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How to Have a Turkey-Free Thanksgiving

Published by Jeffry Vinion

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Ah, Thanksgiving – that great American holiday where families gather to give thanks, watch football and partake of the traditional turkey dinner together. However, if you are a vegetarian, there may not be much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.

Happily, there are alternatives that allow vegetarians to stuff themselves as thoroughly as their meat-eating counterparts at Thanksgiving. Whether you plan to have an entire vegetarian meal, are the lone vegetarian in a family of carnivores, or are expecting vegetarian guests this Thanksgiving, here are some tips for a tasty turkey-free holiday meal.

The Faux Turkey Roast

For a quick and easy alternative to turkey, there are several vegetarian turkey roasts on the market you can try. The best known of these is the popular Tofurky, which has been providing a vegetarian alternative at Thanksgiving since 1995. Made from a tofu and wheat protein blend, the Tofurky has a flavor and texture much like the real thing and can be purchased as a single roast with stuffing or as an entire feast which includes vegetarian gravy, wild rice stuffing, chocolate cake for dessert and even a boneless “wishbone”.

The Celebration Roast, available from Whole Foods Market, is made from vegan grain “meat” with a sausage style stuffing flavored with squash, apples and mushrooms. Also available from Whole Foods Market is the Veggie Turkey Breast with Cranberry and Wild Rice stuffing.

The Quorn Turk’y Roast is available at most supermarkets and, despite its rather pinkish appearance, has a very meaty flavor and texture.

For a tasty vegetarian roast, always follow the cooking instructions on the packet. For added flavor, you can also baste your roast with vegetarian broth or butter, add a spicy rub or seasoning, or a even a glaze.

Homemade Vegetarian Turkey Alternatives

A homemade vegetarian roast can be a tasty main course or served alongside turkey on Thanksgiving. Here are a couple of recipes to try, adapted from the Linda McCartney On Tour Cookbook. You can serve these roasts with all the usual trimmings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Mushroom Roast


  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ each green, red and yellow pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 450 g/1 lb brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 175 g/6 oz wholewheat breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp dried mixed herbs, or 2 tbsp fresh herbs (your choice)
  • 1 large free range egg, beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Paprika to taste
  • 115 g/4 oz vegetarian Cheddar, grated
  • 1 large tomato, sliced

In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in the oil for 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped peppers and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for 1-2 minutes until they soften. Remove from heat, stir in breadcrumbs and herbs and mix well. Fold in the beaten egg and season with salt, pepper and paprika.

Spoon the mixture into a greased 900 g/2 lb loaf tin and press down well. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake at 180° C / 350° F / Gas 4 for 40-45 minutes. Arrange the tomato slices at the top for the last 15 minutes of baking.

Allow the roast to cool for around 20 minutes before lifting it out of the tin carefully. Serve with vegetarian gravy, stuffing and all the trimmings.

Festive Loaf


  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions chopped
  • 16 vegetarian burgers, defrosted and crumbled
  • 2 tbsp each of freshly chopped sage and rosemary
  • 4 large free range eggs, beaten
  • 6 tbsp single cream (or soya cream)
  • 4 tbsp tamari or soy sauce

In a large frying pan, heat the oil and sauté the onion. Add the crumbed burgers and brown them along with the onion and then add the herbs, cooking for another 3 minutes before removing the pan from the heat.

Place the mixture in a bowl and add the beaten eggs, cream, tamari or soy sauce. Mix well and then press the mixture into a 900g/2 lb greased loaf tin and bake at 180° C / 350° F / Gas 4 for 40-45 minutes until it has set in the centre.

Leave the loaf to cool for 15 minutes and then turn out of the tin. Serve warm with vegetarian gravy, cranberry sauce and stuffing.

Vegetarian Gravy


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 115 g/4 oz mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp vegetarian gravy granules (these can be found at most supermarkets and health food stores)
  • 450 ml/3/4 pint vegetable broth or stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion for 5-6 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms and cook until soft for a further 5 minutes, stirring and then add the tomato paste.

Sprinkle the gravy granules into the mixture, stir well and then add the stock slowly, stirring continuously. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Season to taste and serve immediately.

A Thanksgiving Meal Everyone Can Enjoy

You may also consider another main course for your Thanksgiving meal, either on its own or to serve along with turkey, such as vegetarian lasagne, quiche or vegetarian goulash.

Traditional Thanksgiving side dishes generally do not pose any problems for vegetarians, so long as the stuffing is meat free.

With a little creativity and help from your local supermarket or vegetarian cookbook, the Thanksgiving meal can be the great family experience it was meant to be for both meat eaters and vegetarians.

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