Our first vegetarian Thanksgiving

As promised, here’s the plan for our Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday. It’s subject to change, of course, once my sister Sandy gets involved, not to mention that I’m notoriously fickle about following recipes. But it’s kind of a big deal as its the first time in the history of my family that we’ve had a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

Yes, me, the woman who spent a year at Le Cordon Bleu stuffing meat into other meat and who has deboned and dismembered entire turkey for the past five years will be making a completely vegetarian menu. A couple of months ago, Mike and I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives. The gist: medical research increasingly shows that people with diets high in meat and dairy tend to be the most likely to suffer from obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. This isn’t exactly breaking news, but the film focuses on an extensive labor of research known as The China Study. Mike and I had already started cutting our meat consumption already, but after watching the film, we made a pact to keep it to less than 10 percent.

Coincidentally, my mother and stepdad watched the film around the same time and came to the same conclusion. My mother went on a mission to get everyone in our extended family to watch it, and thus it’s been a domino effect resulting in all the people who will be seated at our Thanksgiving table this year didn’t want a turkey.

Most of my meat eating these days comes when eating out, as often the vegetarian options on menu seem lacking (or non-existant) and sometimes it’s just socially awkward. Plus, as a food writer, it’s sometimes part of my job to eat or try certain things.

But this new habit has altered my perspective. For example, I never noticed that most restaurants include meat on every single menu item, including salads. I got into a protracted discussion with a hotel restaurant manager in Los Angeles while on book tour after I asked about vegetarian options and the server brought me a kids menu since it offered spaghetti with marinara sauce (from a can) and mac and cheese, their only non-meat options.

It’s discouraging to see the wide swath of real estate devoted to meat in my supermarket here in Florida, only to see the organic vegetable and tofu ghetto stuffed into a dark corner of the produce section.  (The stocker I talked to said he’s “always restocking the tofu” since they sell a lot of it.)

This doesn’t mean that I’ll never write another recipe with meat, or that I’ll never roast another chicken or anything like that. But I think everyone could use shaking up the foundations of their diet and routines every now and then, don’t you?

With that, here’s the basic plan with another vegetable side (or two) to come from my sister. I’ll be sharing what I’m making as we go on Twitter, if you’d like to follow along.

Main dish




We also have a meyer lemon tree in our yard, so I’m looking for a healthy-ish lemon cream pie recipe. Anyone got one?



Filed under recipes

17 responses to “Our first vegetarian Thanksgiving

  1. How interesting, Kathleen. I hope your family enjoys the menu.

    We do veggie Thanksgiving because most of our family is vegetarian, but also because I find roast turkey really uninspiring. There are other things that are way tastier. These days I’m in love with a pumpkin stuffed with panade: http://www.teaandcookiesblog.com/2010/11/stuffed-pumpkin-with-panade-had-to-share.html

    And oh do I agree with you on the restaurant situation! I’m sad more chefs aren’t interested/excited about vegetables. I’m firmly flexitarian, but it’s really hard to go out to eat in Seattle with my mother. The meatless options are so limited and often just sad.

    Hope you all have a wonderful holiday!

  2. Wow, some great ideas here! I can’t wait to try Pumpkin Gyoza. And thanks for including my mashed potatoes!

  3. This is a great idea. In my experience people seem quite close minded about what they eat at thanksgiving!

  4. I love it! Having cooked vegetarian Thanksgivings for … 10 or so years now, I’m always tinkering around although this year am keeping it simple with lots of fresh sauteed veggies and a salad to go with the sweet potato-chard gratin that will serve as the vegetarian main (we are also having a tiny turkey because not all in my family can wholly do away with ‘tradition’). As for lemon cream pie, I’ve done one that’s not necessarily ‘healthy’ but receives rave reviews: I make lemon curd then spread it in a pre-baked graham cracker crust (I think gingersnaps would also be wonderful) and top with whipped cream. Delicious.

    • Kathleen Flinn

      That gratin sounds good. My mother and I both both sweet potatoes, so now I’ve got an embarassment of riches of them. The idea for the gratin with chard sounds great, and something that Mike would totally be all over.

      I like that cream pie idea. Definitely an option.

  5. Your menu sounds great! We are going very simple this year (we will still have turkey) but healthier veggies, less butter, and a carrot cake because it’s my son’s birthday and that’s what he wants!

    I made a really fantastic (so I’m told, and I agree) lemon ricotta tart. It’s very rich, but you could easily adapt it and I think it would still be scrumptious. For the crust, use 1/2 stick butter instead of 3/4. For the filling, use part-skim ricotta, light cream cheese and light cream or whole milk instead of heavy cream. The texture is light and creamy, and it could stand a little lighter hand with the butter/cream component. Anyway, I hope you have a great Thanksgiving, whatever you try!

    Here’s the link: http://www.sallypasleyvargas.com/2011/04/celebrate-spring-with-lemony-ricotta.html

    • Kathleen Flinn

      Thanks for the link! Your son has good taste. I’m not a big sweets person, but I adore carrot cake (as long as its not too sweet). 🙂

  6. Kathleen, kudos on your first meatless Thanksgiving. When I did it years ago for vegetarian guests, it was truly eye opening and liberating. And wow what an honor to have some of my food on your holiday table! Happy thanksgiving.

    • Kathleen Flinn

      I’m such a fan of your book that I’m giving copies of it away to my newly minted vegetarian family members this year for the holidays… !

  7. Babette

    OMG so true about how every item on a menu has meat in it. I usually have to stick to the Mac & cheese! Am I 5? LOL Love these recipes….

  8. Erika

    I am so pleased to see this! My brother is bringing his fiance and her teenage daughter and they’re both vegetarians to our Thanksgiving and so I have been racking my brain trying to think of what to make that everyone could eat. Never thought of simply making a few vegetable pot pies. I was already planning to make biscuits so it would be easy to use my own recipe for that on top. Also like the idea of the caramelized onion gravy. So thank you! Very helpful!!

  9. Cathy in Georgia

    Will you be posting your final recipes? The shallot butter looks great, and looks like it’s easy to make ahead. I am going to make that and put on our green beans. I am guessing that the mushroom soup you’ve mentioned here is the one in the back of the new book. I made the cream of chicken version, but not the mushroom one yet. The chicken one was GREAT. I’m planning to use it as a base for my gravy this year but with Turkey of course.

  10. Kathleen Flinn

    Yep, I’ll be posting final recipes, too. Probably will be too late for most people to make this Thanksgiving but I’ll collect them all for the next round of holidays.

  11. Nan

    I hope many, many people read your piece. Years ago there was a lot of press about meat causing health problems, but in the last few years it seems like all the ads and articles in magazines are about meat. And I read of restaurants that are completely focused on meat, and large servings of it. My husband and I keep saying, what happened? Did people forget what they knew? Or are people so enamored that they just can’t give it up?
    I say good for you!
    PS I haven’t eaten any meat or fish for forty years. :<)

    • Kathleen Flinn

      Nan, thanks for your note. Now that I’m focused on eating less meat, I notice that virtually every item on restaurant menus contains meat, even salads. I’ve been finding that Mike and I are not eating at our “usual” places but instead we’ve been frequenting places where we have more meat-free options, e.g. something other than salad or a bland pasta. We have decided to keep eating shellfish and some fish (as long as its sustainable). But I quite like the challenge of changing up our diet.

  12. Kay

    Hi Kathleen!
    I just finished your book today about your time at Le Cordon Bleu and thoroughly enjoyed it! It inspired me to actually taste and salt today, when I tried the Vegetable Pot Pie with Cheddar Biscuits in the Gourmet Today cookbook I recently picked up. My dinner was fabulous, and although the recipe I used wasn’t the same as the one you used, I still attribute its success to tasting and adding more salt, due to reading your book, hee hee. You made my dinner!

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