A Vegetarian Thanksgiving

I’d been turning over the Thanksgiving-vegetarian thing in my mind for a couple of years before I finally hit on a good way to do it. The biggest problem to substituting something else for the turkey comes not from figuring out something that could substitute as the food, but also — and perhaps more importantly — something that would fit into with the holiday spirit and be festive, fun and something that non-vegetarian family and friends will enjoy, too.

Finally, two years ago I had an epiphany: what gives the Thanksgiving meal and holiday its vibe isn’t the elaborate meal with a large main dish: it’s the festive atmosphere. The idea I hit upon was to have a cook-out for Thanksgiving. One of the advantages of a cookout is that it automatically has a festive atmosphere. Cookouts are parties. They are sublimely social.

A cookout has a lot of overlap with Thanksgiving’s vibe. Cookouts are often, like traditional Thanksgivings, “potluck” in that everyone brings something to the feast and is involved to some extent in the preparation of the meal, (in this case, including tending the grill). It’s a communal meal. There’s always too much food and everyone tends to overeat. Thanksgiving & cookouts share a casual party vibe. I think the whole cookout idea should work out pretty well for those of you who live in a climate warm enough to do some of the cooking outdoors. If you think cooking out is an odd way to celebrate Thanksgiving, consider this: for people attending football games on Thanksgiving, tailgate parties are basically a Thanksgiving cookout. Ditto for those who fry their turkeys, which is also an outdoor activity. Lots of people do al fresco Thanksgiving cooking…we’re just taking it a step further by making it meatless.

Thanksgiving has always been about community from the very first Thanksgiving (or our idealized version of it). It is also about family, so unless you have a non-vegetarian family who is inflexible about holiday traditions, non-vegetarian family members can be comfortably included in a vegetarian Thanksgiving cookout. People who balk at Tofurkey, will probably not have that reaction to a huge succulent portobella mushroom burger, which will likely be devoured without a murmur. 😉

If not…then the carnivores of the clan can bring their own burgers and use the grill after the vegetarian food has been cooked. Obviously that’s not an option if the very idea of meat freaks you out, but as mixed vegetarian and non-vegetarian Thanksgiving options go this is better than vegetarians eating their tofurkey while sitting in front of a Big Dead Bird which everyone else is eating. Encourage everyone to have the mushrooms and veggie burgers, but don’t pitch a fit if someone brings their own food for the grill. It’s bad for digestion…and there’s going to be a lot of delicious things to digest!

The first year we did this I experimented with making spicy bean burgers…which fell apart on the grill.  😯 By Thanksgiving last year I had discovered LightLife’s vegetarian burgers, which I love. They make three different burgers: the regular veggie burger, a portabello burger which has mushrooms incorporated in the patty, and the Backyard Grillin’ Burgers. Of the three, the latter is the best and most savory, though the portabello patties are really excellent, too. Their regular veggie burgers taste good, but once you’ve had one of the others, you’ll never look back! Of course, anytime we grill I have to throw some whole portabello mushrooms on the grill, so there’s no escaping the ‘shrooms in my household!

Here’s some cookout recipes that I’ve made for our Thanksgiving cookout.

Cookout (portabella burgers)
Frankenslaw
Potato Salad
BBQ Baked Beans
Gingerbread
…and, of course, LightLife’s Backyard Grillin’ Burgers

I’ll have my recipe for pumpkin pie on the blog later in the month, but last year, knowing how utterly stuffed we were on food the year before, I made Ginger Bread for dessert. I swear, there’s more food every year and with others bringing dessert, too, pie would’ve been overkill.

I think a cookout is a good Thanksgiving option for a mixed group of people: vegetarians won’t have to face a Big Dead Bird and non-vegetarians won’t have to face tofurkey. A cookout should keep everyone in their comfort zone — and Thanksgiving should be fun, not stressful or conflicted.

If you want an indoor vegan Thanksgiving, nancis posted a wonderful account of her Vegan Thanksgiving recently. I’ll be posting some family recipes for some traditional Thanksgiving fare: candied yams, cornbread dressing, and pumpkin pie, throughout the month.

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