This Thanksgiving will be my first since making the transition from vegetarian to vegan some two months ago. I am sure I will have to explain to many members of my family what a vegan is, why I am vegan, which foods I can eat for Thanksgiving, or at all, and so on. If you are asking similar questions right now, don’t worry. You will soon know the answers.

First of all, a vegan is someone who does not eat meat, eggs or dairy products. Most vegans also abstain from wearing leather, wool or fur and using other animal products. For now, we will focus on a vegan diet.

The popular myth is that you need meat and dairy products to be healthy. However, you really can get all your essential vitamins and nutrients from a vegan diet. A meat and dairy-free diet may reduce your chance of developing heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

It is not difficult to eat vegan on Thanksgiving or at any other time of the year. Most typical Thanksgiving recipes can easily be made without animal products and this is where we’ll start.

Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes, which are usually made with butter and milk, are a cinch to make vegan. Just substitute non-dairy margarine and soy milk – my favorite is Soy Dream.

A great vegan recipe for garlic mashed potatoes is as follows – leaving the skin on, slice up six large potatoes and one head of garlic. Throw all this into a pot of water and boil until the potatoes are tender. By this time the garlic will have melted. Drain the potatoes, add 2 tbsp. of margarine, 1/2 cup of soy milk and salt and pepper to taste. Mash well.

The same rule of simple substitution applies when making buttercup squash. Cut the squash in two and scoop out the seeds. Place about 1 tbsp. of margarine in each half, add salt and pepper. Place it in a cake pan with 1 inch of water and cover with aluminum foil. Put this in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Then scoop out the squash halves into a bowl, add more margarine to help the consistency, nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Stuffing

For the stuffing, start out by frying one large chopped onion and 1 cup chopped celery until they are translucent but still crunchy. Remove from heat and add 4 cups of dried bread or unseasoned croutons. Over low heat while stirring well, add to this 1 cup of vegetable broth, 1/2 tsp. each of sage, thyme and a pinch of rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Pour all this into an 8-inch square baking pan and sprinkle the top with sesame oil. Bake the stuffing at 350 degrees from 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how crisp you want it.

Gravy

And to put over the stuffing or potatoes, you can make delicious, low-fat gravy. I made this just last weekend for the first time, and it was amazing.

Start out by melting 2 tbsp. of margarine over medium heat in a skillet. Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion and saut for two minutes. Then add 5 tbsp. of flour and let it brown for a minute. Next add 4 cups of water, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, and 1/4 tsp. of pepper. Cook all this while constantly whisking until it comes to a boil. Then let it boil for one minute. If it comes out too thick for your taste, just add some more water.

Main Course

For the main course of a vegan Thanksgiving meal, there are a number of options. Many people choose to make a tofu or seitan turkey loaf, but if this is your first vegan Thanksgiving and you are a bit uneasy about your cooking abilities, I suggest buying a Tofurkey. You can get it at most grocery and health food stores. If you do, however, wish to attempt a “turkey” loaf of your own, there are many Web sites with great recipes to help you out.

For our purpose, we are going to deviate from the standard turkey-centered meal and make a French onion quiche.

To make the dough of the quiche, soften 1/2 cup of margarine and blend it with 1/3 tsp of salt and 1 1/2 cups of flour. Add enough water to this to hold it together in a ball. Roll the ball out and fit it into a 10-inch pie plate.

For the quiche’s filling, heat 1 tbsp. of sesame oil in a skillet and add 2 diced onions. Sprinkle the onions with salt and saut until they are soft and golden. Then add 1 tbsp of water and cover for 5 minutes. While this is cooking, blend 1 lb. of firm tofu, 1/2 tsp. of salt, 1 tbsp. of tarragon, 1 tbsp. of soy sauce, 1/8 tsp. of turmeric and 1/4 to 1 cup water to make the mixture smooth.

Finally, add the onions to the puree and pour into the pie crust. Cook the quiche at 350 degrees for half an hour. Let it set for half an hour before serving.

Pumpkin Pie

For a great vegan dessert, you can make an outstanding pumpkin pie recipe. To make the crust, see the quiche dough recipe above.

For the filling, combine the following ingredients – one box of silken tofu, 2 cups of cooked or canned pumpkin, 3/4 cup of maple syrup, 1/4 cup of canola oil, 2 tbsp. of molasses, 1 tsp. of vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp. of salt, 1 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon, 3/4 tsp. of nutmeg, 3/4 tsp. of ginger and 1/2 tsp. of mace. For these last four you can also substitute pumpkin spice. Blend all of these ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Pour the filling into the crust and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

So there you have it – a vegan Thanksgiving. You can enjoy delicious and healthier food this holiday without animal products. Suggest to your mom or dad that they make the mashed potatoes next Thursday with soy milk and margarine. And go the day without eating meat – the turkeys would appreciate it.

Merkley can be reached at rmerkley@campustimes.org.



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