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What Can I Serve a Vegan at Thanksgiving?

When you agreed to let your son invite his girlfriend to Thanksgiving, who knew she was a vegan? Good thing you asked in time. Or maybe someone new is coming who has a dairy or egg allergy. Just about every traditional dish has eggs or dairy in it. Thanksgiving’s hard enough without having to make a bunch of separate dishes for those on special diets..  

First, let’s level the playing field. If you aren’t sure what vegans eat and don’t eat, go to this site for a quick overview.

Second, let’s address the elephant in the room, or should I say the Tofurky in the room? I’ve been a vegetarian-then-vegan for 35 years and have never bought or eaten a Tofurky Roast. It may be exactly right for some folks, but I prefer homemade fare, so don’t assume you have to go there.

Here are seven ways you can accommodate your vegan without spending a lot of extra hours on special dishes.

1.       Buy a pound of vegan butter (the most widely available brand is Earth Balance). Buy the four-bar pack instead of the spread, then you can use it in recipes (see suggestions below), and the vegan can use it like butter for spreading on rolls and melting on potatoes or other vegetables.  Earth Balance is available in most large grocery stores and it tastes better than you might imagine—don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

2.       Buy some non-dairy milk.  Most vegans like all varieties—soy, almond, rice, or cashew milk. Make sure it’s unsweetened so you can use it in recipes. Plus your guest can add it to coffee or tea over dessert.

 3.       Serve as many “accidentally vegan” foods as you can. Cranberry sauce is vegan, both the canned variety and homemade. Applesauce and green salad (with a non-dairy dressing) are vegan. Would you believe that Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are vegan? Yup. Homemade rolls usually contain eggs, butter and milk. You can either make a batch of Pillsbury rolls for your vegan or buy a nice baguette.

4.      Create vegan side dishes that everyone will likely enjoy. While some beloved Thanksgiving side dishes are not vegan, including Green Bean Casserole (Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup contains milk) and Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows (marshmallows contain gelatin), many excellent side dishes are vegan. Here are some suggestions for side dishes that are quick, easy, and have no “odd” ingredients.

  • Green Beans Almandine: just a fancy name for green beans topped with vegan margarine and sliced almonds.

  • Baked Sweet Potatoes: delicious with margarine, salt and pepper. Just wash, dry, and pierce the potatoes with a fork. Bake in a 375° oven for about 90 minutes, until soft.

  • Candied Yams: You can substitute vegan margarine for the butter and you’ll have vegan candied yams.

  • Roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, or butternut squash: Roasting vegetables is easy. Wash and cut them into bite-size pieces, toss in olive oil (1 tablespoon per pound of vegetables) and salt, then bake at 425° for about 30 minutes.

  • Other side dish recipes from the Gracious Vegan.

5.       Consider veganizing your mashed potatoes and/or bread stuffing. You can substitute vegan margarine and non-dairy milk for the butter and cow’s milk in your mashed potatoes recipe. These substitutes work really well, and I’d be surprised if any of the omnivores noticed the difference. If you cook your bread stuffing “in the bird,” the vegan can’t eat it. But it’s easy to make all or part of your stuffing in a baking dish. Just use vegan margarine instead of butter, and leave out the eggs if they’re called for (add a little extra liquid instead). If you want to go all-out, your vegan would love some gravy. High-end grocery stores might offer store-made mushroom gravy around Thanksgiving. There are also a number of dry mixes you can quickly whip up into decent vegan gravy, like Hain, Simply Organic, and Road’s End. You can order the packets online or find them in health food stores or organic sections.

6.       Don’t worry about a turkey substitute. If you provide your vegan with all or most of the foods mentioned so far, don’t worry that there’s no main dish for him or her. They won’t miss a turkey substitute, and, since they won’t experience the post-dinner turkey coma, the vegan can do the dishes for you.

7.       Make an easy vegan dessert. There are many vegan desserts that would be delicious, but if you need something fast, I recommend chocolate or fruit. You won’t believe how delicious silken tofu chocolate mousse is (here’s Nasoya’s Tofu Chocolate Mousse recipe). An easy fruit dessert is baked apples/pears or apple/pear crisp—just use vegan butter instead of dairy butter in your favorite recipe. Most grocery stores (Trader Joe's is great) sell one or more brands of vegan ice cream—for topping off the fruit dessert—just sayin’. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to veganize pumpkin pie.

Other desserts recommended by the Gracious Vegan.

If you accommodate your vegan in all or most of these ways, you will be making that person very happy. Despite the militant stereotype, most vegans are incredibly grateful for any and all accommodations at special meals. And the reward for you? You’ll have a great Thanksgiving story for future holidays: “The Year the Vegan Came to Dinner.”


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