November 2004

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Gobbling without the Turkey

Baking Bread

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Gobbling without the Turkey

by Jan Gjestvang-Lucky, Merchandiser

Thanksgiving is a unique holiday; homegrown, like jazz music and stock-car racing. It has become a celebration of fall harvest, and a more general celebration of the all of the things we are thankful for. It makes sense, then, that it seems to be the most family-focused of the many holidays we celebrate here in the United States.
That it is American and family-centered are the two main reasons Thanksgiving was never a very important holiday in my home when I was growing up. Both of my parents are immigrants from Northern Europe, so they didn’t grow up with it, and we also didn’t have any family nearby. It was only when my sister and I were more exposed to it in school that we began to celebrate Thanksgiving at home. My family’s lack of Thanksgiving tradition meant we felt more open to experiment with the basic menu, and we often had alternatives like homemade pizza. This changed even more when my sister and I became vegetarians over fifteen years ago, and meat, including turkey, was no longer part of any of our menus.

I’m no Martha Stewart (which is obvious if you’ve seen my apartment or the way I dress). That means if you want to get some basic ideas on planning and hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you’re better off looking at a website than listening to me. I do, however, enjoy cooking, even though I don’t do it as often as I would like. With that in mind, let’s look at everything you’ll need to serve to have a great vegetarian Thanksgiving. Everything, that is, except for the turkey.

What, No TURKEY?
That’s right, no turkey. In fact, there may not have been ANY turkey at the original Thanksgiving feast in 1621. One source I saw suggested that although letters describing the event mention “wild turkey,” it was a generic description for fowl, and may not have been turkey at all. The main course was more likely venison than “wild turkey” or any other bird. Seafood, like lobster and eels, was also part of that first Thanksgiving dinner. Yams and potatoes, however, probably weren’t. Neither of them was introduced to New England until the 1700s, and many Europeans still considered them poisonous in 1621. Pumpkins were almost certainly part of the meal, but probably as a savory dish made right in the pumpkin shell, rather than the pumpkin pie we know and love. Whether or not turkey was eaten back then, we don’t need turkey now to have a delicious and fulfilling Thanksgiving dinner.

When it comes to Turkey Day, vegetarians no longer need to settle for green beans, potatoes, and rolls. Some companies make turkey substitutes like Tofurkey, a tofu-based meal, and Un-turkey, which is made of seitan, or wheat gluten. Both of them include stuffing and gravy. There are many recipes for homemade vegetarian and vegan main courses, some of them mimicking “turkey-n-stuffing,” and others that go off in a completely different direction. One year I helped make, and then had the honor of carving, a huge seitan “turkey” with phyllo dough “skin.” It was delicious! This year I found many websites that have options ranging from a vegan nut roast with stuffing to spanakopita to ratatouille. The first one looks so good that I think I’m going to make it for this year’s family gathering at my parent’s house in Portland, Oregon. See for yourself:

Vegan (Strict Vegetarian) Nut Roast à la PETA
(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)

The roast:
two tablespoons oil or margarine
2 large onions, chopped fine
5 cloves (or an entire bulb) garlic, minced
3 cups raw cashews
1 1/2 cups bread
1 cup soup stock (or water)
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
The “stuffing”:
3 cups bread cubes, toasted
two tablespoons margarine, melted but
not hot
1/2 to 3/4 cup finely-chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon sage
3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
salt to taste

Directions: Cook the onion and garlic in the oil or margarine until tender, and remove from the heat.
Chop the cashews by hand or in a food processor; cut up the bread as well. Add the cashews and bread to the onion, then add the vegetable stock, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and lemon juice. Put half of this mixture into a small, non-stick loaf pan (or line a regular loaf pan with parchment paper if a non-stick pan is unavailable).
Mix together all the ingredients from the second list. Put the mixture on top of the stuff in the loaf pan, and add the rest of the first mixture so that there are three layers of food in the pan.

Place the pan on a baking sheet or in a larger loaf pan (in case it overflows while cooking), and bake at 400ºF for half an hour. The top should be browned.

Let the roast cool for a few minutes, then turn the pan over and serve the roast on a plate (or simply serve it out of the pan). Serve with gravy if desired, keeping in mind that it is a very rich dish.

First Things... Second
Let’s get back to the beginning of the feast with...Appetizers! If your time-management skills are anything like mine, having some appetizers lined up will help avert a rebellion among your guests as you frantically struggle to have the rest of the food on the table before midnight. Fresh veggies are a good choice; you can serve them chopped with various dips (referring to them as “crudités” will surely impress your guests and maybe even buy you more time). Or you can make salads: like a rice and corn mixture with various vegetable toppings to choose from, or one with green leaf and arugula lettuce, pears, blue cheese, and walnuts. Soups are another good possibility. I liked the look of this one:

Spicy Pumpkin Soup
Serves 6
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 fifteen ounce can pumpkin
2 tablespoons maple syrup or other sweetener
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups soy or rice milk
Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot then add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft, about five minutes.

Add the mustard seeds, turmeric, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Whisk in the water or vegetable stock, pumpkin, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Simmer 15 minutes.

Stir in the soy or rice milk, then puree the soup in a blender in two or three batches until very smooth. Return it to the pan and heat over a medium flame until hot and steamy (do not let it boil), about 10 minutes.

Serve with a sprinkling of fresh cilantro if desired.

On the Side
Previously looked upon with dread by vegetarians as a haphazard substitute for the main course they couldn’t eat, side dishes can now return to their rightful place as pieces that complement each other and increase enjoyment of the entire meal. Sometimes a combination of more complex side dishes can even take the place of a main course, and leave everyone feeling happy and satisfied with a broader selection. There are the standards of course: mashed potatoes, creamed beans, candied yams, and cranberries. But there are also some creative variations on the traditional recipes, as well as some completely new ones. In my search, I found recipes for cranberry-carrot sauté, and cranberry-orange compote. I also found mention of Coulibiac, a savory Russian puff pastry dish that is filled with rice, mushrooms, and cabbage, flavored with garlic and juniper berries, and served with a red wine gravy. It sounds almost as good as this recipe:

Sweet Potato Bake
4 medium sweet potatoes (about 8 oz. each) peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 Tbs. frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
3 Tbs. melted butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Lightly oil a 10- by 12-inch ovenproof dish.
In large bowl, combine all ingredients until well coated. Layer slices in dish. Cover with foil and bake until tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm.

We Get Our Just Desserts
It’s about time. What’s the proverb? “Life is uncertain; eat dessert first!” If you don’t, you might not have room. Desserts are usually vegetarian, but not often vegan, so I won’t waste any more space or time. Here it is, and both filling and crust are vegan:

Pumpkin Custard Pie
Makes one nine- or ten-inch pie
1 9 or 10-inch pie crust
1/2 cup sugar or other sweetener
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 fifteen ounce can solid-pack
1 1/2 cups soy milk or rice milk

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, spices, and salt. Blend in the pumpkin and soymilk or rice milk, then pour into a 9- or 10-inch crust and bake until set, about 45 minutes. Cool before cutting.

I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with the blessings of good food, friendship, family (however you define it!), and love! May you have much to be thankful for. I also hope you have found here a new Thanksgiving recipe or two that you like. If not, there’s always pizza!