Easy Thanksgiving side dishes that will delight traditionalists and vegans, alike
Thanksgiving without the turkey may strike worry into the heart of even the most intrepid cook. Yet a meal without the bird or any other animal product - yes, a vegan Thanksgiving! - can still feel rich.
Of the many Thanksgiving meals I’ve cooked, the ones that have been the most memorable have also been the most simple. Now, this may seem to go against the whole idea of Thanksgiving in terms of celebrating the abundance of the harvest with an equally abundant table, but hear me out. Simple doesn’t have to mean dull, and it certainly doesn’t have to eschew tradition, even if you go the sans-bird route as I’m planning to this year.
In other words, a Thanksgiving without a turkey needn’t be boring. One glance at the gorgeous produce currently available should inspire a plant-based menu that can be enjoyed by vegans and omnivores alike.
My strategy is to serve an elegant, restrained Thanksgiving menu that won’t leave my guests wishing they’d skipped seconds. I love to pare down and focus on the in-season produce that reflects fall’s beauty. It’s easy to keep things festive with a little creative forethought.
If you’re expecting guests who are vegan or vegetarian, or if you want to lighten your table a bit from the more traditional fare that can often feel like too much, try making this streamlined menu highlighting seasonal produce. Or choose one or two of these recipes to contribute to a Thanksgiving meal or to serve as your vegetarian offering.
For the sake of keeping things easy, each recipe included here is vegan, meaning it is without any animal-sourced ingredient and is thus suitable for those who keep to either a vegan or vegetarian diet.
These could serve as your complete Thanksgiving menu. Start with bowls of smooth, rich-tasting butternut squash and coconut milk soup topped with a squeeze of lime juice and sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds.
Then it’s on to your main course of thick cauliflower steaks generously drizzled with a fresh herb pesto fragrant with lemon juice and served on a bed of pearl couscous. Serve crispy, pan-fried Brussels sprouts alongside and finish with a not-too-sweet cranberry-apple crisp.
Want more? You could add a pan of roasted vegetables such as peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, little red russet potatoes, carrots and parsnips to your menu. Or swap the veggies for the pearl couscous. If you’re pressed for time, omit the herb pesto meant for the cauliflower steaks or top them instead with a handful of toasted, sliced almonds for a bit of crunch.
Similarly, if you prefer green beans to Brussels sprouts, substitute trimmed green beans for the sprouts and cook according to the directions below. It’s lovely to have a component of something raw to balance out the cooked dishes so I like to serve an apple-fennel slaw or a spinach salad with sliced Fuyu persimmons in another nod to seasonal produce.
And a pear sauce - prepared the same way you’d make an apple sauce - with a touch of cinnamon is a nice change from the usual cranberry sauce, especially if you make the cranberry-apple crisp for dessert.
A few years ago, we were living in Casablanca, Morocco, an incredibly busy city sprawled along the Atlantic Ocean. As I learned during our years living overseas, when you’re far from home you tend to cling to your traditions. Thanksgiving is certainly a North American hallmark, and one enjoyed equally by American expats and their local guests.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, we visited the downtown produce souk marketplace for an array of vegetables, including purple Japanese sweet potatoes, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes and spinach. Morocco taught me to be flexible and to keep my dinner ingredients pared down - you never knew exactly what might be available when you showed up at the market, and culinary creativity was essential.
I did bake a small turkey breast in a nod to American sensibilities, but the rest of the meal was completely plant-based and on the lighter side. We left the table satisfied but still able to enjoy a slice of persimmon cake without feeling like we overdid it.
As it turned out, the act of gathering together to share a meal was the tradition we were most hankering for. We didn’t have cranberry sauce or a whole roasted turkey (to buy a whole turkey, I was told, would have been difficult, and it would have been enormous) and we didn’t miss them. Delectable vegetables and good camaraderie were more than enough.
Back in Sonoma County to celebrate Thanksgiving for the first time in five years, I’m looking forward to visiting the farmer’s market to source the ingredients for my feast.