A Vegetarian Survival Guide for Thanksgiving

veggie-thanksgiving-1I freaking love Thanksgiving. I love that the holiday invites reflectiveness and gratitude as well as merriment. I love the relative absence of soul-sucking commercialism (oh Christmas, where art thou?). I love being together with friends and family. And, yes, I love the food. I really frigging love the food.

You might think that as a pescetarian I’d feel alienated from a holiday alternately known as Turkey Day. Nothing could be further from the truth. All an herbivore needs to do to have a cozy and delicious Thanksgiving is follow two simple rules.

#1 Come out of the vegetarian closet. Possibly someone has invited you to Thanksgiving dinner at his house, and possibly that person doesn’t know you’re a vegetarian. You may be tempted to keep your eating restrictions under wraps — after all, you don’t want to be a pain in the neck. Trust me on this: you should absolutely tell your host you’re a vegetarian. Thanksgiving isn’t just about food; it’s about fellowship, people gathering together and enjoying each other’s company over a shared meal. If your host finds out after the fact that you don’t eat meat, he’ll feel like a bad host. He’ll worry that you don’t feel welcome at his table on a day that’s all about feeling welcome at the table. Plus, if he knows you don’t eat meat, your host can warn you about the bacon bits hidden among the green beans before you plunk the offending side dish onto your plate.

At least a week before the event, very politely call your host and inform him of your vegetarianism, which brings me to Rule # 2…

#2 Offer to bring a vegetarian dish of your own to share. That way you’re informing your host of your needs and simultaneously taking some of the onus off of him. Not sure what to bring? Consider the following:

Salad: To merit a place on the Thanksgiving table, a salad should be festive and seasonal. (Hint: if your salad includes a tomato, you’re doing it wrong.) Start with a dark leafy green like arugula or spinach. Feature fresh, in-season fruits like pears, apples, pomegranates, or grapes. Add pecans and/or pumpkin seeds for crunch and dried cranberries for sweetness. For pop and piquancy, add red onion, green onion, feta, or white cheddar. If you have time and room in the oven, throw in some roasted acorn squash or sweet potato as well. Dress with a maple or apple cider vinaigrette.

Soup: I am crazy about this mushroom and lima bean stew with butternut squash and kale: hearty but not heavy and deliciously diverse in flavor and texture. Just use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock, and you’ve got a great big steaming bowl of cruelty-free autumn. Bonus: you can easily make this stew ahead of time, as it tastes even better the next day.

Sweet Potatoes: Sometimes meat lurks in unlikely places. Those mini-marshmallows melted over the sweet potato casserole? Made of gelatin, which is made of animals. Opt for vegan marshmallows, or nix the marshmallows altogether and try this delicious, easy-to-make praline sauce instead. I promise you’ll never go back.

Cranberry sauce: This is another place where gelatin tends to hide. Fortunately there are plenty of easy, gelatin-not-included recipes out there, like this one, this one, and this one.

Bon appétit and Happy Thanksgiving!