Vegan Thanksgiving Alternatives

Thanksgiving can be kind of an awkward occasion for most vegans, mainly because of that you-can-only-eat-the-brussel-sprouts thing. Not to mention the holiday’s reputation for dinner table conversation that can be anything but casual and the annual inquiries from relatives who still don’t understand why turkey counts as meat?

The good news is that a Vegan Thanksgiving done right means a mouth-watering menu with all the meatless and nutritious trimmings for all. Plus, it’s kind of hard to talk with your mouth full of delicious food, right? Right. Whether you’re hosting or bringing a dish, don’t just survive but thrive this season. 

Here’s your survival guide to a vegan Thanksgiving. 


MAIN COURSE


In the past, tofurkey cornered the market as the only option for a vegan-friendly main course at Thanksgiving dinner. Now, there are hundreds of meatless recipes to choose from—tofurkey included. Nothing against tofurkey, but if you’re looking for a few other ideas for your main dish to swap out for a turkey dinner it’s helpful to know just what exactly are the alternatives. 

Here are some of the best plant-based proteins to make this Thanksgiving:


1. Lentils

The protein prowess of lentils only comes second to their earthy and savory flavor, not to mention they act as an amazing vegan alternative to turkey. They are also pretty versatile, so you can cook up them as whole beans or mash them into a faux meatloaf, patty or veggie burger. I love this recipe for Lentil Walnut Apple Loaf from Oh She Glows. Aside from being delicious, it stands up to the whole-mix-together-every-ingredient-on-your-plate thing that happens on Thanksgiving. Turkey? What turkey?


2. Baked tofu, tempeh or seitan

While tofurkey is still a totally valid option, there are endless ways to transform these popular plant proteins into a knockout vegan thanksgiving dish. While I’m a big fan of this simple and essential recipe for Oven Roasted Tofu from Whole Foods you can easily substitute tempeh for a more firm and hardy option or opt for its chewier cousin, seitan, which mimics the texture of meat. All three are made from soy protein, so make sure you buy organic and non-GMO for the healthiest version that leaves out any harmful hormones or antibiotics.


3. Non-Traditional Vegan Thanksgiving Entrées

No one said you had to recreate a turkey meal, so why not go totally off-script and do something different? Any combination of beans, grains and vegetables will do for a Thanksgiving casserole, sans meat, or get creative by making this simple yet savory Vegan Thanksgiving Wrap from Minimalist Baker that has seasonal ingredients like sweet potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin seeds.


SIDES & SAUCES


Many classic Thanksgiving sides contain meat or dairy, like gravy, stuffing, and biscuits. Play it safe and whip up these vegan Thanksgiving dinner sides instead:


1. Vegan Gravy

Add in vegetable stock (use your veggie scraps to make your own), mushrooms and a little bit of soy sauce to please even the meat-lovers at your Thanksgiving with this Vegan Mushroom Gravy recipe from the NY Times. Generously pour it over everything from main courses to sides and make sure you have some for tomorrow’s leftovers.  


2. Vegan Breads & Biscuits

Many bakeries offer vegan-friendly versions of your classic roll or biscuit and even if you’re not hosting it’s still a good idea to bring your own. Put a holiday spin on the traditional biscuit recipe and try making these Pumpkin Sage Biscuits from Minimalist Baker.


3. Easy Vegan Stuffing

This Thanksgiving staple is still just as delicious and easy to make with vegan ingredients. Simply swap out the chicken or beef broth and conventional bread for vegan-friendly alternatives. Need more guidance? Check out this recipe from Real Simple.


DESSERTS


Since almost all sweet treats contain dairy products like eggs, milk and butter, the dessert table can be a bummer for vegans. However, most modern day plant eaters will know that baking with vegan substitutes is not as tricky as it once was and it’s easy to find a variety of dairy alternatives. So, to help you make a (vegan) dessert that’s bound to go down in history as that “surprisingly great vegan thing you made” for Thanksgiving last year, here are a few ideas to get you started.


1. Vegan Pumpkin Pie

You don’t have to miss out on this Thanksgiving tradition. Create a new classic with Gena Hamshaw’s recipe on Food52, “You Won’t Believe It’s Vegan Pumpkin Pie”.


2. Nutella Cake

Score the whole-foods trifecta and make a raw, vegan and gluten-free dessert for Thanksgiving dinner. What’s the magic recipe? A Homemade Nutella Cake from JS Health loaded with rich flavors and nutrients to boot.


3. Fruit Crumble

There’s nothing more nourishing and warming during the holidays than a freshly-baked fruit dessert. Most of these recipes don’t call for dairy ingredients anyway so it’s already vegan! Amy Chaplin is one of my favorite vegan chefs and her recipe for a Pear Cranberry Crumble is always easy to make and one of the fastest desserts to disappear, try it for yourself and save yourself a slice, just in case.


RELATED READING


Katherine Oakes is a professional writer, editor and aspiring environmental advocate based on the East Coast. Her passion for sustainability and the outdoors comes only second to her love of really good tacos. She has written for various publications and brands including, Huckberry Journal, REI’s Adventure Projects, Pure Green Magazine and more. Offline, you can find her teaching yoga or blogging about her wholehearted attempts at sustainable living at The Basic Goods.