It’s the holiday season, and that means it’s time for holiday meals. Whatever holidays you observe, it’s likely that the celebrations include long days of cooking and long nights of full bellies.
Reflecting on this Thanksgiving, I’ve realized a few things about the nature of holiday food. Thanksgiving is arguably the most food-centric holiday of all time. Instead of focusing on historical significance, the holiday has instead adopted a characteristic array of flavors that define the holiday. Cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and, most notably, turkey are all staples of the November holiday. Most families would not consider the meal complete without each one of them on the table.
But what about the vegetarians? Should we herbivores be banned from partaking in this patriotic occasion because we will not consume its defining food item? There have been a number of times in which a friend has brought up the topic of Thanksgiving, then looked pitifully at me and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, what do you do for Thanksgiving if you can’t have turkey?” as if the consumption of the turkey was the holy event in itself.
I, for one, refuse to accept alienation from the biggest food holiday of the year on the basis of my dietary choices.
My family is entirely vegetarian and we often host extended family members for the momentous meal. Unable to prepare the traditional Thanksgiving assortment, we have to get a bit creative with our menu. We’ve tried all the soy substitutes. I would not recommend Tofurkey, and don’t even get me started on soy stuffing. Considering that those have been unsuccessful, we have looked instead to create our own version of the ultimate Thanksgiving feast. We are out to prove that you don’t need poultry to host a delicious meal that will leave you just as stuffed and satisfied.
One classic Thanksgiving delicacy that will always be found on our dining room table is cranberry sauce. But I am not talking about the jiggly stuff from the can that stays in a cylinder when you put it on the plate. What I’m referring to is the real thing. Simply prepared and so perfectly tangy, my family’s homemade cranberry sauce has cranberry-spoiled me.
The classic recipe includes just cranberries, water, and sugar, but we’ve experimented with substituting orange juice for water to give it a citrusy boost, and honey in place of sugar. Adding a pinch of lemon zest will make it extra tart. However you tweak it, fresh organic cranberries boiled down with something sweet will give you a sauce that will blow the cylindrical red thing out of the water.
This year, for the main course we incorporated both the very Thanksgiving-y russet potato and the quintessential winter vegetable, butternut squash, in a homey yet sophisticated non-turkey meal.
Gnocchi is a potato-based pasta that is usually served in the form of fluffy little nuggets. We make it using starchy potatoes, eggs, flour, and salt. The ingredients are kneaded together to form a dough, rolled into long snaking cylinders, then chopped into bite-sized pieces and boiled. We serve our homemade gnocchi with a rich butternut squash sauce made with sage and cream. This dish proves that refined comfort food does not have to be an oxymoron.
Salads like goat cheese and beet, and arugula and pine nut cover the table, and for dessert we never leave out dark chocolate mousse and hand-whipped vanilla whipped cream. Add some honey crisp apple cider, and the Thanksgiving meal is complete.
Although meat is often the focus of holiday meals, it is easy to substitute equally fulfilling vegetarian entrees at your Hannukah, Christmas, or New Year’s gatherings.
For all you non-believers out there, I hope you take from this that a vegetarian holiday meal can be just as festive and delicious as your omnivorous ones. Stepping out of the turkey-centric mentality might just spark your creativity this fall and inspire you to compose some truly exceptional meals.