It’s Not About the Turkey | Our Vegetarian Thanksgivings

by mary on November 27, 2013

passing the bowl, sharing a meal

sharing a meal with friends

I’ve had a lot of different kinds of Thanksgivings over the years. Ones where I was with my family and ones where I was with good friends I could laugh with, relax, and raise a glass together. There was even one Thanksgiving that I pretty much ignored completely– I was on the other side of the world with my husband while my kids had the traditional meal with our good friends.

When I’m cooking for Thanksgiving, as I usually am, it’s always been a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner. We have plates filled with mashed potatoes and vegetarian gravy, yams, chestnut stuffing made with vegetable stock, and cranberry sauce from whole berries. There’s usually at least one other vegetable, often green beans. Salad usually seems superfluous and I don’t bother. Then there’s dessert, and I’ve made a variety of non-dairy pumpkin pies over the years.

My vegetarian Thanksgivings take a lot of prep, even without a turkey. Roasting and peeling the chestnuts is a project in itself. I’m fussy about the vegetable stock and usually make my own, which is a decision that I sometimes question. It’s nice when I already have stock on hand in the freezer, but I often don’t and have to make up a big batch, one that I’ll use to make soups later and probably to make the same stuffing again at Christmas. Thanksgiving is the only time that I make vegetarian gravy, and it’s taken me a while to get it right. It takes a whole lot of stirring and browning of onions on the stove.

The question I used to get about ‘what would we eat without turkey?’ remains a silly one–– there’s no shortage of food in a traditional American Thanksgiving meal even leaving aside the bird. But the fact remains that my Thanksgiving meals have been vegetarian versions of a turkey-centered meal–– thus the stuffing and the gravy. In recent years I’ve wanted to make something completely different, something conceived of from the start as a vegetarian meal– maybe a fancy Indian dinner. But by now my family loves the existing tradition and they want their stuffing, potatoes, and cranberry sauce. So off to the kitchen I go to make stock, and later on, to roast chestnuts.

Thanksgiving table decorations: candle, cranberries, leaves, napkins on dinner plate

This year’s Thanksgiving table at my friend’s house.

Some of my favorite Thanksgivings were the potlucks. We had a streak of potluck Thanksgivings with student friends back in the day. I really liked only having to bring one dish. And I liked seeing what other people brought, the one dish that they felt would be essential to their Thanksgiving meal. Some I’d never heard of and seemed weird to me– oyster stuffing? And others– yams covered in marshmallow topping, green bean casserole with lots of fatty, crunchy stuff– were just not my thing.

But the occasion was, the bringing of food, the sitting around, talking, laughing, and hanging out. Now I kind of want the occasion without all the food prep. That’s not going to happen, but this year we are, as we often do, sharing Thanksgiving with another family. So there will be turkey, though I won’t be eating it. And my friends will be making a lot of the food, leaving me with only the stuffing, cranberry sauce, and gravy.

Last year I had Thanksgiving at my childhood home with my parents and sisters, the first time we’d done that in at least ten years, and the first time in forever that we’d had our original family there with no spouses or boyfriends, just my parents, sibs, and one of my sons. It was very special, and I didn’t even know how precious it was going to be. My father passed away this spring, so that Thanksgiving was the last time that we were all together.

Traditional or not, with family, friends, or off doing something completely different, tomorrow I hope you will be able to relax and connect with the people you are with, and maybe raise a glass….

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Stacie December 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm

I was a vegetarian for two years, and still loved Thanksgiving. Like you said, there are so many other delicious side dishes that I still always had a full plate!
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mary December 1, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Thanks, Stacie! I probably should have clarified that although I was vegetarian for many years, I do eat some fish and seafood now– but not turkey or other land animals. So my Thanksgiving remains the same.

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The Wimpy Vegetarian December 10, 2013 at 5:51 am

I eat some fish too, but not turkey. and you’re right Thanksgiving can still be just wonderful. I made roasted delicata squash basted with some fig jam and filled them with quinoa and roasted red onions with a little gorgonzola. It was so good; I didn’t even miss the turkey even though it was on the table for the meat eaters. I loved reading about your Thanksgivings, and so glad you had Thanksgiving with your ‘original’ family last year.
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mary December 11, 2013 at 7:25 am

Yes, that Thanksgiving just came together for everyone, it could have so easily not happened. Just shows the value of having these types of gatherings despite all the obstacles and practical reasons for putting them off. Your stuffed squash sounds really good: delicata is one of my favorites, and you already know I’m a sucker for fig jam.

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