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complicated Thanksgiving

Help! My daughter is a no-meat/poultry person and 2 of our friends are vegan. The rest of us will eat anything that doesn't move. Last year I made a cold poached salmon along with the turkey and sides,but this year I need a vegan main dish too, one that isn't too obviously "just" for them. I would make enough of whatever for everyone. Any thoughts? I don't want them to feel like they can only have sides. All sides are, except for the dressing, vegan friendly.

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  1. This is our exact dilemma... well almost. We have 3 people who eat anything that doesn't move, 2 no meat/poultry, 1 vegetarian, and 1 vegan. We've found it really difficult to make vegan main dishes that aren't obviously just for my brother. Usually my mom will just substitute or remove the cream/eggs/etc in the vegetarian dishes to make them vegan. For example, every year my brother gets a mini apple pie with no butter in the crust.

    But thanks for this great question, and I look forward to other people's responses.

    1. I am not sure if I can help you, but 101 Cookbooks is an excellent resource for vegan/vegetarian recipes. Definitely check back in as I am sure Heidi will be posting Thanksgiving-specific recipes!

      For now, here is a link to her vegan recipes:


      1. To avoid any redundancy, what sides are you serving?

        1. I'd think squash in this situation: maybe small squash stuffed with wild rice or farro, hazelnuts, sage and maybe some dried cranberries. You could assemble them in advance and let them warm in the oven while the turkey rests.

          For vegetarian rather than vegan, there are more options, and I'd probably do the squash and hazelnut lasagna on epicurious. I don't know if there's a way to replace the bechamel in that recipe with a vegan alternative. Maybe you could just layer noodles and a squash puree with another diced veggie and nuts?

          1 Reply
          1. re: cyberroo

            I think baked squash with a wild rice, cranberry and nut stuffing with-maybe with bits of tofu or veggie sausage crumblers-would be awesome. I would use a few acorn squash as the shape is lovely for presentation. Make one for each vegan and a few more for everyone else to share.

            Or--you could get vegan phyllo dough (i find mine at a grocery store that carries lots of kosher items) and make turnovers (or strudel) with a vegan filling like spinach or or another vegetable. You can also use it to make a pot pie top that is filled with lovely veggies in a nice sauce. Another option would be shepard's pie since you already have the mashies--just make extra.

          2. I've made this Root Vegetable Cobbler as a vegetarian main course with good success at Thanksgivings with vegetarians in attendance:


            Note that the biscuit topping calls for butter, milk and eggs, so you'd have to find an alternate topping, since those ingredients make the bisuits non-vegan. You could serve it as a root veggie stew instead without the topping, or figure out a vegan-friendly dough mix.

            Other alternatives would be to do a dish featuring butternut squash or another winter squash -- maybe stuffed? It's seasonal, and with some creativity, it would be an attractive veggie main. Here's a recipe for a stuffed pumpkin, for instance, which could easily be made vegan by subbing olive oil for the butter in the sauce:


            1. We have 1 vegeatarian, 1 vegan, and two gluten free!

              Every year I do a vegan entree and this one was a hit a few years ago:

              We also make dairy free mashed potatos (EVOO and/or truffle oil instead of butter) and keep the veggie sides meatless (I am jealous of all the yummy looking brussel sprouts with bacon recipes!).

              Good Luck,

              1 Reply
              1. re: PamelaD

                Re: Brussel sprouts
                Just toss the rinsed sprouts with EVOO, sea or Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast in a 375 oven for as long as it takes the sprouts to get "brown around the gills."

              2. >>> I need a vegan main dish too, one that isn't too obviously "just" for them <<<

                I don't understand that at all. By their choice of diet they have chosen to single themselves. I would doubt that they are ashamed of being vegan and trying to hide the fact.

                I haven't hosted holiday dinners for vegans, but I have for vegetarians. There are dishes that are for them and others may partake if interested. There was plenty of food at the table and they felt neither excluded or singled out.

                One place that has been a help has been Whole Foods. They have some good vegan and vegetarian recipes

                ... even vegan sage gravy for the mashed potatoes.

                These recipes look like they might be good candidates. You could try them prior to the holiday to see how tasty they are.

                Harvest Vegetable Shepherd's Pie with Mashed Yams

                Stovetop Vegetarian Paella

                For some reason this year whenever I'm at Whole Foods those vegetarian and vegan turkeys have been catching my eye.

                2 Replies
                1. re: rworange

                  I could understand her not wanting to single out the vegans and/ or vegetarians. I'm sure she doesn't want them to feel like she went to a lot of trouble just for them and make them feel guilty all night long.

                  At any rate, what about a soup? So many soups could be a main dish or a side dish. I've been making a cheese tortellini and asparagus soup lately that my husband loves- you could do it with vegetable broth and mushroom tortellini, and be set. But, there's lots of soups you could do.

                  1. re: Katie Nell

                    >>> I'm sure she doesn't want them to feel like she went to a lot of trouble just for them

                    ... as opposed to the effort to make a regular Thanksgiving dinner? I think that the OP should not overly complicate this situation. I guess I have a different perspective. My making special dishes for the vegetarians at my dinner has always been my way of saying "i love you guys and care you have something delicious to eat" ... as it is for anyone with a special diet ... or my regular guests.

                    I find that often the vegetarians are also equally thoughtful offering to bring a dish or two themselves and for others to share with them. The only thing I would be certain to ask is if the turkey is being planned to be carved at the table, will that bother the non meat eaters. I think that is a special accomodation that should be made if the reason is not wanting to hurt animals. Yeah, I know the turkey is dead .. .but somehow serving a major dish that looks close to the live animal and then hacking it up in front of them ... that seems much.,

                    Another thought for a dish is ratatouille. I've been into this for the past few weeks and have been classing it up by adding red wine, portabella mushrooms and grated cheese (serve on the side for the vegan contingant). It is really a hearty and delicious dish.

                2. blog.fatfreevegan.com has a delicious shepards pie recipe that's full of fresh vegetables.

                  You can also serve stuffed acorn squashes with tempeh or soy crumbles in the filling.

                  To make a vegan bechamel sauce, try using original unsweetened Almond Breeze.

                  1. You may just want to ask your friends what they would like for their Thanksgiving meal. They may have something in mind, or their own favorite traditional dish. They may even offer to bring it, which would certainly help to lighten your load. I'm all in favor of asking for help on Thanksgiving.

                    1. Here is a great main dish everyone will enjoy:


                      When we make it, we add more mushrooms and less eggplant than called for just because we like the mushroom taste better. We also use porcini mushrooms instead of the button mushrooms the recipe suggests.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: JenBoes

                        Thanks to all! I do the separate main course precisely because I really love these people and want to make something special for them. When there's enough to share, which there usually is, there is no feeling of being singled out. I have the Wholefoods cookbook so I'll take another look at the veg mains. I did the veggie pie but if I do it again will have to modify it. I seem to recall that no one liked it. The mushroom idea is good. I do make the roasted butternut squash with (lots of)onions, sage and dried cranberries from the WF book, but that is a side. I change the sides except for that one every year, so I don't know what else I'm serving; the final choices aren't in yet.It isn't that hard to make this dinner because I do so much in advance. My "trademark" is soup as a starter, then the rest. Thanks also for all those great links. I should have asked this question last year!

                      2. I have always wanted to do a roasted stuffed pumpkin as the centerpiece for thanksgiving
                        (But I just need some vegetarians in the family, first!)
                        I would stuff it with something like a wild rice pilaf, made with veggie stock, and fresh sage, parsley, celery, onions, dried cranberries, walnuts, and possibly some chunks of marinated sauteed tofu or seitan. And then coat the pumpkin with olive oil and slowly roast to caramelize the pumpkin. To serve, cut a large wedge of pumpkin and a scoop of the pilaf.

                        Epicurious has a number of suggestions for vegetarian and vegan thanksgiving ideas:

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Mellicita

                          I bought mini pumpkins once, and baked them, made soup and refilled the shells with the soup. Served them with the 'lid' on.

                          1. re: Mellicita

                            Vegetarian Times had a recipe (last month I think) about a hominy stew baked in a pumpkin. It looked really good, and I only refrained from making it because we're only two people.

                            1. re: Mellicita

                              IIRC, Vegetarian Times just had a recipe for a stuffed pumpkin. I think it had a vegan filling. I get their email updates and the recipe was sent just this past week.

                            2. Some kind of rice (brown or basmati or jasmine) pilaf with lots of sauteed onions, peppers, mushrooms, toasted pecans & maybe some Rotel or other kind of tomatoes? Or a vegetable biryani?

                              1. Just made this yesterday: WILD MUSHROOM AND PUMPKIN RISOTTO. It's vegan (unless you add butter), and it's very good. I think both vegetarians and non-vegetarians will enjoy it. Here's the recipe:


                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Pamela

                                  Pamela, do you think it would double exactly? It looks great. Did you have to stand by it and stir, and if so for how long?

                                  1. re: joannabar

                                    I followed the directions as posted on the Food Network. The serving is for 4, but in my opinion, it really serves closer to 6-8. But to be on the safe side, you might want to double the recipe, since you'll have a lot of people in attendance.

                                    One thing the recipe I listed above did not mention is that you have to cook the risotto first. Here is the recipe:


                                    There is a lot of stirring when you make the risotto part. You have to stir it every few minutes or so, and this takes a while, since it will take some time for the risotto to absorb the vegetable broth and become creamy (or more of a sticky rice).

                                2. Other ideas: pumpkin ravioli (although most recipes contain some sort of cheese or cream); avocado egg rolls with dipping sauce; Vietnamese spring rolls (many of which tend to be vegetarian); some type of pasta with pumpkin or squash; eggplant parmigiana with cheese substitute; or plain or vegetable tamales.

                                  1. Uh..Hmm -- Excuse me? Did you say that you don't want it to look like you didn't make it especially for them???? Listen, when your friends, who are beloved enough to be spending Thanksgiving with you, are VEGANS, and your daughter doesn't eat meat, there is no need to hide the fact that most people are making some kind of accommodation for them. It's like trying to ignore the elephant in the living room. Personally, if I were them, I would appreciate someone who did care enough to accommodate me. As the hostess, I'd celebrate the differences and not try to make them feel inconspicuous. That will go over much, much better.

                                    I would skip the Tofu Turkey and try some really good dishes that involve things like Eggplant and Portobellos, and Sweet potatoes. How about Ratatouille? Or Lentil Soup? Or Sweet Potato casserole? These are delicious, and they usually don't make it to the typical T-day table. The key is to make it clear that this is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to try something delicious, courtesy of your good friends and your friendship,and your daughter. You may even get to skip that awful green bean casserole that some huge percentage of the country seems to think belongs on the menu. You can still make a small turkey breast or turkey, for everyone else, and you can even make a stuffing that never made it into the bird. Try a great chestnut dressing. You won't miss meat one bit.

                                    Hey, most of the best food on Thanksgiving is usually the sides anyway. Have a great time with it.

                                    1. Why not have a dinner of all sides for the vegans? The sides are the best part of the meal!

                                      That said, for my vegan cousin we always make a vegan pot pie, or shepard's pie, if you will, chock full of vegetables and covered with vegan mashed potatoes or a fun vegan biscuit. It's easy enough to make for a crowd or individually.

                                      You could also buy a tofurky, but we don't like them.

                                      1. I would make several sides if I were you. That way you can focus on the quality of ingredients being the main attraction and you don't have to worry about heating up some fake food nonsense. Squash, quinoa, seeds/nuts, breads.