A Little Word on Vegetarian Thanksgivings [A Double-Dip Day]

My plate at Thanksgiving Dinner, loaded with vegetarian and vegan options. From left to right, Housemade Cranberry Sauce, Harvest Cider Vegetables, Green Bean and Fennel Salad, Vegan Mushroom Apple Stuffing, Cinnamon Sweet Potatoes, Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes, Maple Sage Roasted Root Vegetables, and Baked Green and Purple Asparagus.

After hours of preparation and cooking, Thanksgiving came, and brought with it a dozen varieties of vegetables, including delicious housemade sauces and glazes, and more vegetarian and vegan options than I’m used to seeing in one sitting.

Here are some of the highlights from the spread, and a few quick recipes to consider for future Thanksgivings.

Despite my family’s carnivorous preferences, there was enormous support for my endeavor at a vegan Thanksgiving, and aside from the turkey, every dish was either vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free.

The evening started with a series of light appetizers, including my raw crudite platter with fat-free dill dip.
My Aunt Gail arrived with a selection of steaming button mushrooms stuffed with mushroom, onion, and parmesan.

Stuffed button mushrooms with onion, panko, mushroom, and parmesan stuffing. Without the parmesan shaved on top at the last minute, these too would be vegan.

When my Aunt Hedy and Uncle Frank arrived, they carried along multiple pies, housemade Orange-Apple Cranberry Sauce and a Green Bean and Fennel Salad with onion, goat cheese, and dill.

Later in the evening, my Maple Sage Roasted Root Vegetables came out of the refrigerator for their second round of roasting. My dish, meant to serve 16, contained:

1 Celery Root, Peeled and Diced

9 Medium Carrots, Peeled and Diced

3 Parsnips, Peeled and Diced

15 Ounces of Pearl Onions, Skinned

3 Turnips, Diced

I tossed the vegetables with one tablespoon of Olive Oil, fresh cracked pepper and salt to taste. After spreading the mixed vegetables on a baking pan, the vegetables had been baked for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, mixed, and baked for an additional 20 minutes.

Half an hour before dinner was served, I took the vegetables out of the fridge and began preparing the sauce. I melted one tablespoon of Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (a great vegan butter substitute) and mixed in 3 Tablespoons of fresh-chopped sage. After the butter had begun to brown, I added in half a cup of Maple Grove Farms Sugar-Free Maple Syrup. I drizzled this over the vegetables, and had them bake at 400 for an additional 15 minutes.

Just when the syrup started to bubble, my vegetables came out and in went the Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes, the Cider Roasted Harvest Vegetables,  and the Cinnamon Sweet Potatoes.

This is a naturally sweet dish, as roasting vegetables allows the natural sugars to be released. Feel free to cut back on the maple syrup, and be wary of adding too much. There are only approximately 75 calories in a half cup serving.

To add one more vegetable dish to the offerings, I picked up an assortment of green and purple asparagus, which my mother baked with just a little bit of salt and pepper, and a modest drizzle of olive oil.

Taking traditional Thanksgiving dishes to the next level is all about letting the true ingredients show through. Instead of breaking all of your vegetables down into cheesy casseroles or sweet purees, keep vegetables whole or thick-cut whenever possible.

My Aunt Hedy’s cranberry sauce was a beautiful example of preserving the natural form of the ingredients, with whole berries and thick slices of apple.  Whole or large-cut ingredients are typically more psychologically-satisfying.

I love tasting a little bit of everything, and it was great to finally have so many choices.  After sampling all of the different dishes, I stuck primarily with the vegan options, including my roasted root vegetables, my father’s Cider Roasted Harvest Vegetables, with halved brussel sprouts, carrots, and pearl onions, and the asparagus. While the mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes were delicious, these were some of the most high-calorie dishes brought to the table. Potatoes are also high in starch, and sweet potatoes in particular are loaded with sugar.

This crisp, Green Bean and Fennel Salad was a refreshing side to the hearty roasted vegetables. Without the goat cheese, which garnished the top of the salad, this too would be a vegan option.

Admittedly, I did indulge in my aunt’s Green Bean and Fennel Dish, despite the goat cheese, which I did my best to work around.

With big celebratory meals, sometimes one little serving isn’t enough. But it’s important to try and double up on the choices that won’t infringe on your desire to sample a bit of dessert later in the evening.

Along with the typical smorgasboard of pecan and apple pie, my mother whipped together a Sugar-Free Pumpkin Chiffon “Pie,” and I baked Vegan Cranberry Carrot Cake Bars.

Less than 130 calories in a bar, these dairy-free treats contained:

10 Pitted Dates, Pureed into a Paste

2 Cups Carrots, Shredded

3/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce

1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries

2 Tsp Vanilla Extract

3/4 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1 Tsp Baking Powder

And a mixture of Cinnamon, Ginger, Pumpkin Pie Spice, Allspice, and Cloves.

After mixing together all of the ingredients, the batter is poured into a 8×8 baking pan and baked for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.

These chewy bars are a healthy way to end a Thanksgiving dinner, with all of the traditional flavors and seasonal spices you’d expect to find. The whole wheat flour can easily be exchanged for rice flour to produce a gluten-free version.

I used to dread Thanksgiving dinner – it was a meal defined by whole stuffed turkey with sausage stuffing, thick turkey gravy, and vegetables baked in cheese or the turkey drippings.

But this year, my plate was bright, and my family seemed equally happy to partake in a lighter, greener meal.

Until tomorrow, when I’m tackling inventive and healthy ways to transform all of the holiday leftovers.