Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & CultureFood & Drink

Help! I have a vegan coming for Thanksgiving!

Brian Myszkowski
You have a vegan friend or family member coming for Thanksgiving! Relax, it's easy to accommodate them with a filling, flavorful Thanksgiving that hits the spot.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and as far as you know, you’re all prepped to beat the rush:

You cashed your loyalty points for the turkey, bought all the butter you can find, found the perfect green bean casserole recipe, and planned the indulgent desserts.

But wait! Your vegan cousin is coming to the big event with his wife, who also eschews animal products.

What is a chef to do?

Relax, we’ve got you covered.

As it happens, it’s relatively easy to accommodate the plant-based people in your lives, even around the holidays. You might even enjoy some of these dishes enough to prepare them the vegan way in the future.

Take a sip of your eggnog – or, in this case, Chobani’s Oat Nog – kick back, and learn how you too can make a stellar vegan holiday meal that satisfies everyone’s palate.

So let’s break it down into sections: what’s already vegan, accidentally or otherwise; easy swaps; approaches to the main dish; and how to attack desserts and drinks.

It’s already safe

Let’s start off easy. Some things are just vegan from the get-go, and there’s no need to do anything involved to ensure the tastes of your veggie friends.

First off, the bread. As it stands, Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are accidentally vegan. That rich and indulgent buttery flavor actually comes from palm oil – this may be problematic for some eco-conscious vegans, so check with your friends or family ahead of time just to be certain – so it’s generally safe for those avoiding dairy. Beyond that, companies like Annie's and Immaculate Baking Co. have their own crescent rolls that are veg-safe as well.

And now, the veggies. Real veggies. The things that people grow and pick from the ground. You know ‘em, right?

Yes, some preparations for vegetable dishes include dairy and even meat, but there are a few tried and true basics you can knock out with little effort.

Sautéed green beans with garlic and a dash of olive oil is a great way to start. Frozen, fresh, it doesn’t really matter too much – just heat a bit of oil in the pan, toss in those beans, and add some diced garlic – or, if you’re in a "Goodfellas" mood, razor-thin slices – and voila, you’re done!

How about some brussels sprouts? Yes, you can actually make this much-maligned vegetable a delectable side for everyone, not just the vegans. The key is NOT BOILING THEM. Roast them with a bit of oil and some seasonings, and then you can go nuts with your own additions. A bit of Balsamic reduction? Perfect! Maybe a dash of tahini? Mmmmmm, that’s rich. The point is, they’re easier to make than you might think.

Easy substitutions

And now for the simple swaps. These are recipes where you can switch out one or two problematic ingredients and easily maintain the taste of the dish. Let’s start with some starches, since they’re oh-so-indulgent.

Mashed potatoes. These are the hallmark of the dinner plate, whether you pile them up with gravy, butter or nothing at all. If you want to make it easy for everyone to enjoy them, the best method is to use vegan butter in lieu of dairy butter.

This is one of the times to stress quality, so it’s worthwhile to spend a few extra bucks on a package of Miyoko’s Plant Milk Butter to make your potatoes pop. As for milk, the options are endless, but a solid soy milk works well in plant-based mashed potatoes. Just make sure to pick an unsweetened version of your preferred plant drink.

Stuffing is just as easy. Simply sub the butter in your average bagged or box stuffing mix – you don’t even need the Miyoko’s in this recipe, a cheaper brand will work just as well since it’s not the star of the show – and utilize vegetable stock or broth in lieu of a meat-based iteration. Done!

For your classic sweet potato casserole, it’s easier than you might think. This recipe from Nora Cooks follows another butter substitution, in addition to using coconut milk instead of the dairy version. As for the marshmallows, this version leaves them out – but if you must have them, use Dandies or another brand which is vegan, as regular ‘mallows contain gelatin, which is derived from bones.

The main event

OK, here we are: the protein. The big show.

Long, long ago, there was a time when a vegan or vegetarian was limited to the old-fashioned Tofurky. It was the only option, take it or leave it (unless you made your own main, that is).

But we’re in a new age now. There are plenty of options available. No hate on the Tofurky, of course. If that’s your guests’ preference, go with it.

That said, it’s worth it to explore what’s easily available to the masses these days. Gardein makes a killer plant-based Savory Stuffed Turk’y, either in a large holiday loaf or smaller single-serve options. It’s a tasty faux-meat filled with a rich stuffing of wild and brown rice, cranberry and kale. Top it with the included gravy and indulge!

And then there’s Field Roast, which has a few options you can find at a well-stocked market. Their Celebration Roast has a savory flavor profile of sage, garlic and bread stuffing which is perfectly complemented by a porcini mushroom gravy. There’s also a Sage and Garlic Roast, and a Hazelnut and Cranberry Plant-Based Roast available in some markets. Any of these options are a great addition to the table.

Whole Foods also has a Plant-Based Roast with gravy, which is seitan-based. Seitan is a protein derived from wheat gluten – and includes a stuffing with cranberries.

If you want to get adventurous, various vegan websites have plenty of savory mains based on whole foods, including stuffed squash, roasted cauliflower and other options. They’re perfect for someone who isn’t a fan of heavily-processed products, and manage to shine without attempting to mimic meat. Give them a try if you want something a bit different, and a little more down to earth.

Leave the desserts and drinks to the experts

So you’ve made it to the end, and you’re looking for dessert. My advice? Buy it!

Here in the Lehigh Valley, we have Vegan Treats, one of the most highly-regarded plant-centric bakeries in the country. Take advantage of this, but keep in mind, they’re a hotspot around the holidays. Either call in to ensure you can score something sweet ahead of time, or prepare to wait in line on Wednesday, as they’re closed on the holiday itself.

You can also pick up a ready-made vegan pumpkin pie at Whole Foods, which is part of their vegan holiday package, but make sure to log on now, as orders must be placed 48 hours in advance of pickup. Pies are always available, along with some other tasty vegan items, at Whole Foods as well.

Ah yes, almost forgot – the drinks. As it happens, ready-made vegan eggnog is available almost everywhere. Califia Farms has a Holiday Nog made with almond milk, So Delicious has a coconut-milk version, and then there’s Chobani’s oatmilk take. This is a personal favorite, with a rich, creamy texture and perfect balance of spices.

As for alcohol, you can easily double-check your brews, spirits, and wines here. Some beverages utilize ingredients like isinglass, egg whites, and gelatin, all of which are animal-derived. Taking a quick peek at this list will ensure your plant-loving guests can enjoy a cocktail, beer, or glass of red along with everyone else.

OK, now we’re really done. Congratulations, you've not only catered to, but dazzled your vegan pals with a superb holiday spread.

Kick back, turn on the holiday flicks – or football – and resist drifting back to the table to make up a vegan Thanksgiving sandwich.

Or don’t. We’re not here to judge.

Happy Thanksgiving!