Sometimes I think we make too big a deal out of the vegetarian’s plight at the Thanksgiving table. The fact is, such a big meal, with so many different dishes, is probably the easiest of all to plan in a way that helps all types of eaters feel welcome. As Anna Thomas writes in her upcoming “Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore,” the planning process is a simple adustment of priorities: “Start with the foods that everyone eats, design a meal that works, then expand it, make it flexible — add butter or eggs or cheese in ways that pair well. Add fish or meat, perhaps as supporting players.”
To that end, rather than announce she’d make an exclusively vegetarian Thanksgiving meal, potentially alienating the traditionalists who couldn’t do without turkey, she decided to mix it up. Her meal included tapenade, hummus, persimmon slices with walnut pesto, a polenta torta, a variety of vegetable dishes — and a turkey that her husband spit-roasted. “It was Thanksgiving for everyone,” she writes. “Wine flowed, we ate what we liked and gave thanks, the grandparents were happy, the vegetarians were happy, and we were all sharing the same meal.”
Over the past few holidays, I’ve written about how refreshing the meal planning and cooking can be when a turkey is taken out of the equation, and about my ongoing quest to find interesting vegan and vegetarian dishes that are centerpiece-worthy. And I stand by every sentiment. But Thomas’s philosophy serves to remind me and all other hosts that the overriding goal of any and all hospitality — particularly at a generous holiday such as this one — should be inclusiveness.
With that in mind, I looked for recipes this year that could not only stand on their own on the holiday table but also could work just as well as side dishes for those putting turkey on their plates.
The first is a Wellington from a London vegetarian restaurant, Mildreds, that features roasted portobello mushrooms and a stuffing of pecans, chestnuts and herbs, wrapped in store-bought puff pastry dough (all-butter if you’d like, or vegan if not). You serve it in thick slices, adding a gravy if desired. It’s rich and decadent and special — just the thing for a celebration.
The second is a riff on tamales that I developed with my friend Pati Jinich, author of “Pati’s Mexican Table” and host of the public-television series of the same name. Rather than form tamales in corn husks and steaming them, Pati showed me how she sometimes likes to layer the masa dough and filling ingredients in ramekins for baking. My contribution: the idea to turn them out and serve them on individual plates, topped with salsa, cilantro and (optional) feta.
Inside I combined roasted squash cubes and seasoned red kidney beans, a nod to the “three sisters” philosophy of gardening practiced by Native Americans. In a three sisters garden, squash, corn and bean plants nourish, support and shade one another — a lesson in harmony and togetherness that seems particularly suited to an inclusive Thanksgiving table.