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What's Thanksgiving Without the Turkey?

Hint hint: It's STILL Thanksgiving!

So you've been trying out the whole vegetarian or vegan thing for the better part of the year. It's been going well, and you're happier than ever. And then ... bam! the holidays hit. Who in the world can skip the turkey on Thanksgiving? Talk about a road block.

Yes, it's impossible to deny that Thanksgiving revolves around turkey. From the 2 a.m. alarm reminding you to pop it in the oven to the supermarket specials and children's school crafts, it's all about the bird.

But this American tradition doesn't have to throw off your new lifestyle. There are hundreds—yes, hundreds—of vegan recipes for side dishes. Not convinced? Take a look at the New York Times' reputable health-and-wellness blog. Each year, the blog goes vegetarian for Thanksgiving. 

When I first went vegetarian, then vegan, I figured I would just break my own rules on Thanksgiving. After all, I couldn't imagine breaking from tradition. And it's not just the turkey that poses a challenge: so many of my grandmother's dishes are smothered in butter or cooked with milk. Mashed potatoes, turnips, stuffing, candied yams—it was all off the list. The creamed cauliflower would have to be a fond memory. And let's not even talk about dessert. 

I stressed about all of it for a while before my first turkey-less Thanksgiving. Then I just broke my rules. I ate all the sides, regardless of their ingredients. I skipped the turkey because, after eight months without meat, it didn't really look appetizing anymore. But the rest was game-on. 

If you're considering giving up on the vegan diet for the day, you might want to reconsider. I can't even explain how much my stomach hurt that night. By the second year, I had wised up. My mom made sure to set aside butter-free bowls of mashed potatoes and turnips; she rescued some cauliflower before the cream sauce was poured on. I went without stuffing or turkey, but it wasn't a huge deal. We've joked about getting a Tofurkey from Trader Joes or Whole Foods, but I can honestly say I don't miss it. If you do think you need something a bit heartier to go with your sides, go with a slice of baked tempeh. 

I did seriously miss the stuffing, and this year I won't have to go without. I tracked down a delicious vegan stuffing mix at Whole Foods [it's on sale this week!]. My sister and I have also starting introducing our family to spice—they've always just cooked with butter and milk, but are slowly but surely coming around to our dishes [slowly being the key word].

That brings me to another point—be careful what you say about eating turkey at the Thanksgiving table. Even if you find it appropriate to voice your opinion on other nights, a holiday is not the time to lecture others on their choices. If this is going to be an issue, make yourself and your immediate family a feast at home. Join everyone else for dessert.

If you're hosting Thanksgiving this year, or bringing a dish to a family or friends' house, try these recipes. They are simple yet tasty dishes that are easily transported. Of course, you can also opt for lightly steamed or sauteed green vegetables, which are always a hit at my house. 

Kabocha Squash Soup (or mash)

  • 3 cups chopped and peeled kabocha
  • 6 cups water
  • fresh parsley to taste
  • sea salt to taste

Bring water to a boil, add kabocha and salt, return to boil. Lower heat and simmer until kabocha is soft and well-blended with water, mixing often. If making mashed kabocha [just like mashed potatoes], use less water. Adjust water for desired consistency. Top with parsley. This is one of my favorites because it is so insanely simple. Kabocha is naturally sweet, so there's no need to add anything. It makes a healthy substitue to mashed potatoes. 

Couscous-Stuffed Acorn Squash

  • 1 acorn squash cut in half
  • 1 cup cooked couscous
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/4 cup cranberries
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • other vegetables of choice, chopped
  • minced garlic
  • lemon juice to taste
  • chopped parsley to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • chopped carrots
  • chopped celery

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat squash halves lightly in oil, bake 30 minutes with opening face down on a baking sheet. In the meantime, heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. When heated, add garlic. Sautee until golden brown, add vegetables, sautee. Add lemon juice and spices, then cranberries, stirring until all is tender. Add cooked couscous, stir and cover until heated through. Stuff into baked squash and serve warm. 

For 15 more mouth-watering recipes [many of which are gluten-free], check out BlissTree.com's Thanksgiving guide

Are you in charge of dessert? Turn to the new vegan cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero: Vegan Pie in the Sky. With 75 dessert recipes, there's sure to be one for all of your guests' tastes. Follow this link for three of the pies.

For more vegan Thanksgiving recipe ideas, just do a quick Internet search. You will be amazed at all of your options. No matter what you choose, I wish you all a safe, happy and healthy holiday!

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