Skip the Gravy: Simple Oil-Free Sauces for a Delicious Plant-Based Thanksgiving


According to my husband, Sam, no meal is complete without a sauce. And from what I’ve gotten to know about Matt, Doug, and the rest of the NMA team over the past few years, they’re into sauces too.

So when Matt and I started planning the new No Meat Athlete Cookbook, for which I wrote many of the recipes, we made a point to include several sauce recipes.

A good sauce can turn an ordinary dish into something extraordinary. It can elevate each bite into a flavor-packed delight.

And on Thanksgiving, that’s especially true. Most of the dishes on our extended family’s dinner table are easily modified to be plant-based, but without the gravy, the meal can seem incomplete, and even a little dry.

I usually whip up a standard vegan gravy, but this year I’ve decided to lighten things up a bit and created two new plant-based sauces for our big feast.

They’re both oil-free, nut-free and gluten-free, and they’re less salty than vegan gravy. And don’t tell your kids, but as a bonus I even decided to sneak in a serving of vegetables for flavor and added nutrition.

These two sauces are super simple to make (and are both reheatable), so even if you’re planning a long ride or run before Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll love this quick addition to the meal.

Dijon Butternut Squash Sauce


Sneaking vegetables into vegan “cheese” sauces is nothing new, but they’re usually paired with cashews or oil for richness.

Here, I took another route. Dijon mustard is one of my favorite savory ingredients to use in fall and winter — as I find its tangy pungency cuts through the sweetness of the root vegetables that are so prevalent this time of year.

The mustard is the star of this silky smooth sauce, along with nutritional yeast for depth and “cheesiness” and almond milk for creaminess. Pour this over simple grains like quinoa or brown rice; toss with whole-grain pasta for veggie-heavy spin on a mac and “cheese”; or use in place of gravy on top of mashed potatoes.

Author: Stepfanie Romine
Recipe type: Sauce
Cook time:  30 mins
Total time:  45 mins
Serves: 6-8 (about 3 cups)


  • 1 small butternut squash, sliced in half and seeds removed, to yield about 2 cups roasted squash
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon reduced-sodium tamari
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone liners.
  3. Place the squash cut side down on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Roast for 30 minutes, or until tender.
  5. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
  6. Scoop out the flesh and discard the skins.
  7. Transfer to a blender along with the remaining ingredients. Puree until completely smooth.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
  9. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to five days.

Slow-Cooked Balsamic Onions and Mushrooms


Standard gravy is deep and savory, rich in umami.

With this simple slow-cooker dish, I sought that same satisfying mouth feel, with less salt and more heft. I found it with this hybrid sauce and side dish, which was inspired by the vegan Amy’s Roasted Vegetable Pizza. The mushrooms and balsamic onions are the best part, and I always think about how tasty they would be in other dishes.

Since this dish is made in the slow cooker, it’s perfect for Thanksgiving or other special occasions where space on the stove or in the oven is limited. As long as your slow cooker has a timer, you can ignore this dish until it’s ready, and if you want to cut even more time, use a food processor to slice the onions and mushrooms and opt for jarred minced garlic.

This dish is so good that I usually have a batch in my freezer, ready for quick pizza nights or a flavor boost on simple greens and grains. It’s also delicious when stuffed inside phyllo shells with a dollop of cashew cream or cheese, for a quick appetizer.

Note: Since the balsamic vinegar is such an integral part of this recipe, you want to choose the best quality possible. Opt for a balsamic that’s thick and syrupy (I like Napa Valley Naturals) without any sugars or thickeners.

Author: Stepfanie Romine
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cook time:  4 hours
Total time:  4 hours, 20 minutes
Serves: 6-8 (about 3 cups cooked)


  • 3 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced into rings or half-moons
  • 1 pint cremini or white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon reduced-sodium tamari
  • 1/2 teaspoon arrowroot powder (optional)


  1. Set a slow cooker to high heat. Place the onions and mushrooms in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour evenly over the onions and mushrooms and toss to thoroughly coat.
  3. Slow cook for 4 hours, until the onions and mushrooms are soft and dark.
  4. Turn off the heat, and sprinkle the arrowroot evenly on top. Stir in the arrowroot, and let the onions and mushrooms sit for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve immediately.
  6. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to five days.

Want More Simple, Delicious Sauces and “Flavor Boosts”?

So there you go, now you can have healthy sauces on Thanksgiving so your food isn’t dry and terrible. But if you’re looking for more sauces etc., we’ve got you covered.

The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: 150 Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts and the Rest of Your Life has an entire chapter dedicated to sauces, seasoning blends, spreads and flavor boosts. From Korean Tahini BBQ Sauce and Chimichurri to Beer “Cheese” Dip and homemade Taco Seasoning, you’ll find quick and easy ways to spice up any meal — plus lots of recipes for the rest of your life, too. All tested and approved by your fellow NMAs.

Click here to pre-order your copy now.

About the Author: Stepfanie Romine is co-author of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: 150 Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts and the Rest of Your Life. Stepfanie is a yogi, a runner and a writer who has lived — and cooked — on three continents, as well as an ACE-certified health coach and registered yoga teacher. Find her at The Flexible Kitchen, on Instagram, or running the trails near Asheville, NC.

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  1. Great post! Thanks so much for these tips…..wish I would have seen this for my wife on Thanksgiving and Christmas..LOL! Keep up the good work!

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