November 26, 2015: My first Thanksgiving as a vegan. One I’ll always remember.
For 4 out of the last 5 years since I turned 20, I have hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house. It was by that age that my extended family had tried enough of my culinary creations to entrust me with such a delicate task – including the turkey. In preparation for the first Thanksgiving I was to host, I religiously studied recipes and videos on the Food Network website for weeks before the big event. Prep-work in the kitchen began at least 3 days in advance. What took weeks to plan and hours to cook culminated in a succulent dinner that took no more than 30 minutes to inhale by about 20 guests. Madness.
In that respect, this year wasn’t much different. I used Pinterest as my source of inspiration for vegan Thanksgiving dishes (hey, you gotta learn from seasoned veterans – pun intended – when you’re trying something new). I typed up a 10-page Word document with my menu, shopping list, “plan of attack” (ie what to prep/cook on which day), personal recipes, plus saved and printed PDFs of all the recipes found online that I planned to use. I actually had to force myself to cross some things off my menu, because I was trying to do so much in a limited amount of time (sorry, chocolate chip cookies…).
Yes, but all that planning done ahead of time freed me from having to think and instead just do when it came down to cooking on Thanksgiving morning. By then, I knew that I had absolutely every ingredient that I needed. Every bit of peace of mind helps when you’re the head chef trying to stir this, and drain that, and, ooh! the oven timer just went off… you get the idea.
So what do vegans eat on Thanksgiving, anyways? Tofurky? Sure, but not necessarily. My goal was to create a healthy, flavorful, abundant menu with a traditional Thanksgiving feel that would make everyone forget about the turkey (and whatever other animal products are typically involved).
Not only was this year different because of all the new dishes I made, it was also the first Thanksgiving that my husband and I got to spend with both of our parents and brothers – a nice, peaceful dinner for 8. I am so grateful that they were open-minded and tasted everything. I got a lot of positive feedback, which makes me so happy!!
Check out all the vegan Thanksgiving recipes on my menu:
(Please don’t judge my pictures… you try taking decent food photos with 7 hungry mouths just anxious to pounce on it!)
Mixed Fruit Plate
Multi-grain Chips with Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (store-bought)
Lentil Mushroom Walnut Balls – a favorite around the table!
Baby Spinach and Kale Salad with Chopped Apples, Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar, and Blood Orange Olive Oil
For the Salad: I’m almost positive that this was my first time ever having fresh salad at a Thanksgiving meal! The raspberry balsamic vinegar and blood orange olive oil were sent to me for my birthday and came in a sampler pack from Smashing Olive in Tallahassee (they ship!). This combination makes the most fragrant, fruity salad dressing; no other seasonings required!
For the Mac-and-Cheeze: I omitted the roasted garlic called for in the original sauce recipe linked above; used 1/2 tsp. garlic powder instead. I also added about 3 Tbsp. vegan Daiya cream cheese spread to the sauce, which made it divinely creamy and cheesy!
For the Tofu Bacon Bits: Two days prior, I drained and pressed a 14 oz. block of tofu. I then crumbled the tofu into a Tupperware container and marinated it in a mixture of tamari, maple syrup, liquid smoke, balsamic vinegar, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, and black pepper (I will provide exact measurements in a future recipe once I feel that it can’t be improved). One day prior, I fried the marinated tofu bits in a large skillet, cooled, and stored in the fridge. The bacon bits were ready to use as needed on Thanksgiving day.
Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy
For the Mashed Potatoes: The day before, I boiled 5 lbs. yellow potatoes, then peeled and smashed with some Earth Balance (vegan butter) and salt. The day of, I warmed a mixture of vegetable broth, a little coconut milk, Earth Balance, and Daiya cream cheese in a large pot, then stirred in the mashed potatoes a bit at a time to warm and incorporate the creamy flavors. Salt and pepper to taste.
For the Mushroom Gravy: I didn’t follow a recipe and didn’t practice prior; I just decided to just wing it on Thanksgiving morning (BAD idea). All I can say is… don’t put vinegar in your gravy. Not even Sherry vinegar. I was able to rescue it with significant modifications, but still. I’ll post a recipe when I have one that I can back with confidence.
Green Bean Casserole with Mushroom Gravy, Tofu Bacon Bits, and Panko Breadcrumbs
For the Green Bean Casserole: The day prior, I cut the green beans in half and steamed them in a large, wide pot for about 5 minutes, then plunged into an ice bath. The day of, I combined the beans with some mushroom gravy and tofu bacon bits into a large casserole dish, topped with Panko breadcrumbs, and baked about 10 minutes until warm and the breadcrumbs were golden brown.
[forgot to take an individual picture of the dish…]
Balsamic Garlic Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Walnuts
For the Brussels Sprouts: I’ve been using Sam the Cooking Guy’s recipe since my first Thanksgiving (he’s a local legend), but I’ve tweaked it a bit this year. Instead of sauteing the sprouts in garlic and olive oil, I used garlic-infused olive oil (again, from Smashing Olive) – so easy! I also omitted the red pepper flakes and added chopped walnuts and dried cranberries for extra texture, tang, and sweetness.
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Coconut Whipped Cream
For the Cheesecake: Oh, Minimalist Baker, you ain’t never did me wrong. Seriously, I needed to find a pumpkin cheesecake recipe that I could trust, since I didn’t have any time for a practice round. I was so happy when I found that Minimalist Baker had a recipe for it (I made no changes) – my dad would agree I chose wisely!
For the Coconut Whipped Cream: I refrigerated a can of full-fat coconut milk a couple of days prior (though one day would be enough). Before serving dessert, I placed a metal bowl and the whisks from my electric mixer in the freezer for a few minutes. Then, without shaking the can, I carefully opened it and scooped out the thick, white, cream from the top and into the cold bowl (the fat separates from the watery part when in the fridge). I added a little vanilla extract and sugar, then whipped for about 2 minutes, and voila! Thick and fluffy whipped cream to go with our pumpkin cheesecake, even prettier with extra cinnamon sprinkled on top.
For the Sparkling Lemonade: My mom gets all the credit here. She made a fresh-squeezed, lightly-sweetened, concentrated lemonade the day before. Then I just mixed it with some Perrier mineral water prior to serving.
One last note…
For the first time this year, Mr. VP and I participated in Farm Sanctuary’s Adopt-a-Turkey program. We decided to make it a new tradition. Every Thanksgiving, instead of taking a life, we will save a life. Our adoptee, Robin the turkey, was rescued in bad condition from a factory farm, but now she gets to play in the open space and sunshine with her friends at Farm Sanctuary in New York. I encourage you to learn about the work they are doing, and get involved if you’d like to help.
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving 2015, and may you be thankful all year long!