One thing I really like about being Canadian is that there is a food-based holiday that falls in the lag between the end of summer and Christmas, at just about the perfect time. Yes, that is a perk of living in this great country. Thanksgiving in October.
Let’s be honest. I don’t really like Hallowe’en, and frankly, the long lag from early September to sometime in November to celebrate the harvest is, well, just so long. How do you do it, Americans? How do you wait? It wouldn’t feel right breaking out the wild rice, gravy, apple cider, and other delicious fall goods until “that time of year”. But yours is when it is snowing! It is chilly! There are no pumpkins left on your stoop!
I vow that even if I end up going back to school next fall in America, then I will forever celebrate Thanksgiving on its rightful weekend.
I think what makes Thanksgiving difficult for many vegan folks is the fact that it tends to be centred around a turkey. And, for those who are health-minded, gluttony.
Yes, I love gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce. But I also don’t like gorging in an average of 3,000 calories for one meal. Really. The average Thanksgiving feast tops over that, and that isn’t including when you go back to the fridge four hours later for another slice of pie, spoonful of sauce, or whatever you want to stuff you belly with a little more.
It’s pretty common that most get-togethers this weekend (or, sigh, in November) will be tucking into a turkey for the main meal. But that doesn’t mean that the surplus of side dishes have to be meaty. That’s how we often compromise at my house during the holidays. One main meat dish (usually turkey), and everything else is vegan. Luckily, there are no qualms about gluten-freeness, which most of my family follows, anyway.
So if you have some gluten-free vegan (or just vegan) family or friends, I’m going to offer you some tips and ideas to not make their Thanksgiving feast just a salad. Oh, and to lighten it up, too. ‘Cause for gosh sakes, do you really need to eat that much? If the answer is yes, then at least the options will be a little lighter.
So let’s take stuffing, for instance, which is one of my favourites. Traditional stuffing often includes loads of butter, high sodium broth, and nutritionally void white gluteny bread. If you don’t feel like making a loaf of bread for your stuffing, try whole-grain cornbread, along with high protein, iron-rich wild rice instead. Add pecans, whose vitamin E helps prevent heart disease and protect the nervous system, and use homemade broth to control the sodium. I love loading it up with mushrooms and using a mushroom broth, too. And chestnuts. And dried cranberries. And everything else you can dream of. There is a gluten-free vegan cornbread recipe and stuffing recipe both in my new book The Allergy-Free Book Bakes Bread. If you want to make a loaf of bread for your stuffing, I’ve provided a sample recipe for my gluten-free vegan Wholesome Flax Bread.
Another top contender often in the realm of Thanksgiving is the Sweet Potato Casserole. I’ll be honest – until the invention of the Internet, I was unfamiliar with this casserole. We were more of a mashed potatoes type of family (though I don’t like potatoes much). However, vegan or not, the concoction of sugar, eggs, butter, cream, and marshmallows wouldn’t grace my holiday table, and that’s something to give thanks for. Maybe I just don’t understand it’s appeal. And that is okay.
But I do love sweet potatoes, and not just because they are rich in immune-system- boosting beta-carotene. And I have come to realize that though I love them savory with jerk seasoning, chili powder, garlic, or just sea salt, they’re lovely with a touch of sweetness, too. I like to saute sweet potatoes in a little nondairy margarine or coconut oil. Add pure maple syrup (the darker the better), toss to coat, then transfer to an ovensafe dish and bake until golden, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper.
But if you do want to go the white potato route, ditch that cream and butter. (Or even the soy cream and Earth Balance). Instead, brighten up your old mashed potatoes with fresh herbs, tangy citrus and rich olive oil. Boil red potatoes in salted water. Drain, mash. Add fresh dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil to taste. Add a shake of nutritional yeast if you want. Taste for seasonings. Done
Okay, so we’re still rounding out this dinner. Thanksgiving tends to be a little unbalanced, often devoid of concentrated nutrition. I don’t think that most people are concerned about having a balanced meal. But, balanced or not, I like leafy greens. And by adding leafy greens, such as Brussels sprouts, you’re getting more than 270% of the recommended daily value of vitamin K and more than 150% for vitamin C, along with folate, vitamin A, fibre and potassium.
When people say they don’t like Brussels sprouts, I’m convinced they haven’t had them properly made. No boiling. No steaming. Just relish in them roasted with a hint of sweetness and spice. Two ways.
Maple Roasted Brussels Sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned, trimmed and halved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (love dark for this!)
2 tablespoons apple cider
Zest of 1 lemon
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper if using. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until caramelized, stirring often. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Whisk together the maple syrup and apple cider in a small bowl. Drizzle over Brussels sprouts. Top with lemon zest and red pepper flakes, if using. Serve immediately.
Cider Glazed Brussels Sprouts
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, cleaned and trimmed
2 large red onions, cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
4 cups apple cider
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Toss the Brussels sprouts with the onions and olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, until caramelized, stirring often.
Meanwhile, put the apple cider in a medium saucepan. Bring to medium heat and let simmer, until reduced to approximately 1 cup.
When sprouts are finished roasting, remove them from the oven and transfer them to a serving dish. Toss with apple cider reduction. Serve warm.