning ceremony to ensure that more than one turkey gets an official pardon this year (thanks for that White House tradition, George H. W. Bush).
If you have picky eaters in your family, things can get a bit trickier. Be sure to get the kids involved with the prep, let them graze on ingredients as you all cook, and before you know it, they will have consumed a four-course meal and you won’t have to worry about them being too distracted at dinner to eat. Another good way to encourage kiddie gustatory pursuits is to serve buffet style and encourage grazing (even if that is not your usually preferred eating style). This approach may also be tried on picky in-laws, but no guarantees on results there.
Kids will naturally love making and eating some of the classics like mashed potatoes and stuffing, but to entice everyone else, especially those of an older generation who are not likely to go for it out of compassion for animals, you will want to pull out all the vegan culinary stops. Then, just wait for their mouths to water and exclaim something akin to, “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” A good way to keep people from doing a direct compare between their butter-laded taters at home and your vegan version is to add a surprising twist to your recipes. Adding cauliflower and garlic gives mashers a unique flavor that will tap into taste buds your guests never knew they had. Serving pumpkin waffles (Check out Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz for a great recipe) as an appetizer and preview of breakfast is sure to turn any skeptical wrinkled brow into a satisfied smile. Including the classics vegan-style will lay the groundwork for a few off-beat side dishes that you may want to sprinkle in for color. Stuffing, the stalwart of Thanksgiving side dishes, is a vegan’s dream as most recipes can be easily modified and even stuffed into a tofu turkey. There is a Martha Stewart chestnut and apple stuffing recipe that I swear by that it is very easy to veganize and whose rich flavor is owing to the roasted chestnuts so you don’t miss anything. Most ingredients have pretty straightforward substitutes though the cream is a bit more complex. Just mix some Sour Supreme with unsweetened Soy Milk until you get a cream-like consistency instead. And just skip the eggs altogether. There is enough moisture in the recipe already. Though adding a couple tablespoons of applesauce instead of the eggs does not hurt. No matter what the classics are…rolls, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce (naturally vegan!) onion green bean casserole — these days they all can be made vegan and delicious. And while many a vegan feast can be successful with a stuffed winter squash at the center, I suggest sticking a little closer to tradition for the Thanksgiving centerpiece as well.
So, how to replace a dead bird of gargantuan proportions? Turkey substitutes can be had aplenty at your local natural foods markets and even some mainstream chains. I remember back in the day when vegans had two choices: the bedrock of vegan Thanksgiving, the Tofurkey, and its challenger, the Unturkey, RIP. I was always on the side of Unturkey, a fan of its creepily realistic turkey skin (the only part of turkey I really liked anyway). But the majority did not share my opinion (it might have had to do with the spongy texture of the interior) and Unturkey ceased to exist in 2006. However, you can relive the Unturkey past at Unturkey.org where you can get a recipe to make it yourself! But never fear, franken-turkey technology has come a long way since then so there are other great pre-made options like Gardein stuffed Turk’y and my new favorite, the puff pastry covered Field Roast Hazelnut-Cranberry Field Roast, which is less franken and more just a great tasting, posh feeling pastry-encrusted loaf. If you are a bit more ambitious, there are also other options for making your own. Alicia Silverstone, for instance, has a great recipe in her cookbook, The Kind Diet, for a hand-molded tofu turkey.
And let’s not forget the finale. Wow them with sumptuous vegan desserts and everyone will be begging you to host Thanksgiving next year. If you are intimidated by vegan baking, My Sweet Vegan by Hannah Kaminsky has recipes for equally gorgeous and decadent desserts like Mocha Devastation Cake, Hazelnut Ravioli, or a twist on a classic, Pumpkin Pecan Pie. And don’t forget to pick up some vegan whipped cream like Soyatoo to top it off. Serving everything with nog helps everything go down a little better too (Silk Nog is my personal favorite but Earth Balance makes a vegan nog that eerily resembles something concocted with eggs) and a splash of rum doesn’t hurt either.
Just remember in all of this that Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy family, friends, and food and have fun! And if your guests end up pondering the health benefits of being vegan (which you, of course have sprinkled throughout the meal), or the ethical side (which you gracefully mentioned without preaching), then you’ve spread the word. All in all, you will have a happy, well-fed family looking forward to some leftover Tofurkey sandwiches the next day.