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Thanksgiving as a vegetarian (NPR)

11/20/09

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You may not even miss the turkey.

On Thanksgiving, expressing gratitude through a whole baked pumpkin stuffed with chewy barley and hearty root vegetables can be the beginning of a stellar holiday season.

When fall swoops in and the days grow shorter, a plate of sweet, pureed butternut squash with caramelized shallots can help ease the transition. A whole roasted cauliflower, too, can make one almost immune to the chill outside.

I've found that even on the years we did serve turkey on Thanksgiving, the vegetarian dishes were exclaimed over and gobbled up with similar appreciation.

Even if you don't live meatlessly yourself, you'll probably have at least one vegetarian or vegan seated at the table. It's grand to offer your meat-free guests -- or yourself -- something a bit more substantial than a cobbled-together plate of all the traditional vegetable side dishes. Doing so needn't be intimidating or even time-consuming.

The typical holiday table groans with an abundance of side dishes, some more enticing than others (think a light saute of seasonal vegetables or roasted cauliflower rather than a cream-laden casserole). It's true that if you're skipping the turkey, there are plenty of other things to eat, but filling up on mashed potatoes and corn bread can leave one feeling a bit hollow.

This time of year is when we give thanks for the harvest and celebrate the season's bounty -- and what better way to do so than by making good use of seasonal produce?

Throughout the years, my Thanksgiving table has boasted a baked tofu marinated in a sweet-and-sour sauce that caused even the turkey lovers to sigh in happiness. I've split a butternut squash in half and roasted it in a little olive oil until it turned melty and sweet. I topped it with a sort of black bean and onion stew that was certainly nontraditional but no less delicious. I've made good use of sweet potatoes, leaving out the extra sugar and mashing them into savory splendor.

I do love my vegetables -- not a shred of meat has passed my lips in over a decade. I don't miss it, although the scent of that slow-roasting turkey can make me nostalgic.

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