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Vegging Out

Your guide to a vegan Thanksgiving: Making holidays animal friendly without Tofurky

Vegan Thanksgiving: Making holidays animal friendly without Tofurky

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Blood orange-infused coconut carrot bisque with Indian aromatics: a delicious addition to any Thanksgiving table. Just don't tell anyone it's vegan. Photo by Joel Luks
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Blood oranges inspired a tweak to one of my all-time favorite recipes. Photo by Joel Luks
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Red velvet pancakes with blueberry syrup and coconut cream Photo by Joel Luks
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Dulce de leche filled short bread cookies never last. Photo by Joel Luks
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The best way to cook for non-vegans is to get them with exciting food and avoid the vegan label, like this purple basil coconut-crusted fried green tomatoes with mango salsa. Photo by Joel Luks
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A new post-Thanksgiving favorite in my family is the mu shu tofu scramble with oyster mushrooms and bok choy. Photo by Joel Luks
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One does not need animal products to prepare an indulgent double-layer carrot cake with sake cream cheese frosting. Photo by Joel Luks
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Thanksgiving is circa two weeks away and so are the oh-crap epiphanies as host hopefuls and guests (some struggle to decide between the two) enter into an event planning frenzy narrowing down the who, the where and the how sure, but mostly, the what.

What to serve or bring of course, combined with the latest table scape trend and garnish fashions. After all, Thanksgiving is about two things: people and food, and for some, not necessarily in that order.

Holidays are not complete without both. Those of us who live away from the vicinity of close family travel to encounter the warmth of the initial hello, sometimes interrupted by tensions that occur from independent behavioral patterns surfacing while lodging (invading) someone else’s space.

Independence can breed rigidity and manifest in the annoying this-is-how-I-do-it, suggestive-but-preachy commentary.

And of course, when it comes to food, everyone is an expert.

Personally, I have gone through many entertaining stages. From the simple order-in but present it pretty to the overachieving theme-du-jour fête including an overdramatic place setting, related food, activities and of course, attire.

Prior to my vegan days, I recall a “Zen-giving,” infusing Asian-inspired flavors into traditional and not-so-traditional recipes yielding a miso-honey turkey, wasabi mashed potatoes, asian pear butternut squash soup, shiitake mushroom green bean casserole with almonds, sweet potato tempura and cranberry ham dumplings with a scallion-lemon dipping sauce.

The “Laissez les bons temps rouler” cajun soiree featured turducken with dirty rice stuffing, andouille sausage sweet potato soup, turkey and crawfish jambalaya and bread pudding with bourbon sauce.

Getting hungry?

As I enter my third year in my vegan journey, I have not lost sight that food traditions are as strong as primal urges. It may be risky business to mess with people’s Thanksgiving menu, but I am already known in my family for breaking convention.

The strategy? Feed people the most sinful mouthwatering delectable food, that just happens to be vegan. Sorry Aunt Voula, lamb doesn’t qualify.

There is no need to be literal and add the “v” label to our offerings. As most seem to describe food by its main protein ingredient, the best thing to do is avoid it in preference of a fancy-schmancy descriptive run-on name. Vegan stuffing may conjure cardboard-like taste visions, while wood roasted wild mushroom sourdough thyme-infused stuffing with cherry cider gravy sounds sensually provocative.

Or when all else fails, you can just deep-fry just about anything and people will love it.

I have armed myself with an arsenal of techniques, recipes and trompe-le-tongue tricks to help you cook for vegans and non-vegans alike, making for a more peaceful existence at the holiday table.

How much butter do you really need?

Traditional cooking wisdom tells us that an extra stick of butter elevates the boring to a comfort food status. When it comes to garlic chive mashed potatoes, it is difficult to imagine this dish without the added heart clogging calories.

Try using vegan butter instead (my favorite is Earth Balance) which is different than margarine, opting for a combination of oils from canola, olive, palm fruit and soybeans. Look for the non-hydrogenated and no-trans fat varieties as they can be used in frying, baking and spreading.

Rich and creamy

If you desire heavy cream, you’d be amazed what a little vegetable stock combined with coconut milk will do to increase the richness factor. Regular soups can be turned into rich bisques with this simple substitution. You can also find coconut cream, slightly heavier than coconut milk, at most Asian supermarkets

If the fat content in coconut milk or cream concerns you, blending soft silken tofu (the vacuum sealed varieties found on the shelve) yields a creamy base that needs to be seasoned. This is a great solution for the classic green bean casserole, mixing the tofu with sauteed mushrooms, onions, garlic and your favorite herbs. Perhaps a little vino?

For additional cheesiness, use some nutritional yeast or you can also use a melty vegan cheese alternative. Daiya is my personal favorite and is widely available.

Adding depth of flavor

Cooks often incorporate chicken stock in many vegetable soups and side dishes. Bullion cubes however, can be so full of sodium that bloating is a common occurrence.

Organic low-sodium vegetable stock (I love Pacific Natural Foods brand) is a great way to heighten the taste without adding unnecessary animal flavors to the dish.

If you have time, you can also make your own by sweating celery, onions, carrots, garlic, turnips and leeks in a little olive oil in a stock pot, filling with water, seasoning with a couple of bay leafs, parsley, and thyme, and simmering for 30-40 minutes. To facilitate using the perfect amount, trying freezing it in ice-cube trays.

Avoid the meat?

Personally, I can. But the 45 million turkeys typically consumed at Thanksgiving will tell you a different story.

Although I do not think we are close to being ready to replace this tradition, I do believe holiday time does not need to be so dependent on animal products. It would be nice if our feathered, furry and scaled friends could be thankful for something.

And you do not need Tofurky to do so.

Veganizing your own recipes is not very difficult. Have fun and enjoy experimenting. 

In the meantime, I know your guests will be very thankful for this recipe. An exotic twist on a favorite, this blood orange infused coconut carrot bisque with Indian aromatics is naughty.

I adapted the recipe from Isa Chandra Moskowitz Vegan with a Vengeance, one of my favorite cookbooks, vegan or non-vegan.

  • 3 pounds carrots peeled and chopped (I use baby carrots)
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 4 cups (1 quart) low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • juice of 2 blood oranges
  • 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup

Heat oil in a stock pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes until sweet and caramelized. Add the carrots brown slightly, then add in the garlic.

Add the curry, cumin, salt and cayenne pepper stir. Add broth, boil, simmer, and cook covered for 15 minutes. Add coconut milk, blood orange juice, maple syrup, let cool slightly and use an immersion blender to puree.

Serve with a dollop of Tofuti vegan sour cream, a sprinkle of cilantro or your favorite herbs.


Joel Luks offers vegan recipes, reviews and opinions at

Watch Joel make his blood orange infused carrot coconut bisque with Indian aromatics: