A Vegan & Gluten-free Thanksgiving

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Joyful Food To Share With Family & Friends

This year, I decided to mix up the traditional Thanksgiving menu and make a vegan feast. Tradition can be a heartening anchor from the present to the past, but it can also feel like a dead weight. As I understand it, the real idea behind thanksgiving is sharing gratitude and celebrating belonging–to family, community, or the fellowship of humanity–not spending most of a day (or more) making a heavy, rich meal that will be over in the blink of an eye.

Although I actually enjoy making the traditional foods, my extended family now flows into others, presenting an interwoven net of connection and sometimes obligation. As my sons reached adulthood, I made a clear decision that I did not ever want being with me to be an obligation for my family or friends. That sometimes means that on the actual day of certain events, I am cooking for just two, which requires some imaginative adaptation.

Changing Patterns

There is an art to changing up long standing patterns, and I find that new ways to celebrate can be best introduced as intriguing innovation, not some sorrowful second best. My mother, who is increasingly housebound, no longer enjoys the friendly chaos of large gatherings and does much better when there are just a few guests at our table. Thus, we now have a new tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving and other major family holidays with a light brunch, since that is the easiest time for at least some of us to gather.

Brunch is already a swing-time meal, leaning toward breakfast or dinner according to what best suits your guests. That makes it easy to introduce new or different foods that are not associated with the specific holiday, and easy to focus on simple enjoyment of good company. This year’s thanksgiving brunch will be a vegan feast that meets a wide range of dietary needs while still feeling festive.

Something Old, Something New

If you are planning a more traditional meal with vegans in attendance, it’s good to know that some favorites don’t need much help to be satisfying, despite replacing the usual dairy ingredients. Mashed potatoes with gravy are fortunately easy to reinvent for vegans, especially if you add some buttery-tasting avocado oil. Another helpful technique is to reserve some potato water (the cloudy stuff at the bottom of the pan) for the gravy, adding thickening starch as well as robust flavor. Recycle any extra mashed potatoes as potato cakes or shepherd’s pie topping.

Vegan Garlic Mashed Potatoes

10-12 ounces silken tofu
2 teaspoons chopped chives
4 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 tablespoons avocado oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, puree tofu with chives, set aside. Thickly peel potatoes, reserving peels for broth (see below). Chop potatoes, cover with cold water, set aside. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add drained potatoes, garlic, and half the salt and cook until tender (12-15 minutes). Drain, reserving cooking liquid, and mash or put through a ricer (it gives a lighter texture). Thin to desired thickness with avocado oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with a dollop of tofu mixture and mushroom gravy (see below).

Great Gravy Starts With Fresh Broth

Ready-made broth often tastes flat, heavy, and stale. Happily, it’s a snap to make your own, since meal making usually results in at least a few cups of vegetable scraps that can be recycled into a sturdy, flavorful broth. Depending on the end use, combine scraps and/or chunks of onions, garlic, leeks, potatoes, carrots, celery, and/or fennel. Use the resulting broth in soups or stews or as the basis for a satisfyingly rich vegan gravy.

Fresh Vegetable Broth

2-8 cups vegetable scraps or more (see above)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Put reserved potato peelings (see above) any scraps and skins from onions, leeks, garlic, mushrooms stems, and celery in a soup pot. Add salt and water to cover, bring to a simmer, cover pot and simmer for 30 minutes or more (to taste). Strain out vegetables and season broth to taste with nutritional yeast. Makes 2-8 cups.

Rich Vegan Gravy

To give plant-based gravy a fuller, richer flavor, use fresh broth (see above), buttery avocado oil, and umami-rich mushrooms, adding a little nutritional yeast to round it out. Use your favorite mushrooms, or a mixture of white buttons (highest in antioxidants) and tasty brown field mushrooms, or chanterelles or shaggy manes, or whatever you like best.

Vegan Leek & Mushroom Gravy

1/4 cup avocado oil
1 large brown or yellow onion, chopped
4 medium leeks, chopped (white and palest green parts only)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
2-4 cups fresh vegetable broth or red wine
2-3 teaspoons nutritional yeast

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil, onion, leeks and salt over medium high heat and cook until soft (10-15 minutes). Add mushrooms, cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook for 5 minutes to sweat mushrooms. Add broth or red wine and simmer until mushrooms are tender (20-30 minutes). Puree with an immersion blender to desired consistency and serve hot. Serves 4-8.

A Splendid Gluten-Free Vegan Lasagna

Tender brown rice noodles meet creamy tofu pesto, red sauce, and layers of fennel and winter greens in this luscious entree. Use your favorite jarred marinara sauce or make your own, and try any combination of greens you prefer. Brown rice noodles make any lasagna easy to put together, since they don’t need to be precooked. Our current favorite lasagna noodle is made by Tinkyada, but there are several good kinds available these days.

Vegan Lasagna With Winter Greens

1 box (10-12 ounces) brown rice lasagna noodles
6 cups marinara sauce or any favorite vegan kind

For the creamy layer:

10-12 ounces firm tofu, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated organic lemon zest
2 cups fresh basil, with stems
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine in a food processor, puree to a smooth paste, set aside.

For the greens layer:

2 tablespoons avocado oil
1 large brown or yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bulbs fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 big bunch kale, thinly sliced
1 pound young spinach

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil, onions, garlic, fennel and salt over medium high heat and cook until barely soft (10-15 minutes). Add kale and spinach, reduce heat to medium low, cover pan and sweat until vegetables are lightly wilted (5-8 minutes). Stir well and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.


3 cups raw cashews
1/2 cup nutritional yeast

Combine in a food processor and grind to coarse crumbles (just a few seconds). Set aside.

To assemble:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Pour 1-2 cups of sauce into a lasagna pan and spread to cover evenly. Add a layer of lasagna noodles and spread with tofu mixture. Add a layer of noodles and cover with 2 cups sauce. Layer on greens and top with noodles. Cover with remaining sauce, sprinkle with cashew crumbles and bake until bubbly (an hour or more). Serves 8-12.

A Truly Yummy Vegan, Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie

If pumpkin pie is important to a happy holiday, try this delectable version, which combines a crunchy nut-based crust with a silky, rich-tasting filling that’s bright with ginger and sweet with pomegranate molasses and maple syrup. For best texture, use boxed silken tofu (other kinds can be grainy).

Vegan Gluten Free Pumpkin Silk Pie

10-12 ounces silken tofu
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon, coriander and ginger
2 cups (15-ounce can) cooked pumpkin pulp
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 pre-baked nut crust (see below)

In a food processor, combine tofu, spices, and fresh ginger and puree until smooth. Pour into a bowl and stir in pumpkin and vanilla, adding molasses and salt to taste. Spoon into unbaked nut crust, top with maple syrup, and chill until ready to serve. Serves at least one.

Crunchy Gluten Free Crust

2 cups raw almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon dark molasses or maple syrup
few grains sea salt

In a food processor, grind nuts coarsely. Add remaining ingredients and process briefly to blend. Pat into a pie dish. For chilled filling, prebake at 350 degrees F until golden (20-25 minutes), cool before filling.

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