It’s official: this year, The Fella and I are celebrating Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. We’re having a modest vegetarian feast, and because many omnivores wonder what
the hell to serve to vegetarians at traditional holiday meals, I thought I’d outline our menu here.
[If you're looking for ideas to serve guests, keep in mind that The Fella is an ovo-lacto vegetarian, so many of our dishes are not suitable for vegans, though any of them could be adapted. Of course, if you're catering to vegetarian guests of your own, it's worth asking them what they can and cannot eat, since restrictions vary, as do tastes.]
The centerpiece of our dinner is The Fella’s specialty, roasted squash galettes with caramelized onions and roasted garlic in a yeasted olive-oil dough. He’s brought it to family Thanksgivings, where everyone fell upon the dish with moans. The recipe is from Deborah Madison’s wonderful book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Instead of one big pastry, The Fella makes mini-galettes the size of a fist. You can even shape them ahead and freeze them; let the frozen pastries thaw on a parchment-covered cooking sheet, then brush dough with egg wash and bake them. We made a hundred of these to serve on our wedding buffet, and they came out perfectly.*
edited to add: more recently, I’ve been making topsy-turvy stuffed squash, a vegetarian version of Dorie Greenspan’s recipe. The beauty of this dish is in the technique: you turn the squash cut-side down so the stuffing bakes up crispy and deliciously brown from contact with the hot pan.
A side of greens with chile mushrooms cozies up to the squash galettes perfectly. Its strong, slightly pungent flavor (tarted up with lemon) contrasts perfectly with the squash’s sweet-savory complexity. Chard, beets greens, kale, whatever looks good at the market. You know the rule with greens: wash, wash, wash, at least three times, changing the water each time. I like to do this as soon as we bring them home, before they even get into the fridge. Then I strip the stems, blanch and shock the greens, and — hey, presto! — huge bushel of greens shrinks down to fit in a small covered dish in the fridge (or in the freezer if you’re keeping them more than a couple of days). This is a handy dish to take to a potluck if oven space is scarce and you’ll have a chance to slide in front of the stove for three minutes immediately before dinner.
The method is pretty simple: saute some thinly sliced mushrooms in olive oil or butter with oregano, chile powder, salt, pepper, and plenty of fresh-grated nutmeg. You can prepare this up to two days ahead; when ready to serve, heat mushrooms in a pan, toss in greens (as is or roughly chopped), and toss as the greens sear and steam for a very few minutes. If you like garlic (we do!), you can add chopped or slivered garlic with the greens, or do what I do: squeeze a clove of garlic from your garlic press as the greens finish steaming, turn off the heat, and stir the garlic into the greens. The residual heat from the pan takes the sharp edge off the pressed garlic. Now add a healthy squeeze of lemon and toss. Ta-da!
Uh-oh: I want mashed potatoes, The Fella wants mashed sweet potatoes. Trouble in Paradise? Heck no — we’re having both! I’ll make smashed Yukon Gold potatoes with scallions: steam the potatoes in shallow salted water until they slide off a sharp knife. (I learned that trick from Cooks Illustrated, and it has never failed me.) Smash them roughly, skins and all, in a bowl. Add a lump of butter and a generous splash of milk. (For vegans, substitute olive oil and vegetable broth.) Add generous pepper and more salt than you think you need. You can make these ahead, too, and reheat in a double boiler. Add chopped scallions shortly before serving; stir through.
If The Fella agrees, we’ll stay away from the super-sweet sweet potato dishes that blot so many holiday tables. I’m thinking up a dish: whipped sweet potatoes with orange and lemon. We’ll make this one up on the fly, but the idea is simple: bake sweet potatoes, skin and mash them, then with a fork whip in a little fresh orange juice and zest, a little lemon to balance the sweetness, plenty of salt and pepper, and a little bit of butter or oil.
The Fella suggested roasted vegetables, which is sure to include roasted carrots. I like to blanch them, toss them with a tiny bit of butter and salt, and roast at high heat until they’re brown on the edges, slightly shriveled, and totally delicious.
We’ll add something green and fresh and little bit fancy, too. Maybe a dish of steamed asparagus, because it’s always fun to eat a fancy meal quite properly with your fingers. Maybe a simple salad: mixed greens, cranberries, glazed pecans or pumpkin seeds, sliced apple, and a lemon dressing. This is a favorite for holidays because it’s festive and light, and also a snap to prepare. All the components are shelf stable except the dressing and the greens. (I also love that it’s seasonally appropriate — pumpkin, cranberry, apple — but then I’m a foodways nerd.)
Honoring your vegetarian tablemates’ wishes and appetites really ought not to be too difficult, especially when so many families serve abundant vegetable side dishes with their roasted meats. Some basic guidelines:
- Keep vegetable dishes vegetarian, or clearly indicate which ones aren’t. It’s frustrating for vegetarians to take a bite only to discover that a seemingly vegetarian dish contains pancetta or bacon or chicken stock.
- Some vegetarians are cautious about eating cheese, which can contain rennet, so it’s best to ask your guests what they do and do not eat. You can encourage them to bring a dish, too.
- Realize that most “vegetarian” dishes will be eaten by vegetarians and omnivores alike, so make plenty.
- Tofurkey is not necessary. Serve it if you like it, but don’t feel the need to offer a meat substitute.
- If you’re making old-fashioned in-the-bird stuffing, consider serving a separate dish of stuffing cooked in a casserole (without meat juices).
Onion herb bread is perfect for a vegetarian Thanksgiving, especially if you’re doing without stuffing. It’s richly savory and fragrant, crusty on the outside and soft inside with a tender crumb that falls apart. I like to bake it in small loaves or rolls, to be sure the interior gets cooked through… and also because they’re so darned cute. (It’s also a great Thanksgiving recipe for meat-eaters: stack some leftover turkey on this bread, add some mayo or butter and maybe a lettuce leaf, whatever else goes in your Thanksgiving sandwich, and thank me later. Add some gravy and it’s transcendent.)
Speaking of cute: tiny tarts and pies, oh my! I’ve decided that a major delight of a teeny tiny Thanksgiving is a teeny tiny dessert buffet: pumpkin pie, three-berry pie (blueberry, blackberry, raspberry), and maybe some so-tiny-they’re-almost-invisible pecan tarts. Also ice cream.
For all the sorrow and all the pain that befalls us every year, there is always so much for which we can be thankful. This year especially, I am deeply thankful for my husband — and for an entire holiday alone with him.
*From what I hear. Pfffft, I didn’t get to eat anything except a bite of salad, a bite of — you guessed it — squash galette, and a big ole slab of my sister’s wedding cake.