A lot of things seem like a big deal before you’re vegetarian or vegan… and none bigger than the question of how to deal with your first vegan Thanksgiving.
“What do you do on Thanksgiving if you don’t eat meat?” is one of the more common questions people ask me. Almost as common is, “Do you have any advice for a first plant-based Thanksgiving?”, so I figured I’d write a post about how I handle this holiday that’s based so much on (traditionally not-even-close-to-vegan) food… with some tips and recipes to help you make your vegan Thanksgiving a success.
(And once you’re done here, check out our post full of vegan holiday recipes, too.)
Why Vegan Thanksgiving Isn’t So Hard
The reason Thanksgiving is easier than people expect, I think, is that while turkey is the main course, this is one meal where the focus is generally just as much (or more!) on the side dishes.
Pumpkin soup, casseroles, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and even pumpkin pie all have easy vegan versions; you just need to look for the recipes.
And so what my wife and I have done for the past few years is simple: focus our Thanksgiving dinner on the sides.
We actually hosted Thanksgiving the first year we were vegetarian (not yet vegan). We made a bunch of delicious side dishes from Fine Cooking, substituting where necessary. We did have a turkey at the table, but if I remember correctly, we had a guest bring it for anyone who wanted it, instead of making it ourselves. (I’m the opposite of the type of vegetarian who would expect my non-vegetarian guests to skip turkey just because they’re my guests.)
So hosting Thanksgiving yourself is one way to make it easy. But for the past two years, we’ve gone to my wife’s sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, with last year being our first as vegans. Going somewhere else was harder than hosting it, of course, because we weren’t making all the dishes. But we’ve been lucky that our hostess has made us our own gravy, and made sure several other dishes were vegan so we could eat them.
Even with fewer choices than when we made everything ourselves, eating somewhere else hasn’t been hard. I recognize that not everyone has such a nice situation, with accepting relatives that make it easy and pleasant. But even in a tough situation where nobody is going to go out of their way to help you out, I still think you can make the best of it with just a little bit of effort. Here are some simple ways to do it.
A Few Tips for Making Your Vegan Thanksgiving a Delicious One
- If Thanksgiving for your family is an all-day affair, bring a dip that’s filling (like hummus, see recipe below) that you can snack on all day. Unlike everyone else, you’re not so worried about filling up on appetizers and ruining your dinner, especially if you won’t have much of a dinner to ruin!
- Many vegan, one-dish meals also make great sides (like this lentil, mushroom and root vegetable dish). If you’re only making one thing to bring for yourself, make it something hearty like this that can serve as your main course but that others will enjoy as a side.
- Go to a vegan restaurant or a vegan potluck for their Thanksgiving dinner. Often these are held on the night before Thanksgiving, so you can treat that as your big feast day and the next as a day to spend time with family and just fill up on what food you can. (We’re going to this one, at our favorite vegan restaurant in the world that happens to be right up the road. It’ll be our first Thanksgiving thing like this.)
- Field Roast (purveyors of the best fake meats around, in my opinion) makes a Celebration Roast that I’ve eaten and enjoyed with no cause whatsoever for celebration. They even provide some Thanksgiving-style recipes for it! Also check out their Hazelnut Cranberry Roast en Croute — I’ve never had it (nor do I speak French) but it sure looks fancy.
- From Doug: “If going to someone else’s house for dinner (like family), be aggressive in either offering to provide recipes or cooking some of the dishes yourself. I find that most people just don’t know how to handle it, so they are happy to accept some help. “
- From Susan: “As a vegetarian whose in-laws are cattle ranchers, I’ve learned the most important thing during family gatherings is to always keep a sense of humor. Though we have our joking banter about how I ‘need to eat more beef!’ they ultimately respect my way of living because I respect theirs, too. I love my partner’s family – they’re wonderful, funny people, and when we get together, we’ve got ten million things to talk about besides vegetarianism and cattle ranching. I don’t care if we gather around a turkey and I’m “only” eating side dishes – I’m enjoying the company! The holidays are supposed to be a positive, fun time, not a time to try to ‘convert’ anyone or make people feel like a bad person because of what they choose (or not choose) to eat.”
- From my sister, Christine: “Remember all the great stuff that is naturally vegan and doesn’t need replacements — like baguettes and roasted garlic, cranberries, green beans, succotash, sour kraut, mushroom gravy, sweet potato casserole (marshmallows are gross on this anyway), butternut squash soup, apple crumble, and hot apple cider.”
- Don’t make a big deal about your diet differences on Thanksgiving, unless people are genuinely interested. I know some people are more vocal about their veganism than I am, and that’s cool, but I think Thanksgiving is one time when debating about food probably only entrenches both sides. Not to mention ruining the atmosphere and the point of the celebration.
- Finally, remember that the food isn’t the real point. One of the great things about vegan Thanksgiving is that it’s not quite as easy to eat so much that you’re disgustingly, uncomfortably stuffed and needing to immediately unbuckle your jeans and collapse into a food coma the instant the meal is over. Use the energy and attention you would have spent destroying your plate to instead be mindful and grateful that you have food on it, and that you have friends and family to share it with.
Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes
Appetizer: Pumpkin hummus
By Christine Frazier
- 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 can pumpkin puree (or 2 cups homemade pumpkin puree)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- juice of 1 lemon (about 3 tablespoons
Puree all ingredients in a food processor until uniform. Serve with flatbread and fresh veggies.
Appetizer: Vegan Spinach Dip
By Angela Merchant & Jessica Gonzalez, from Ahimsa Vegan Eats
“For as long as we can remember, spinach dip has been a signature appetizer at every Thanksgiving we attended. It is comforting and creamy, fresh and crunchy. Plus, we love anything that gives us an excuse to eat tons of sourdough bread! The spinach dip we know and love is loaded with dairy sour cream and mayo, not to mention the seasoning packet riddled with chemicals, preservatives and MSG!
When we went looking for a vegan alternative we found plenty of hot spinach dips with artichokes and jalapeños, but that wasn’t what we wanted! We were sure that we would never get to experience the same delicious dip that we would congregate around. It was impossible for us to find a seasoning packet without all the nasty additives. BUT, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, we knew we had to be ready to celebrate. So check it out, this has now replaced spinach dip at all family functions and nobody even knows there is a difference. My dad (who cuts meat for a living, and a devout omni) will only eat this version now!”
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon grated onion (1/4 small onion)
- 1 small carrot (grated)
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
- 1 bag (6-8 ounces) fresh baby spinach, chopped
- 1 can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
- 2 cups vegan sour cream (instructions below)
- 1 3/4 cup raw cashews (not salted)
- 1 cup unsweetened, plain soy milk
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup refined coconut oil, melted
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 pinches of salt
- Make sour cream by blending all sour cream ingredients together in a high-speed blender. Then place into a container and place in fridge. (This can be done up to 2 days ahead of time.)
- Combine all the other ingredients including the sour cream together.
- Refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to mix and the dip to thicken.
- Serve with a fresh sourdough bread and crunchy vegetables.
NOTE: To make your own sour cream it is essential to use a High-Speed blender such as a Vitamix or Blendtec. If you do not have one the end result will not be as smooth and silky, and may come out gritty. Try soaking your cashews for 6-8 hours to help a standard blender break them down.
Entree: Cheryl’s Stuffed Acorn Squash
By Cheryl Pannone
“Every thanksgiving we all make a dish to bring to a family members house. Sense I am the only vegan in our family this can be a challenge for holidays. I have to come up with something that we all could enjoy that was delicious and flavorful since my family is always a little hesitant to try foods that are vegan (why is that anyway?) I needed to make a wow dish! I made this recipe last year as a delicious addition to Thanksgiving dinner. They were a hit and I plan on making them again this year maybe a different version, perhaps with quinoa and tomatoes or other veggies.”
- 2 acorn squashes, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 cup chickpeas (or other white bean)
- Dash of sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
- 1 tsp fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- ½ cup chopped celery
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup wild rice
- 1½ cups vegetable stock (homemade if possible)
- ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- Preheat the oven to 450°F
- Cut squash and scrap out the seeds and then place the squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet with either parchment paper or lightly oiled. Then cover with foil and roast for 40 to 45 minutes, until its tender. Test it with a fork.
- Heat the oil a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions first and season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and clear for a couple of minutes.
- Then, add the garlic and seasoning except the fresh parsley and cook for about 30 seconds to mix in all the flavors. Then add the vegetable stock and uncooked rice, bring to a boil then, reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid. Remove from the heat and stir in the pecans, parsley, cranberries, maple syrup, orange zest, and orange juice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Spoon the rice mixture into each acorn squash and place back on the baking sheet. Sprinkle some vegan bread crumbs on top with a squeeze of lemon and vegan cheese as an option. Bake for another 10 minutes just enough to heat through. If you like a crunchy top, set oven on broil until toasted – make sure to keep an eye on it!
Dessert: Sweet Potato Waffles
By Jason Bahamundi
We’ve long known Jason Bahamundi, who blogs at Cook Train Eat Race, is a little obsessed with his waffle maker. He’s made almost every food in waffle form, from polenta to carrot cake, and they all turn out delicious. These unique sweet potato waffles are no exception.
- 1 medium sweet potato
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 2/3 cup pancake mix of your choice
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Maple syrup, vegan whipped cream and/or ice cream
- Fresh sage — chiffonade
- Chop sweet potato into chunks and then place into a bowl and cover with water.
- Microwave sweet potato for 5 minutes or until tender.
- While sweet potato is in microwave combine all ingredients into a separate bowl and combine well.
- When sweet potato is ready use potato masher to create smashed sweet potato.
- Combine with other ingredients.
- Following your manufacturer’s directions pour 1-2 tablespoons per waffle and cook until crunchy on the outside and creamy smooth on the inside.
- Plate and then pour pure warm maple syrup over the top with extra dried cranberries and walnuts.
Vegan Thanksgiving Sauces
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 asked No Meat Athlete Cookbook co-author Stepfanie Romine for help with some really knockout vegan thanksgiving sauces, and as usual, Stepfanie delivered:
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
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone liners.
- Place the squash cut side down on the prepared baking sheet.
- Roast for 30 minutes, or until tender.
- Set aside for 10 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
- Scoop out the flesh and discard the skins.
- Transfer to a blender along with the remaining ingredients. Puree until completely smooth.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
- 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)
- Set a slow cooker to high heat. Place the onions and mushrooms in the bottom of the slow cooker.
- Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour evenly over the onions and mushrooms and toss to thoroughly coat.
- Slow cook for 4 hours, until the onions and mushrooms are soft and dark.
- 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.
- Serve immediately.
- Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to five days.
Have a happy, healthy Thanksgiving
I published this post a few weeks ahead of Thanksgiving so you have time to use it. I’ve heard a lot of stories (like Wendy’s!) of people who use an over-indulgence on Thanksgiving as their motivation to start eating better or even go vegetarian or vegan. While that’s great, my hope is that a few people might skip the over indulgence this year, and go right to the healthy part. 🙂
Vegan Supplements: Which Ones Do You Need?
Written by Matt Frazier
I’m here with a message that, without a doubt, isn’t going to make me the most popular guy at the vegan potluck.
But it’s one I believe is absolutely critical to the long term health of our movement, and that’s why I’m committed to sharing it. Here goes…
Vegans need more than just B12.
Sure, Vitamin B12 might be the only supplement required by vegans in order to survive. But if you’re anything like me, you’re interested in much more than survival — you want to thrive.
So what else do vegans need?