What's Cooking Vegetarian Thanksgiving

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Kim O'Donnel
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, November 8, 2007; 1:00 PM

Calling all foodies! Join us for a vegetarian Thanksgiving edition of What's Cooking, our live online culinary hour with Kim O'Donnel. Special guest: Vegan cooking instructor Mimi Clark.

A graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education (formerly Peter Kump's New York Cooking School), O'Donnel spends much of her time in front of the stove or with her nose in a cookbook.

Catch up on previous transcripts with the What's Cooking archive page. For daily dispatches from Kim's kitchen, check out her blog, A Mighty Appetite.

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Kim O'Donnel: Hello, and season's greetings! Two weeks from today, folks, and we'll all be gathering 'round the country for some kind of feast. Thrilled to introduce today's special guest, Mimi Clark, aka "Veggie Gourmet," who teaches vegan cooking classes in Fairfax, Va. With Mimi's 18 years of experience as a vegan and nearly that many years as a teacher, we've got all the meat-free bases covered. She spends much of her time testing products so you don't have to, so feel free to ask what her favorites are. And now, let's get this party started...

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Sweet Potatoes please: Please help me with a fab recipe for sweet potatoes instead of the old brown sugar and butter recipe. I'm looking for something with a cheese, like au gratin? and a little spicey? Got anything for the dinner table? If you've got a different brown sug recipe, also interested in that. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mimi Clark: Hmmm...I don't have anything with cheese (vegan or otherwise) but a twist might be to puree cooked yams, add a bunch of grated ginger for spice, and stud with dried cranberries and pecans. Eden Foods makes dried cranberries www.edenfoods.com, and Sahale Snacks has a pecan and dried cranberry blend. www.sahalesnacks.com

Kim O'Donnel: I had a grand old time with a recipe I found in a recent issue of Martha Stewart mag, which calls for a little Thai red curry paste and coconut milk. It was such a nice twist on an old fave. Used a smidge of maple syrup to sweeten, but I'm talking very little.

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Susquanhanna Twp, PA: Kim - Last year you had a Vegan Pumpkin Pie Recipe, could you print it again or give a link? Thanks

Mimi Clark: Anything by Bryanna is usually good:

http://www.veganconnection.com/recipes/pumpkin_pie.htm You can access more of her recipes at www.bryannaclarkgrogan.com

Also try www.soyboy.com. Pretty sure they have a good pumpkin pie recipe.

Mimi Clark: Yup, they do. Click on recipes, then on Tim's Terrific Pumpkin Pie.

Kim O'Donnel: And here's link to the pumpkin-tofu pie from last year's blog space. Cheers.

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Alexandria, VA: What is the best brand or option for a Tofukey or meatless turkey option to have for Thanksgiving? I had one last year that was in loaf that was good, but I can't remember the brand name.

Mimi Clark: Well there is Tofurky which is made by Turtle Island and that is their trademark. You might be thinking of Field Roast which is also a faux meat loaf that is stuffed with veggies. www.tofurky.com, www.fieldroast.com

Mimi Clark: Both products are available at most natural food stores. Tofurky will be found in the freezer section, and field roast is often stashed near the prepared foods. Tofurky comes in a Roast, a la cart, if you will, and in a Feast. The Feast includes the roast, plus 1 pint of gravy, 8 dumplings, and Tofurky Jurky Wishstix.

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Tofurkeyed out: Hi Kim, what can you recommend as a savory centerpiece for a vegan Thanksgiving dinner? In years past we've tried both the Unturkey (by Now & Zen, since gone out of business) and Tofurkey, but would rather create our own feast from scratch this year. Also, do you have any pointers for a vegan pumpkin cheesecake (have tried a recipe using tofu - horrible - how about Tofutti cream cheese?) Many thanks.

Mimi Clark: How about stuffing an acorn squash with sauteed onions, quinoa, cranberries, and pecans? For your cheesecake, you can substitute equal amounts of dairy-free cream cheese in your tofu recipe with good results. FYI we will be making Seitan-stuffed Tofu for our centerpiece, and Pumpkin Cheesecake in my Meatless Holidays class this Sunday. Contact me after the chat if you are interested in attending. veggourmet@aol.com

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Baltimore, Md.:: Given that a family member has teased me in years past about the Tofurkey I bring to town with me for Thanksgiving, I dread to think of what he'll say now that I'm on a course to veganism. I suppose your advice on this situation will also be helpful to me as I work to move forward as a vegan and will face judgment and comments from others in general. I'm not terribly swayed or bothered by the opinions of others, but nor do I look forward to being teased about how unappetizing my Tofurkey looks or about how could I possibly be so cruel as to eat a "helpless, murdered carrot." I certainly don't light into my family about their eating habits. Thanks in advance.

Mimi Clark: First, congrats on your decision to move toward veganism! Noted vegan author and lecturer, Jo Stepaniak has Q & A's that address this very issue (and many more). www.vegsource.com/jo/qa/archive.htm Good luck!

Kim O'Donnel: As I mentioned in today's blog space, the days of the homogeneous holiday table are over, and we've got to get hip to diversity of diets and eating preferences. Let's ask others who have been in similar boats for their coping strategies.

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Phoenix, Ariz.: re: substitute for bacon

Good morning, Kim,

If I typically use bacon to flavor a veggie dish (such as green beans, etc.), what should I use as a substitute? And is it easy to find at farmer's market-type places like Sprouts, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's?

Thanks,

--Kathy in Phoenix

Mimi Clark: Veggie Bacon Bits are in some natural food stores under the Frontier brand, and are usually found with spices. Try Pangea in Maryland (www.veganstore.com), and www.veganessentials.com

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Arlington Gal: Hi Kim- A comment and a question. First, it was so great to meet you at Courthouse. My mom and I -heart- you, especially since she's and I are nearly veg, my dad IS veg, and my BF is omni. I made the applesauce from your book, and I threw in a couple pears that needed cooking. The BF proclaimed it was 'the best applesauce EVER.' This made my weekend, thanks to you. Now, the question: is there an upper limit to the amount of veggies I can add to stuffing and keep the bready-ness? Are there any veggies you'd avoid adding? Just trying to be a little healthier and maybe combine 2 sides in 1 for efficiency. Thanks!!

Kim O'Donnel: Hey, and it was delightful to meet you and Mom! Thanks so much for braving the cold last Saturday. Because stuffing tends to be wet rather than dry, I would keep greens out of my stuffing (spinach, kale, tatsoi) and stick to veg that can soften yet still maintain its structure and flavor. Mushrooms are always a good veggie stuffing add-on, and of course onions, celery, garlic, chopped herbs. Let's hear from the group on their veggie add-ons...

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Washington, DC: Thanks for having this chat. I am gearing up to make Christmas cookies and have some Earth Balance Shortening in the freezer. Do I just treat it like sticks of butter? Can it be melted like I would do butter for brownies?

Mimi Clark: If you normally use shortening for your cookies, then Earth Balance will work the same (not sure about freezing it though). Check website www.earthbalance.net If you prefer a "mouthfeel" of butter, use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks instead.

Kim O'Donnel: Mimi and I had this conversation last night, and I shared with her how well the shortening has worked for me (as a typical butter user). We agreed that everyone has diff. tastebuds and to keep experimenting.

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Virginia Square, Va.: Kim and Mimi, any ideas for a seitan Thanksgiving dish? Last year I made some and I guess it was pretty good, but I didn't really know what to do with it next and just ended up mixing it in with my stuffing. Wow, bread with an extra serving of gluten... Any thoughts? Should I just can this whole idea?

Mimi Clark: Mixing seitan with stuffing is a great idea. You could bake it in muffin tins a la Rachel Ray's Stuffin' Muffins.

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Arlington, Va.: I know you can help me this week!

I'm making a pumpkin pie for a dinner party, but need the crust to be gluten-free. How do I make a gluten-free crust? I thought nuts would be a good way to go, but alas I have no food processor... Any suggestions?

Kim O'Donnel: Come back and see me tomorrow, when I blog about GF pie crust and stuffing from Jules Shepard, author of "Nearly Normal Cooking for Gluten-Free Eating."

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....Our Veg. Thanksgiving: So, my parents don't eat meat, and my sisters and I only eat chicken. Our solution for Thanksgiving fare? Stuffed Shells (mozzerella cheese and potatoes w/seasonings), Eggplant Parmesean all supported by the traditional startchy Thanksgiving Fare (mashed potatoes, apple pie, green beans, cranberry sauce).

We've enjoyed coming up with new ways to make our 'traditional' Thanksgiving Food--but I wanted to make something different this year--so i'm excited about this chat.

Mimi Clark: Sounds like you like to think out of the box. How about the addition of a roasted root veggie pizza?

Kim O'Donnel: or what about pumpkin or sweet potato-filled ravioli? Or a winter squash lasagna? I feel like roasted greens would be a nice addition for you...roasted brocc or kale or even a nice bowl of roasted cauli...

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Herndon, VA: Hi, Kim--

First of all, I am not a vegetarian, tho' I love veggies. That said, I'm hosting "Bird Day" this year and I would love to serve an amazing non-bird main dish this year, as an alternate entree (but it can't have nuts in it, we have allergies). I thought about Tofurky, but it just seems... wrong, somehow. I have a houseful of meat eaters that think you need to eat meat for all the major holidays, and I just want to show them a better way. Any ideas? THANKS!!!

Mimi Clark: If you want to simulate meat, get a Tofurky or a Field Roast. Otherwise you could stuff an acorn squash with quinoa studded with dried cranberries.

Kim O'Donnel: Good question to ask yourself is you want a meat facsimile or not. Personally, I'm not a fan and would rather make give vegetables and grains the main focus. What say you?

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Sweet potatos: Try them with goat cheese, zucchini, and chive - thinly slice a zuke, sautee in 2 tbsp butter, add chopped scallion - scoop out sweet potatos, mix with 1/3 c goat cheese, zucchini mixture and stick back in the oven for a few minutes.

From Nava Atlas's 5 ingredient book

Kim O'Donnel: This sounds intriguing. Every time I roast a sweet potato, I get inspired to try something new. Right now, I'm on a black bean-sweet potato kick, and I live zesting them up chiles, garlic and walnuts or cashews.

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Spicy Sweet Potatoes: I saw a recipe on the Food Network website by Bobby Flay for Chipotle Scalloped Sweet Potatoes that I'm going to try this year. It's not vegan on account of the cream tho.

Kim O'Donnel: Well, you could use soymilk in its place, right Mimi?

Mimi Clark: Absolutely; in fact you could probably use any dairy-free milk such as almond, rice, hazelnut.

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Washington, DC: Hi Kim and Mimi,

My hsuband and I are not vegetarians (though we aren't unkindly disposed), but are having a friend over who is.

Other than side dishes, I've heard people mention Tofurkey. Do you do anything special with it?

Maybe something curried would make a main dish?

As you can see, I'm at a loss........

thank you.

Mimi Clark: It's very thoughtful of you to consider the dietary needs of your veeg. friend! Tofurky is very easy to make. Simply follow the directions on the box. Make sure you allow for defrosting time (in the fridge)! After it's defrosted, I usually poke holes all over it with an ice pick or a fork, and drizzle a marinade of tamari (wheat free soy sauce), OJ, and a hit of seame oil. Cover it with parchment and foil, and baste with some of the marinade during cooking.

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Milford, NH: This is my first vegetarian Thanksgiving, and I'm not hosting, but I want to bring vegetarian stuffing and gravy to my family gathering. Any favorite recipes or tips? I'm the only vegetarian in the family, so I'd love to find something that some of the meat-eaters would like, too. Thanks!

Mimi Clark: Congrats on starting a new new family tradition! I am posting a vegan stuffing recipe on Kim's blog. Alternatively, you could ask a family member for their favorite stuffing recipe and make appropriate substitutions. Feel free to email me and I will walk you through it. Same with gravy. Or get a packet of Road's End Organic Gravy Mix, add water and you have instant gravy! www.roadsendorganics.com

Kim O'Donnel: Yes, check today's blog space for one of Mimi's stuffing faves.

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tofurky type roast: I also wanted to suggest the Quorn brand. They have a roast that my family has been pretty receptive to, if chatters want to go the fake turkey route. My grandfather who is nowhere near vegetarian tasted a piece and exclaimed that I had been had- I was really eating turkey.

Mimi Clark: fyi: Quorn isn't vegan. I think it contains whey and egg albumen.

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Southern Gal: Do you have any suggestions for pumpkin side dishes besides soup or bread? I want to try something new for Thanksgiving involving pumpkins.

Kim O'Donnel: Have you ever roasted an acorn squash or something of similar size (sweet dumpling, baby kabocha, carnival), then stuffed it with your favorite grains and roasted root veggies? That would be quite festive. You could garnish with roasted pumpkin seeds.

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bacon substitute: what about smoked paprika or a bit of the adobo from canned chipotles. Both will give that smoky flavor we think of as "bacon" ... add in a good dollop of olive oil for some of the oily mouth-feel

Kim O'Donnel: Grand idea. Thanks for sharing.

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Washington, DC: RE: smoky bacon flavors in veg dishes. If it's something that takes liquid, try adding some brewed lapsang souchong tea- it adds a nice smoky flavor that fills in well for bacon. Doesn't work if you need bacon bits, of course.

Kim O'Donnel: Ohh...love this! And I happen to have some lapsang in the house!

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washington, DC: i just wanted to say thanks to Kim and Mimi. as a vegan i appreciate it when others try to make an accomodating effort to my lifestyle, and they learn great new ways to cook and bake healthily and in good conscience. the percent of non-meat-eaters is growing and more kids and young adults are into veg-nism, not to mention the increasing medical data relating back to Westren, animal-based diet (meat and dairy), so cooking must evolve to accept this fact too. many thanks!

Kim O'Donnel: You are saying pretty much what I wrote in this morning's blog. We gotta be open to diversity at the table. No judgement, just open to new experiences, ingredients and ways of doing things. Imagine how much more interesting of a cook you become when your repertoire expands!

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sweet potatoes: can you boil them? or just cook in the oven? i know, basic question.

Kim O'Donnel: You can do both. I'm a big fan of roasted sweet potatoes...you need an hour to get nice and tender, but it's worth the wait.

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Veggie Thanksgiving: The best way to keep people from making fun of your food is to make it look better than theirs. Ditch the tofurkey and bring a dish that everyone else will drool over. It helps to nicely plate and garnish the food, too.

For bacon-less vegetables, I like to use either a bit of liquid smoke or paprika.

Kim O'Donnel: I agree about the veggie showmanship. Give meatless dishes the same depth of color and texture as the meat and your guests will be begging for me. I must say, going meatless requires more of an effort -- it takes constant creativity, but these days there are so many sources for inspiration.

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washingtonpost.com:

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At the risk of being hounded off the chat.......:......why vegetarianism? I mean that sincerely....is it because people don't like eating other critters, or health, or both? Is it hard to convert?

I'm not playing dumb here, or trying to rile you all, but just starting to think about it for myself.

Mimi Clark: People come to vegetarianism (macrobitoics, raw foods, etc.) for personal reasons. Thirty years ago, I began to make a gradual transition to veganism because I had difficulty digesting meat. The 3 main reasons that one becomes some form of vegetarian are health, animal, and environmental concerns.

Kim O'Donnel: I'm an omnivore, but I am constantly mindful of the plant-meat ratio in my diet. It's something that I work on constantly. I must say, as I get older, I have discovered that I need meat less, have less of a taste for it, and it's because I've discovered interesting ways to prepare plant-based foods -- be it legumes, grains and the wonderful variety of veg that arrive each season. I wil say, though, I don't think I'm interested in giving up eggs and cheese.

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Tofurkey: I just wanted to throw in my vote for the Quorn roast, for those who are looking for a meat substitute. Personally I prefer the taste and texture over Tofurkey any day.

However, I would add that vegans should check the label - I think though it's vegetarian, it may not be vegan.

Mimi Clark: Corrrect; Quorn is not vegan.

Kim O'Donnel: Thanks for your Quorn vote. anyone else want to weigh in?

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Wheaton, MD: Hey Mimi,

When are you going to get around to your own website and/or cookbook?

Mimi Clark: HA - My "cookbook" is in my computer. When my daughter goes off to college next year, I may get cracking on it. Will you volunteer to be one of my taste-testers?

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washingtonpost.com:

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Cranberry Sauce Ideas?: I love cranberry sauce, and really think Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to let it shine. I'm tired of the standby of adding orange juice--any good ideas to really showcase the cranberry? Thanks!

Mimi Clark: How about using organic maple syrup www.shadymaple.ca or agave syrup www.wholesomesweeteners.com instead? You could also strain the cranberry sauce after it's cooked and pour it into mini Bundt-pan molds for a smashing presentation!

Kim O'Donnel: I like using maple syrup too. I also am a fan of orange zest and a bit of crystallized ginger, walnuts as a garnish.

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For the person being teased...: I think all vegetarians and vegans have had to deal with this, and it gets worse over the holidays. I think the best thing to do is to bring something that doesn't "seem" vegan, if you know what i mean. "Tofurkey" kind of just screams it. It might help to bring a wild rice pilaf, vegetarian stuffing, cranberry sauce, or lentil soup instead.

Kim O'Donnel: Another idea for the aspiring vegan...

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washingtonpost.com:

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Washington, D.C.: Speaking of seitan, I've always wondered how that word is pronounced. Is it like "satan" or "say-TAN" or something entirely different?

stupid question - sorry!

Mimi Clark: Not stupid at all! I once had a student who refused to eat a seitan dish because it sounded like satan. BTW, seitan is pronounced SAY-tan.

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Tofu scramble: Tofu scramble is the bomb! What do you think of a special T-Giving edition? Ideas?

Mimi Clark: Sure, just toss in some cranberry sauce!

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For Vegitarian Thanksgiving: What about a calzone with all kinds of roasted veg, etc? Similar to the pizza idea, but with the added benefit of it seeming "Thanksgiving-y" on account of being big and stuffed.

We do have a turkey at my house, but we're crazy about vegetables (we don't eat red meat), and the veggies are my favorite thing about our Thanksgiving. We love to oven-roast: brussels sprouts with soy sauce or tamari, cauliflower with curry powder or rosemary/thinly-sliced garlic, even sweet potatoes. And I love boiled, then lightly-smashed rutabega!

Kim O'Donnel: Yeah, I'm big on oven-roasted veggies myself. I love shredding brussels with apples and do a quick saute, takes about 7 minutes total. Parsnips and or/rutas, as you say, are great mashed together with garlic and rosemary.

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veggie gravy: a great veggie broth/gravy can be made by roasting veggis (all kinds) in a HOT oven -- like 500 degrees -- until they start to carmelize. Cover with water & simmer & season to taste.

Kim O'Donnel: I've done something similar...you can make a roux with flour and your choice of fat...strain out veggies and yes, you got gravy.

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Newbie: What exactly ARE Tofurkey and Field Roast, anyway? How closely do they resemble the dead animal cuts they replace in terms of flavor, texture, etc.? What sizes do they come in? Do you carve them like meat? Are they sold at supermarket chains, or at places like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and other specialty stores?

Mimi Clark: The products you mentioned are indeed supposed to simulate meat. They are usually made from wheat gluten (which is called seitan when it's cooked) and soy. Tofurky comes in a Roast and in a Feast (see question # ?) You slice them, yes. I have not seen these products at conventional grocery stores, only natural food stroes.

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Washington, DC: What would be the best vegan gravy recipe for Thanksgiving? I figured a mushroom gravy would be best - any tips?

Thanks.

Mimi Clark: If you want a store-bought gravy, try Road's End Organics which you simply mix with water. www.roadsendorganics.com

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Silver Spring, MD: Hi, thank you both for having this wonderful chat today. Garden Protein has a new faux turkey that will be sold at Whole Foods (http://www.peta.org/feat-newveganturkey.asp). I've never tried it, but it looks good. What are some options for vegan whip cream to go on the pumpkin pie? And what about low-cal, low-fat dessert ideas? Thanks!

Mimi Clark: I'll have to look into that one; thanks for the tip! SoyaToo! whip cream is made of soy and it's fabulous! Most natural food stores sell it in the refrig. section. www.soyatoo-usa.com

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Kim O'Donnel: We're out of time, but I'd like to thank Mimi for her fast and furious typing and tons of vegan tidbits. Next Thursday, the 15th, I'll be hosting a special for turkey eaters. And in the meantime, stop by and see me in the blog: A Mighty Appetite

Kim O'Donnel: Fyi, Mimi is teaching a holiday cooking class this Sunday, Nov. 11, called "Meatless Holidays." Go here for menu for class and e-mail (veggourmet@aol.com) today to check on availability.

Mimi Clark: Thanks Kim. I had a ball! Happy Holidays to all!

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