By Emily Peck
Emily is a nutritionist, personal chef, Kitchen Assistant at the Institute of Culinary Education, and the blogger behind The Greener Palate. She’s been a vegetarian for over a decade and is passionate about plant-based, whole-food cooking.
Vegan Thanksgiving fans, anyone? From the sausage stuffing to the gravy to the big ol’ turkey, it’s hard to imagine a meatless Thanksgiving that’s still mouth-watering and traditional. If you’re someone who’s inclined to save a bird this year, you might worry that all the tofurkeys and lentil loafs in the world won’t convince your family that eating plant-based foods is in any way comparable to a juicy turkey. But it’s our duty, my fellow plant lovers, to find ways to persuade the skeptics in our lives that we can enjoy the fruits of the earth in so many unique and appetizing ways, while staying true to some of the classic holiday recipes. That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to take Vegan Thanksgiving, a course taught by Chef Peter Berley at the Institute of Culinary Education, I jumped at the chance. He shared a handful of recipes plus ideas for modifying any dish to make it both delicious and entirely plant-based. The following are some tips I took away from the course.
- Innovate with herbs. Cooking with herbs has the double benefit of adding fresh flavors and nutritional benefits to any dish. You can innovate with herbs for interesting new flavors, like we did with the Roasted Vegetable Pâté recipe. The recipe called for chopped rosemary, thyme and sage, but we had a lot of basil too, so I added a handful of that plus some leftover celery leaves — the final product had a complex (and delicious) flavor.
- Lighten up. You can substitute heavy ingredients like cream and butter for healthy alternatives. The traditional recipe for candied yams calls for butter, but we used extra-virgin olive oil (a heart-healthy dietary fat) instead. Coconut oil is another alternative fat source that adds some nutty sweetness to the dish as well. Bonus: coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, or “MCTs,” which have been found to boost HDL or “good cholesterol.”
- Nix the gluten. One recipe that I particularly enjoyed was the Stuffed Dumpling Squash with Kamut, Spelt Berry and Wild Rice. The kamut and spelt berry, however, are gluten-ful grains, and while wild rice is gluten-free, store-bought mixes are often made in facilities that also make products containing gluten — which can be problematic for those with gluten sensitivities. If you’re looking for gluten-free options, opt for a gluten-free grain such as quinoa — a hearty and healthy complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index.
- Swap out refined sugars. Many candied yam and sweet potato dishes call for refined white sugar, a processed simple carbohydrate. Instead, try substituting maple syrup, agave or even coconut sugar for a natural, less-processed sweetener.
- Swap in Flavorful Cooking Methods (Like Caramelizing). Roasting your veggies for a half hour or more will caramelize them and bring out their natural sweetness. Chef Peter’s Caramelized Onion Gravy was impressive — it had a delicious sweet and savory component due to the slow cooking of the onions. The gravy was a rich topping for the squash dumplings (mentioned above), creating a unique twist on a classic dish without using a meat base.
Many families rely on their collective traditions when choosing Thanksgiving dishes. I like to create my own traditions while paying homage to the long-standing ones of my family — my aunt’s irresistible Pecan Squares and my mom’s Creamy Zesty Carrots, both recipes handed down from their mom, my grandmother. This year, I plan to recreate these dishes by substituting the dairy and any highly processed ingredients with plant-based, fresh ones. My uncle, who finds great value in keeping things simple and classic, probably won’t admit that he likes Chef Peter’s Maple Tofu Whipped Cream that I’m going to pile on top of my Vegan Almond-Raspberry Cake. But the proof will be in the pudding — or on his empty dessert plate when he’s asking for seconds. Aside from being delicious, cooking plant-based foods provides the freedom to eat more (within reason), while taking advantage of many benefits, including improved digestion due to high amounts of fiber, minerals, vitamins, healthy fats and plant-based proteins. All of this creates healthy and happy bellies on Thanksgiving.
Emily’s Vegan Almond-Raspberry Cake
2 cups almond flour, firmly packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coconut- or almond-milk dairy-free yogurt
⅔ cup honey
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces raspberries, preferably organic
Zest of 1 lemon
Sprinkle of powdered sugar
½ cup chopped raw pistachios, almonds or pecans
- Preheat oven to 325º F. Lightly grease a 9-inch pan (I used a spring form pan) with vegan butter or spray and lightly dust with almond flour.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, ginger and sea salt.
- In small bowl, combine the yogurt, honey, vanilla extract, olive oil and lemon zest. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix well and fold in the raspberries. Pour the mixture into the pan.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the cake is golden brown. Test with a toothpick to make sure it comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
- Once cooled, slice into 8 pieces. Top with Maple Tofu Whipped Cream (recipe below). Optional: Sprinkle with chopped nuts and powdered sugar.
Chef Peter’s Maple Tofu Whipped Cream
Servings: Makes about 2 ½ cups
½ pound soft tofu, drained
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoon lemon juice
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons agar flakes
½ cup cold water
1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
½ cup plain soy or almond milk
- Combine tofu, maple syrup, oil, vanilla extract, lemon juice and salt in food processor.
- Place the agar flakes and cup of cold water in sauce pan over medium heat. Stirring continuously, cook until the mixture reaches a boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer.
- In a bowl, whisk the arrowroot powder (or cornstarch) and soy milk (or almond milk) and add to the simmering liquid. Raise the heat and whisk continually until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from heat.
- Slowly pour the hot mixture into the food processor and process until smooth. Stop the motor and scrape down the sides of the bowl to incorporate all of the ingredients.
- Transfer the tofu cream to a clean container and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
- Process the tofu cream again briefly just before serving
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