Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veggie Might: Vegetarian Thanksgiving Tips, Part I—The Main Dish

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a weekly Thursday column about all things Vegetarian.

(Find Vegetarian Thanksgiving Tips, Part II: Sides here.)

The how-to-survive-holidays trope has become as traditional as pumpkin pie. But for so many vegetarians and vegans, it’s still a struggle to negotiate a group meal with family, and even friends, during holiday celebrations that revolve around the slaughter, roasting, and consumption of a once-cute bird or mammal.

Though attitudes are changing, as a recent episode of Top Chef revealed, even seasoned chefs still don’t know what to do with us.

Thanksgiving is especially challenging, since its entire focus is turkey, but it doesn’t have to be. Thanksgiving can be a fun, joyous—dare I say, gratitude-inspiring—experience for everyone. Here are a few tips to help the veggies, and the omnis who love them, enjoy that most meat-centric of American holidays.

If you’re the vegetarian/vegan guest:
  • Find out what’s on the menu: Make a call; send an email. Know what’s being served, so you will be able to plan ahead. 
  • Make your needs/restrictions clear: The degrees of vegetarianism are still confusing to people. If you are a gluten-free vegan, tell your host exactly what you cannot eat. Better yet, once you’ve heard the menu, say what you can eat. 
  • Offer suggestions: If your host is not comfortable or used to cooking for vegetarians/vegans, recommend easy replacements, like vegetable broth for chicken broth, olive oil for butter, or leaving meat out of vegetable dishes. 
  • Offer to bring a dish: Bringing your own dish, especially to a holiday meal, takes some of the pressure off the host, ensures there is something you can eat, and illustrates with gustatory aids that being a veg is a culinary adventure.
If you’re the omnivorous host:
  •  Ask about your guests’ dietary restrictions: Don’t be afraid to ask what your guest does or doesn’t eat. They’ll be touched and thrilled. Plus, it avoids dreaded mealtime surprises: Oh, you’re vegan. Yeah, there is milk in the mashed potatoes. Why yes, you do taste bacon in the green beans! 
  • Ask them for help if necessary: Don’t be shy about asking your veg guest for suggestions, tips, or even to bring a favorite dish. Like I said before, they’ll be thrilled you asked. 
  • Only serve fake meat if you want to: Not all vegetarian/vegans require a commercially processed meat replacement product at every meal. They can be expensive, often high in sodium, and boring/dry if not prepared properly. Day-to-day, I’d rather get my protein from whole-food sources. But faux turkey can be fun come holiday-time. My peeps like it. If you’re unsure how to approach faux turkey, check my Rx below. If you’d still rather avoid it, ask your veggie guest to go BYO on the FT. 
  • Special Fake Meat Novelty Alert: Omnis are fascinated with fake meat, often surprised to find it’s not half bad in the hands of a cook who knows how to doctor it up. If you choose to serve fake meat, make sure you have enough for EVERYONE, not just your vegetarian guests. I have been to dinners where everyone “tried” the fake meat, taking full-sized portions, went back for seconds, and left little for the vegetarians.
If you’re the vegetarian/vegan host with omni guests:
  • Ask about your guests’ dietary restrictions: Even people who eat meat have issues. Food allergies abound. Ask and be as accommodating as possible. The golden rule applies. 
  • Don’t make a big deal about the veg thing: Except for meat entrées, most people eat vegetarian food all the time without thinking about it. If you don’t make a big deal about the food you serve being “vegetarian,” neither will your guests. 
  • Ask your guests for help if necessary/Don’t worry about serving meat: If your omni guest(s) must have turkey for it to be Thanksgiving (or Arbor Day), ask them to bring it or any other meat-laden dish that will ensure their comfort at your table. Otherwise, let them know there will be plenty of delicious food for all.
Now that hosting is covered, let’s talk tofurkey and its main course alternatives.

Art by Flickr member Fuffer.

Leigh’s Store-bought Faux Turkey Rx
Commercially prepared faux turkey can be bland and boring if cooked as directed. But by following these not-at-all earth shattering steps, you, too, can have a tasty, noncardboard fake meat experience at your holiday gathering.

1) Defrost: Thaw your fake bird in the fridge overnight.

2) Marinate: Soak that sucker in some oil and spices, like the Scarborough Fair blend (parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme).

3) Roast: Put your faux turkey in the oven, with some carrots and potatoes if you want, and cover with foil.

4) Baste: Baste it regularly, approximately every 10–15 minutes or so.

5) Watch: Follow the cooking instructions on the package. Translation: don’t overcook it. You want your faux turkey to be moist (eww).

That’s it. Simple and delicious. Omnis and veggies at my Thanksgivings past have said so. But maybe you’d rather make a fake turkey from scratch. Seitan is easy to make, if a little time consuming. I use Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen. Here are more links to get your mind whirling.

Meatesque Recipes from the InterWebs
The Kitchn’s Thanksgiving Tofu Loaf
Epicurious’ Thanksgiving Meatless Mains by Crescent Dragonwagon

Or you could skip the fake meat altogether. A delicious squash and grain dish with seasonal vegetables would be a welcome alternative. Check out some of these links for inspiration.

Alternative Thanksgiving Main Dishes from the InterWebs
Serious Eats’ Meatless Main Dishes
NY Times’ Thanksgiving Vegetarian Entrees
Fat Free Vegan’s Mushroom, Lentil, and Wild Rice Timbales

Do you have a favorite vegetarian/vegan Thanksgiving entrée? Fool-proof hosting tips you’d like to impart? Please share in the comments.

Next week…Part II—A vegetarian’s best friend: The Side Dish.


If you like this post, you’ll love:
(Original photo and art by Flickr members Ameyfm [pie] and Fuffer [drawing].)

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