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I know some of you (or most of you) are probably here because you love Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the gathering of friends and family, or maybe it’s just the pleasure of eating a giant meal, or maybe it’s the football. But for whatever reason, Thanksgiving is one of your favorite (if not your favorite) holiday.
I honor that, and I don’t want you to take offense when I say this, but… traditionally? I hate Thanksgiving. Growing up as a vegetarian in a meat-eating family, I had a hard time at family gatherings around the holidays. Meat was always the main attraction and sides were often an afterthought. And then, of course, there was the constant commentary from my Pa Pa George. “Why aren’t you eating the turkey?” he’d always ask me, even though he knew the answer. Simply put, Thanksgiving has always been more stressful for me than it’s been relaxing.
But now that I’m an adult and I’m in control of my own Thanksgiving meals? Okay, I’m starting to come around a little. Turns out Thanksgiving sides are kind of amazing when they’re done right. Mashed potatoes and gravy have become the highlight of my holiday season, now that I’ve learned you can make vegan gravy, which is something I never had at Thanksgiving dinners as a kid.
So vegans and vegetarians, whether you love Thanksgiving or you’re like me and the jury’s still out, this one goes out to you. I tested out some of the most fabulous vegan recipes for sides and desserts to really up your Thanksgiving dinner game. While Thanksgiving still isn’t my favorite holiday, foods like this definitely make the holiday a lot better.
Vegan Thanksgiving in Three Categories
So before we get into what I ended up cooking and testing out for y’all, let me tell you a little bit about my thought process going into it. First of all, I want to say that I didn’t necessarily intend to make this meal entirely vegan. In fact, I thought I was going to make a vegetarian meal, including some eggs and dairy, etc. But when I cook at home for myself, I generally stick to vegan products. Without thinking about it, I made this meal totally vegan, and didn’t actually realize that’s what I’d done until someone asked “Is all of this vegan?” And yes, turned out it was.
The other thing you should know is that I’m really bad at taking pictures of food. I know how to cook, but a food photographer I am not, so please excuse the lack of attractive photos in this blog post. I took a couple, but you’re just going to have to trust me that the food looked delicious, even if the pictures don’t convey that. Sorry friends!
Okay, now on to the categories. First, brussels sprouts. Growing up, I didn’t eat a lot of brussel sprouts because my mom hated them. But now they’re one of my favorite foods and a must-have at any holiday meal. The idea of getting to try out three different brussels recipes? A dream. So that had to go on the list.
Next up: potatoes. Mashed potatoes have always been my #1 must-have for Thanksgiving. No mashed potatoes? I’m not coming. So I tried out two mashed potatoes recipes. And because I know there’s a raging debate about whether mashed potatoes or sweet potato casserole is the appropriate holiday dish (or at least there is in my family), I included a sweet potato casserole recipe. Let’s settle the debate once and for all.
Finally, pumpkin. I know we already have a pumpkin pie showdown here at Book Riot, so I wanted to take a different angle: some alternatives to pumpkin pie for dessert. I tried a vegan pumpkin pie, sopaipillas, and pumpkin coconut halwa.
After I picked out all the recipes, I invited a group of friends over to try everything out. Thanksgiving is supposed to be all about gathering your loved ones together. And since I am clearly going to be biased towards mashed potatoes, I wanted to get some other opinions.
So how did it all go? Read on to find out!
Brussels Sprouts, Three Ways
Meatless‘s Roasted Brussels Sprouts
I have to say of all the sides, people were probably the most excited about all the brussels sprouts, and who can blame them? They’re really delicious however you make them, so how could any of these recipes go wrong? For the first round of brussels, we tried a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Meatless. This recipe for roasted brussels was interesting to me because it called for the sprouts to be roasted with grapes and walnuts. Then they were drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I’d never prepared them this way before, so I was excited to try it. It was super easy to make, and unsurprisingly, they were delicious! With the variety of colors and textures on the plate, it’s a dish that looked really pretty as well. I could see breaking this one out at a potluck and really wowing your friends.
Delicious Gatherings‘s Miso Honey Brussels
Miso on brussels? Another thing I’d never done before and was excited to try. This is another one that was super easy. While the brussels were roasting, I made the glaze and then tossed it on the roasted brussels. The glaze was super easy to make and only included a few ingredients which are easy to find and cheap to keep stocked, so this is definitely a recipe I could see myself making regularly. The best part? As much as I love brussels, sometimes I like eating other vegetables as well (I know, wild!). I could see this same glaze going really well over other veggies like roasted broccoli or asparagus. In fact, I might try that later this week. (The honey can be easily swapped out for maple syrup or agave nectar.)
Bad Manners‘s Cranberry and Quinoa Pilaf with Roasted Brussels
Because this included a lot of different components, it was slightly (only slightly) more difficult to make than the first two recipes. But really, if you know how to make a bowl of quinoa, then you can throw this together, no problem. And yeah, quinoa is super easy (and fast) to cook. After the brussels were roasted, I tossed them together with the quinoa, the cranberries, almonds, and a dijon mustard vinaigrette. Some guests commented that this one tasted a little “spicy,” and I think that was because we went heavy on the vinaigrette. Next time, I might add less than what the recipe calls for just to see how that goes.
For round one, the gang was evenly split. Two of the guests preferred the Meatless recipe, noting how the sweetness of the grapes was a nice counterbalance to the savory brussels. Two preferred the pilaf from Bad Manners, I think mostly because they were huge fans of that mustard vinaigrette. The mustard taste was very strong, so if you’re not into that, this is probably not going to be the recipe for you. But if you’re into that, you’re going to love this. Finally, I (along with one other guest) was a big fan of the miso brussels from Delicious Gatherings. I preferred the savory taste of the miso dressing, and I loved how easy (and delicious) this one was. Of the three, this is the one I’m most likely going to do again. Probably this week.
Potatoes, Three Ways
Unbelievably Vegan‘s Creamy Mashed Potatoes
I was so excited to try a recipe from Unbelievably Vegan because I’ve been wanting to test out some recipes from celebrity chef Charity Morgan’s cookbook for some time. I was immediately attracted to this mashed potatoes recipe because it included nutritional yeast, which is pretty much my #1 favorite thing to cook with, and for some reason I’d never considered including it in the mashed potatoes. In the gravy yes, but not the mashed potatoes themselves (more on that later).
Another interesting thing about this recipe: I boiled the garlic with the potatoes? I had never done this for mashed potatoes before. I usually fry the garlic and then add it in after. Texture wise (and taste wise) this was very different.
A note about mashed potatoes: when I’m making a big meal, I feel like I always get the timing wrong on mashed potatoes. I always think boiling potatoes is going to take a super long time, so it’s always the first thing I do. But by the time I finish everything else, it seems like the potatoes have been done for a long time and they’ve gotten cold. But friends, that didn’t happen today. Not because these took so long, but rather, everything else I made ended up being so easy and quick. So nice to have fresh mashed potatoes that are still warm!
Vegan Soul Food‘s Garlic-Smashed Potatoes
The second potato recipe I tried was Garlic-Smashed Potatoes from Vegan Soul Food by Nadira Jenkins-El. I thought this would be a fun twist on mashed potatoes, and it was somehow even easier to make than the mashed potatoes. As much as I love potatoes, I don’t think I’d ever tried potatoes done exactly like this, and the crisp texture was a fun switch up from the fluffy, soft mashed potato texture that I’m used to having for the holidays. The best part? Yeah, you can still put gravy on this.
The Modern Hippie Table‘s Sweet Potato Casserole
This sweet potato casserole was a wild ride. As I’ve said, I’m usually more of a mashed potato girl and not so much a sweet potato casserole girl, but I was open to this recipe. Especially because it didn’t have any marshmallows on top of it. (Marshmallows are not vegan, and also I’m not a fan of them on casseroles. Don’t come for me.)
I skipped a step and bought cubed sweet potatoes because my least favorite thing about cooking is cutting up vegetables. Then I roasted them and smashed them together with the rest of the ingredients and then baked it to crisp everything up again. Here’s where things got wild. This recipe called for a full cup of brown sugar. Now, for the most part for the sake of the experiment, I tried to stick strictly to the recipes as written. But one whole cup? When sweet potatoes are already sweet? I made a quick decision and cut it in half. Did I do the right thing? I think yes.
Well, mashed potatoes fans. I hate to say it, but overall, the group voted in favor of the sweet potatoes here. Like I said, I think I made a good call cutting the sugar in half. But people really loved this casserole. I still voted in favor of the mashed potatoes (like I said, I’m biased), but I was definitely the odd one out in this round. Maybe I’ll just have to serve both this Thanksgiving holiday.
Pumpkin, Three Ways
A Taste of Latin America‘s Sopaipillas
I know sopaipillas aren’t a Thanksgiving staple, but they do include pumpkin, and this was my way of sneaking a bread dish in here. And as far as bread dishes go, this one was pretty simple and straightforward. The part that was the scariest to me was the frying bit, but it actually wasn’t so bad. The cookbook lists this recipe’s difficultly level as “intermediate,” and I think that’s a good assessment. But again, as far as bread dishes go, it didn’t take that long and it was such a good dish to share with a group of friends.
Vegetarian Indian Cooking with Your Instant Pot‘s Pumpkin Coconut Halwa
I got an Instant Pot for Christmas last year, and I’m still playing around with it, figuring out how to use it and all the best things to make in it. So of course, I wanted to try out at least one recipe in my Instant Pot for this experiment. The Pumpkin Coconut Halwa seemed like a fun dessert alternative to a pumpkin pie.
I’m going to chalk this one up to user error. The Instant Pot heated up the pumpkin before I’d finished all the other steps and so it ended up getting a little too brown and, well, burnt. One thing I don’t think was user error: I was a little disappointed that this one didn’t taste more like coconut. This has shredded coconut in it, which added some texture for sure, but I didn’t taste it. This also wasn’t very sweet. I would definitely try this one again and see what it tastes like when done correctly (if I can even figure it out!). What can I say? I’m an Instant Pot newbie.
The Joy of Vegan Baking‘s Vegan Pumpkin Pie
My brother got me Colleen Patrick Godreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking many, many years ago and I’ve been shocked by just how much I return to this one. It’s one of my most-used cookbooks and everything I’ve made from it ends up being a hit. Did the pumpkin pie end up being another winner?
Well… yes and no. My husband ended up being a big fan of this one, but I think everyone agreed that texture-wise, this could have been a little thicker. This recipe called for silken tofu and cornstarch, so next time, I miiiight try adding a little more cornstarch to see what happens. There’s also a really great looking vegan pumpkin cheesecake recipe I might want to try out next time as well.
The sopaipillas were a clear favorite for everyone in this category. Everyone ended up getting seconds. These tasted great with the syrup if you wanted it sweet. Or you could drizzle the gravy on top of this if you were craving savory. An absolute win, and a unique new addition to the Thanksgiving menu, potentially.
A Note About Proteins
Because we had soooo many sides (and because quinoa does have some protein in it as well, making that dish sort of a main), I didn’t make any protein dishes for this taste test. But I do have a lot of opinions about Thanksgiving proteins for vegans/vegetarians, and I’ve tested out quite a few. My winner for vegan “mains” on Thanksgiving? Honestly, with 35 grams of protein per serving, you can’t go wrong with the classic Tofurky. I also think it just tastes better than its competitors. They also make a delicious veggie ham if that’s more your speed.
If you’re looking for a main that takes a little less prep time, Beyond Sausage is ridiculously good. I recommend their spicy sausage patties. I’m kind of obsessed.
A (Very Important) Note About Gravy
Finding the right vegan gravy for Thanksgiving has changed my life. And let me be clear: yes, I made gravy for this meal, and yes, I highly suggest pouring it over everything. The only gravy I will ever make on Thanksgiving (or any other time) is the Yeast Gravy from The Grit Cookbook. Sadly, the restaurant The Grit closed in October of this year and the cookbook is now out of print. But it looks like you can still get the Kindle version on Amazon, and there are also similar yeast gravy recipes available online. This gravy will change your life.
More Thanksgiving Reading for You to Peruse
Want even more Thanksgiving recipe ideas? Make sure you check out 8 of the best Thanksgiving cookbooks. For more Thanksgiving books, here’s Thanksgiving, by the book. And do we need more Thanksgiving romances?