Vegetarian Thanksgiving? No Problem!

Filed under: Cooking Tips,Holiday Foods , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , November 18, 2019

If you have vegetarian clients–or family or friends, for that matter–and you’re in charge of Thanksgiving, whether it’s a personal gathering or you’re catering, you may be smacking your forehead trying to figure out how to create a meal that’s not all about the turkey.

No worries. But, first a couple of ground rules your guests will appreciate. Let’s start with the whole premise of the meal: it’s celebrating a holiday with family and friends and making it your own–not about specific dishes. So, don’t be rigid in your thinking about what dishes you feel you have to make.

Second, if you’re going vegetarian or vegan, don’t try to make things taste like something else. As one chef friend of mine told me, “You’ll never see tofurky in my house.”

 

Many vegetarian and vegan people are used to composing courses much like non-vegetarians—a main course of protein, starch, and vegetable. But, the beauty of vegetarian courses is being able to focus on just one or two primary vegetables and back them up with flavors that enhance. Say, grilled eggplant with sauteed shitake mushrooms, goat cheese, and tomato jus with herbs.

Keep it simple. It’s very easy for cooks to combine so many vegetables on a plate that it gets messy in terms of flavor. Try a stuffed acorn squash with a simple vegetable medley or grain with bright flavors to contrast with the creamy, earthy, and sweet flavors of the squash. Stuffed vegetables are a hit for presentation and the combinations are endless.

You can’t miss by using what’s in season. This time of year, for Thanksgiving, it’s all about greens, root vegetables, pumpkins and squashes, wonderful citrus fruits, apples, pears, and persimmons. Instead of fake meats use grains to add flavor. Also, contrast textural elements of dishes to put them in the forefront rather than have a table full of side dishes. Stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, Swiss chard tamales, and parsnip au gratin are all dishes that can stand up proudly to any turduckin.

Many of these dishes above work well as main courses. Build around them with complementary Think salads made of greens with Gorgonzola, toasted hazelnuts, persimmon slices, cranberries, and a pomegranate vinaigrette.

And don’t skimp on the good stuff—rich cheeses, chestnuts, morels and chanterelles, even truffles for a splurge. Just because you don’t eat meat doesn’t mean you can’t still indulge in culinary treats.

For vegetarians, that could also mean a gorgeous puffy cheese soufflé as the meal’s centerpiece, or a truffle mac ‘n cheese, or an omelet roulade filled with spinach and roasted peppers. For vegans, it could be a root vegetable pot pie spiked with truffles, with a rich sauce made from root vegetable stock. Or consider sautéed or roasted vegetables snuggled rustically in phyllo packages—which have the additional benefit of being able to be made in advance and frozen before cooking. You can wrap each portion individually with a big fluffy knot of phyllo on top, and use olive oil instead of butter when cooking for vegans.

The idea boils down to having a holiday feast that highlights a few main dishes with side dishes and salads to complement them.

Here are some great cooking tips for making vegetarian and vegan Thanksgiving dishes from my friend Susan Sbicca, a chef in San Diego:

  • Use flaxseed meal as a thickener for sauces and gravies.
  • Cashews make excellent cream and milk alternative.
  • Use mushroom stems, soy sauce or tamari and a touch of molasses for a hearty rich broth for gravy.
  • Use combinations of raw and cooked vegetables and grains for more flavor depth. Example:  quinoa or farro with matchstick cut carrots, marinated grated parsnip, julienned raw arugula and of course spinach
  • Keep close watch on the amount of oil used in recipes and vegetable marinades. Eggplant and portabella mushrooms (delicious hearty entrees) act like sponges. Use a combination of soy sauce or amino acids, good olive oil, a touch of lemon and vegetable stock to keep them moist but not fat bombs. (throw in a medjool date or two for deeper sweetness).
  • Stuffed vegetables are a hit for presentation and the combinations are endless.  Stuff baby pumpkins, acorn squash, patty pan squash etc.
  • Make salads interest using seasonal dried berries such as dried cranberrys and cherries.
  • Add more texture to a dish with seasonal nuts: walnuts and pecans.
  • Think about combining mashed foods: potatoes and parsnip,  butternut and pumpkin, yams and yellow potatoes.
  • Use medjool dates as sweeteners in recipes that call for sugars.

Are you making a vegetarian or vegan Thanksgiving meal? What are some of the dishes you’re presenting?

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As we segue from winter to spring, it’s sometimes challenging to come up with dishes that can make the transition with us from chilly to warm weather. I’ve found that lentils are terrific to cook with year round. And they’re one of those nutritionally perfect foods–high in fiber, high in folate, and a good source of non-meat protein. And studies are showing that adding lentils to the diet of people with diabetes can slightly lower blood pressure and improve blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

And they can taste so delicious.

Food writer and friend Caron Golden shared with me our mutual friend Chef Flor Franco’s recipe for Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup, which she recently made with Caron’s mother and served for lunch with roast chicken, rice, salad, and fresh fruit. Flor is the owner of Indulge Catering and has created programs in San Diego that teach low-income women to prepare healthy, low-cost meals for their families.

The soup is an amalgam of lentils and split peas infused with fragrant cumin, coriander, turmeric, Spanish paprika, and cayenne. Add roasted tomatoes, garlic, and onions; fresh minced parsley and cilantro; and a splash of olive oil and that’s about it. The result is a richly flavored but very healthy dish that can be eaten as soup or spread over a steaming mound of rice, depending on how thick or loose you want it. Just add or take out water. For those of you who have vegetarian or vegan clients, you can add this to your repertoire.

Spices

And, here’s a tip, combine the spices in larger quantities in advance and keep in an airtight container to make preparation faster if you plan on making this soup regularly.

lunch

Flor Franco’s Moroccan Spiced Lentil Soup
Yield: about 5 servings

15 cups of water
2 cups lentils
2 cups yellow split peas
2 cups green split peas
5 tomatoes (plum tomatoes are good for this)
2 large onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Moroccan spice mix
2 tablespoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
3 dried Chinese chiles

salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
1/2 cup fresh minced cilantro

Preheat the broiler.

Add the lentils and split peas to a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cook about 35 minutes until soft.

Broil the tomatoes, onions, and garlic until they start to brown and soften. Remove from the oven and peel the skin from the tomatoes.

Roasted tomatoes

When the legumes are ready you can remove some of the liquid if you want this mixture to be very thick (so you can mound the dish on a bed of rice) or add more water if you want it more like soup. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt, pepper, parsley, and cilantro. Cook for another 10 minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve and sprinkle with the parsley and cilantro.

Flor's lentils

Do you  have a go-to favorite recipe for clients that’s healthy and nutritious? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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