November 20th, 2013
11:45 AM ET
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Isa Chandra Moskowitz is the host of The Post Punk Kitchen and author of multiple vegan cookbooks, including her most recent, "Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes For Every Day Of The Week." And yes, there are recipes if you scroll down.

Chances are you have a vegan in your life - a real dyed-in-the-natural-fiber-cruelty-free-wool vegan for whom all animal products are off limits. And perhaps that vegan is threatening a visit to your Thanksgiving table this year.

Thanksgiving is stressful. Everyone knows that; the very history of it is stress. The original celebration was not what people had to eat, but that they had anything to eat at all. Maybe things aren’t as bad as all that today, but it can still be stressful when someone needs a special menu.

But one of the great things about vegan meals is that everyone can enjoy them. (Provided they don’t have a nut allergy, or a wheat allergy, or...well maybe we oughta just go out for Chinese food.)

If your first thought was an eye roll, or something along the lines of, “That’s their choice - I don’t have to cook for them,” or if you think they can get by on salad and cranberry sauce, well, honestly, don’t even invite them. Somewhere there’s a welcoming table where the lentils overfloweth, and they will take your vegan in.

But if you actually like them, maybe even love them, or if your loved one loves them, or if you want them in any way, shape, or form to have a great time as your guest, then read on.

Along with religion and politics, we may view dietary choices as something that is driving family and friends apart, but instead, let’s see it as a chance to bring us together. Here’s the thing: you can’t eat your Uncle Roger’s opinion on Obamacare. But you know what? Those chickpea cutlets smothered in white pepper cashew gravy are pretty dang delicious. And I can tell you it’s nearly impossible to argue about Iran, or Israel, or China when you have a coconut cream pie stuffed in your face.

My point is, you don’t have to agree on the ethics to agree on good food. So while other political opinions may leave a bitter taste in your mouth, the only bitter you’ll find at your table will be an arugula salad - preferably made with local greens.

But it's tradition!

I know what you’re thinking: this all seems so unfamiliar. Whatever happened to tradition? But let’s take a look. Did the first Thanksgiving really occur at Plymouth in 1621? Or did it occur in Texas in 1598, as others claim, or in Virginia in 1619? And what about the indigenous tribes before them? Certainly they gave thanks, too, for bountiful harvests with celebratory feasts.

Then there’s the bird. Scholars can’t even confirm that a turkey was present at the first “Turkey Day.” Nor will they tell you it was a national “tradition” until another 200 years or so had passed. And what was with all the buckles? Everyone, it seems, had belts wrapped around their heads and feet back then. Why don’t we do that anymore?

It’s not that I think tradition isn’t significant, it’s actually that I think it is. But tradition in and of itself is not carte blanche to do whatever you want, is it? History is fraught with some pretty terrible traditions.

We all have emotional attachments to food and I think that is a positive quality. If the world seems a little wonky, what’s the harm in the fact that some sage-scented cornbread stuffing can set it right? I love that there are tastes and flavors that ground us and make us feel at home.

But a larger tradition for Thanksgiving is inclusiveness. Or, at least, that is what we’re supposed to tell our children. Let's keep that tradition by providing something out of nothing. Or, more specifically, cutlets out of chickpeas. Here’s to new traditions!

But what's in it for you?

A newfound love of lentils? An additional set of cooking skills? Do you know the wonders of cashew cream or how to emulsify a dressing without eggs? How about massaging kale? Yes, that is a thing. And you just might find it as relaxing as a regular massage.

And not to get all preachy (I am, after all, a vegan) but plant-based eating is the way of the future, if only out of necessity. It’s lower on the food chain, uses fewer resources and is better for the planet. Perhaps this will lead you to Meatless Mondays or to Vegan Before 6 or (best case scenario) to becoming a level seven vegan. Because we all want to have a planet on which to keep celebrating Thanksgiving!

But it goes both ways.

Well, yes and no. No one is asking you to have a completely vegan Thanksgiving (although, hey you never know.) Different families have different solutions. Some set a portion aside before adding dairy products, and others opt for the everything-vegan-except-for-the-turkey approach.

But it would definitely benefit us vegans to chill out a little bit this time of year, as well. Yeah, we’ve all heard those same Thanksgiving jokes from all of our uncles through all those years. You know, when they pass us the turkey or tell us that maybe some bacon would improve our butternut squash bisque.

The truth is, your uncle loves you. He is making that comment not so you will complain about him in an angst-ridden Facebook status later in the evening. He is just trying to relate to you in whatever way he can; he is trying to make you smile. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make you smile, that is neither here nor there, but that is his intent. So smile anyway.

Now that I've convinced you to feed the vegans in your life...

Should you go out and simply buy a Tofurkey? I think that most in the veggie set will recognize your gesture as somewhere from kind to totally the most generous thing ever. But what about going all out?

There are some incredibly easy things you can do to transform your non-vegan dinner into a veritable feast for all your guests. Make the stuffing vegan, using olive oil instead of butter. Try coconut oil in the whipped sweet potatoes. Even the green bean casserole - yes, that one with the crunchy onions on top - can be made vegan. A creative mix of oils makes for a fabulously flaky pastry crust for all of your pie needs. Mashed potatoes using almond milk are totally delish. And I’ve saved many a Thanksgiving with mushroom gravy.

I guess I should also mention that vegans love Thanksgiving. I don’t know why. They love it more than anything. And they will be happy to help you in the kitchen until the cows come home (to the farm sanctuary, of course.) Honestly, you could go get a pedicure and they will make the whole darn thing. But that’s not what this is about, now is it?

Do something great for animals and the planet all while showing the vegan in your life that you love them more than pumpkin pie can say - or at least that much.

Vegan Holiday Recipes
Kale Salad With Butternut and Lentils
Serves 6

The trick with eating raw kale is to work it really hard with your hands, like you’re ROLFing it (which is a deep tissue massage, that looks kind of fun.) Work it at every step, including when you rinse and drain it. Use your hands to really scrunch the leaves up to get the water out, almost like ringing out a sponge. Don’t worry, kale can take it! In fact, afterwards it might feel a little like you after a massage; tender, relaxed and ready to be smothered in vinaigrette.

1 lb butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 lb kale, stems removed, torn into bite sized pieces (about 8 cups)
1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (or a 15 oz can, rinsed and drained)

Vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons agave syrup (or maple syrup)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely minced (or microplaned)
1 cloves garlic, finely minced (or microplaned)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Roast the squash:
Preheat oven to 425 F. Peel the squash and divide the round part from the long part. Cut the round part in half and scoop out the seeds. Slice everything into 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch pieces.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread squash out in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. The single layer is important because if the baking sheet is overcrowded the squash won’t brown, it’ll steam and just get mushy. Sprinkle with salt and toss with your hands to coat.

Pop in the oven for about 25 minutes, flipping every 15 minutes or so. They’re done when lightly browned on the outside and tender inside. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Assemble the salad:
Stir the vinaigrette into a large mixing bowl – everything will be going in there so make sure it’s large enough to hold all that kale.

Add the kale and take a minute or so, using your hands, to rub the vinaigrette into the leaves and really swish it around in there. Add the cooled butternut and lentils and toss to coat. Give the flavors a few minutes to settle in, then taste for salt and serve.

Recipe notes:
For the ginger and garlic, you want to get them to be almost a paste. A microplane grater works perfect for this, or you can just mince the hell out of them.

15 minute option: Don’t feel like butternut squash, or just looking for something a little less labor intensive? Replace the roasted butternut with apple. Just peel two tart apples, like Granny Smith, and dice them into 1/2 inch pieces.

Make ahead: Roast a mess of squash an evening or two before as a side dish for dinner, and use the leftovers (about 2 cups) for this salad.

Sweet Potato Soup With Ginger and Vanilla
Vanilla bean and ginger holding hands in a field of creamy sweet potato, with pretty bursts of lime lighting their way, and just a touch of heat.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced medium
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 lbs garnet yams, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
4 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (tip to use a steak knife)
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Preheat a 4-quart soup pot over medium heat. Saute the onions in oil with a pinch of salt for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add ginger and red pepper flakes, and saute another minute or so.

Add yams, veggie broth and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower heat a bit to a slow simmer and cook until potatoes are tender – usually 5 more minutes or so.

Once tender, add the vanilla beans. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Or transfer the soup in batches to a blender or food processor to puree. Be sure to let the steam escape in between pulses so that the steam doesn’t build up and explode all over you. Then transfer the soup back to the pot.

Add maple syrup and lime and taste for salt. Thin with a little water, if necessary. You can eat immediately, but the flavor develops a lot as it sits. The lime mellows out and the vanilla becomes more pronounced, especially the next day. Serve garnished with lime, if you like. You may also want to do a coconut swirl, or something like that, if you’re feeling fancy.

Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
A sublime combination that tastes like the holidays!

1/2 cup refined coconut oil, softened
2 tablespoons lightly packed, finely chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (golden preferred)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chocolate semisweet chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly grease two large baking sheets.

In a large mixing bowl, use a fork to beat together the coconut oil and rosemary, until relatively smooth. Add the sugar, and beat for about a minute.

Add the non-dairy milk and flax seeds, and beat once again, for 30 seconds or so. Mix in the vanilla.

Add about half the flour, as well as the salt and baking soda, and mix well. Add the remainder of the flour, along with the chocolate chips, and mix well until it looks like, well, cookie dough.

Scoop about 2 tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheets in rounded spoonfuls. Flatten gently with your hands. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown.

Let cool on sheets for 3 minutes or so, then transfer to cooling racks to cool the rest of the way.

Stuffed Thanksgiving Burgers
Makes 6 burgers
You can turn these burgers into an entree simply by serving with gravy and without the bun.

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Small yellow onion, diced medium
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dry rubbed sage
4 cups baguette sliced into cubes
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 cup cooked green or brown lentils (1 16 oz can, rinsed and drained)
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup dried cranberries

To serve:
6 sourdough rolls
Kale [or your preferred greens]
Vegan mayo (storebought or homemade)

Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan non-stick (preferably cast iron) over medium high heat. Saute onion in one tablespoon olive oil for about 3 minutes with a pinch of salt, until translucent. Add mushroom, celery, garlic, black pepper, thyme and sage and saute for 7 to 10 minutes, until mushrooms have released most of their moisture.

Add baguette cubes, and drizzle in the other tablespoon of oil. Toss bread to coat in the mixture and cook for 5 minutes or so, tossing often, to lightly brown the bread.

Add the vegetable broth and use your spatula to really mush the bread up in the broth, so that it absorbs all the liquid and resembles stuffing. Let it cook about 3 more minutes, to sop up all the flavor.

While everything is cooking in the pan, place hazelnuts in food processor and pulse until they are chopped (not pureed.) Pieces should range from itty bitty to pea sized. Transfer nuts to a large mixing bowl. (No need to clean it out for the next step.)

Add the lentils to the food processor and puree until relatively smooth. Now add the bread mixture from the pan into the processor and pulse 10 to 15 times. You want the mixture to hold together, but there should still be mushroom and celery visible, it shouldn’t be a puree.

Transfer this to the mixing bowl with the hazelnuts. Add in the cranberries and salt. The cranberries like to stick together so make sure you separate them. Combine thoroughly, using your hands if need be, to form a firm but still malleable mixture. Taste for salt and pepper.

Let the mixture cool completely. Refrigerate for 15 minutes or so, just to help it firm up and let the flavors meld a bit.

Rinse out your cast iron, and preheat on medium-high. Roll the burgers into 6 equal sized tennis balls. Wash your hands often and keep them a little damp during this process for that the burgers don’t stick to your hands.

Flatten into 1 1/2 inch thick patties. Cook in a thin layer of oil for about 4 minutes on each side. Serve on buns with greens and mayo. Die of happiness!

Recipes used with permission of Isa Chandra Moskowitz

More vegan recipes:
Mushroom Stout Pie With Potato Biscuits
Voluptuous Pumpkin Pie

Previously:
A vegetarian may show up at your cookout. Do not be alarmed.
How to eat more compassionately
Quick, simple vegetable sides
Everything you need to know about squash
Brilliant Brussels sprouts
All Thanksgiving planning, recipes, tips and advice



soundoff (429 Responses)
  1. Karen

    Goodness. When did food become such an issue? Most people don't eat exclusively meat in their diet anyway because it is simply too expensive. Besides holidays provide opportunities to remember family traditions which include special foods that no one eats on a regular basis, but which put us in contact with our past and our heritage. On those special days, what is more important? Being with family and friends and enjoying those relationships? Or having a food fight, which in my opinion ranks up there with having a fight over politics or religion? What ever happened to just being grateful that we have food or family and friends at all?

    Don't forget either, that for many people, food is a gift. It may not always be the tasty gift that you might be expecting, but if that person has spent the time and money to prepare that food and included you on the list that means you are special to them. To comment on the quality or lack thereof is the height of rudeness. Eating meat or cheese at such times will not kill anyone, unless they have an allergy to the food. Most of the time you can simply side step the problem by eating something before you arrive and then taking very small portions of a few things that don't offend your sensibilities too much.

    Today people often eat in restaurants more than they do at home and so they expect the cook to have several menu options on hand. And often this unreasonable. Family food preparers are not celebrity chefs or even cooks down at Taco Bell. Do you have any idea how annoying it is to have a list of "can't eat this" to try and accommodate? If not, maybe next year you should host the family meal. There is nothing like experience to make a person appreciate the time and effort to plan, prepare, and execute a meal for a large group of people. Instead of gagging on the food on the menu, bless the hands that prepared it and be grateful that those hands are present at your table for yet another holiday celebration.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:29 am | Reply
    • supercarrot

      i don't think you quite understand the situation. (for vegans, animals aren't food. YOU might think they are, but for us, they're not.) how would you feel if someone who exclusively dines on crayons and paper invited you to a party and didn't think of your needs? would you eat the crayons and paper, even though you know it'll make you feel terrible and possibly mess up your digestion for a few days? (same with us. we haven't eaten animals in so long that our bodies really can't deal with it anymore.)

      you would feel loved and included if that person made you some actual food, right? (and it's not even a direct correlation, because in your situation, you can still eat the vegetables, whereas the crayon/paper person wouldn't eat the dish they theoretically make you.)

      also, it has nothing to do with commenting on the quality of the food. that's a disingenuous statement you made.

      and most of us do know people who have allergies. we know how it is to be on the receiving end, so if we know of allergies or aversions, we work around it. it's the polite thing to do. politeness is a 2-way street. if the hosts aren't polite enough to try and accommodate a guest, why should a guest be required to be polite and eat something that can potentially make them sick. that's ridiculous. if the host has no intention of trying to accommodate the guest, they should tell them straight up that they won't have anything to eat, and allow them the opportunity to decline the invitation.

      gosh, you're talking to us like we're picky children. the vegan community is vast. sure some use it as an excuse to not eat many foods, but others have deep ethical reasoning. (it's similar to a religion, but without the imaginary person telling them what not to do.)

      December 18, 2013 at 10:31 am | Reply
      • VladT

        Applause to supercarrot for not only being a high and mighty vegan, but thank you for that condescneding remark on behalf of atheists as well there

        December 19, 2013 at 10:12 am | Reply
        • supercarrot

          sorry. my frustration at all of karen's condescension got ahead of me. (she mentioned not to debate about religions, but then completely ignores the fact that veganism is about beliefs/religionesque.)

          i actually consider myself an apatheist (apathy+theology = meh/whatever/there are more important things) sorry for the "imaginary" in there. feel free to substitute a more appropriate word that takes into account everyone's beliefs/non-beliefs.

          also, what makes you think i'm high and mighty? i'm just trying to explain what it's like to be a vegan. (you know, put some shoes out there to help y'all empathize.)

          December 19, 2013 at 10:38 am |
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