But my typical Thanksgiving meal would fall short on all fronts. Our core dishes always include turkey, sausage-spiked stuffing made with store-bought bread, fresh cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes (made with milk and butter) with turkey gravy, candied sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie; we’ve also been known to serve that infamous green-beans-and-mushroom-soup casserole.
For advice as to how to switch things up to accommodate various dietary needs and preferences, I turned to three experts: Elizabeth Turner, editor in chief of Vegetarian Times magazine; Nava Atlas, author of the cookbook “Vegan Holiday Kitchen,” (Sterling, 2011) and Beth Hillson, author of “Gluten-Free Makeovers¨(Da Capo Press, 2011).
“In my experience, people are the least attached to the turkey”of all the foods at Thanksgiving, Turner says. “They’re more interested in the mashed potatoes and other side dishes,” some of which (sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce) already are vegetarian-friendly.
That makes planning a vegetarian meal easy, Turner says; just shift your focus from finding a replacement for the big bird toward creating special sides. Here are some tips:
→For stuffing, skip the sausage, add flavor and texture with chestnuts and/or mushrooms, and moisten with vegetable broth. Chestnuts are very special and easy to find this time of year, Turner says. Trader Joe’s has them already cooked and ready to go.
→Start your gravy with a simple roux of flour and butter or margarine, and flavor with mushroom broth.
→For a main dish, serve a veggie-packed shepherd’s pie — “the obvious choice for a newbie vegetarian,” Turner says — topped with standard pie crust or mashed potatoes. For something a bit fancier, try making a vegetable-filled Wellington or potpie using puff pastry. “Most puff pastries are vegan,” Turner says. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you should always have some in your freezer, she says.
→As for replacing that turkey: More advanced cooks can make seitan “or wheat meat” — a dough made of wheat gluten that you can season and shape however you like. It makes quite a convincing meat alternative “when the dough is seasoned with broth and shaped like a roast or medallions of meat,” Turner says. Or try a “mock meat¨option from companies such as Gardein or Field Roast.
→For “something special for the middle of the table, something that’s pretty,” shape seitan into roulades and stuff with stuffing; bake and serve with cranberry sauce. Or cut seitan into cutlet shapes, bake and top with stuffing and cranberries. “Its turn-key and delicious,” Turner says.