Vegetarians don't think of sides the way meat-centric eaters think of sides. Meatties think a nice dinner means a fancy meat entrée with less-important vegetable bridesmaids decoratively clustered about. Novice vegetarians often try to swap some vegetarian casserole or something in place of the meat and keep eating this way. Eventually they realize this strategy doesn't work long-term. They also begin to realize how AWESOME and TASTY good n' fresh vegetables are; the produce ain't bridesmaids, they're the stars.
Vegetarians start eating in a more egalitarian way—a normal meal might have three to five dishes that play off each other. So if you don't want to have a Thanksgiving centered around meat or some "loaf," or even a stuffed squash, just prepare a dazzling feast out of a bunch of well-prepared sides.
Here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving sides:
Vegan Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Shiitake Mushroom Gravy (follows)—blissful
Lima Bean Gravy (from The Voluptuous Vegan)—yes, it's green!
Green Beans with Shallots
Cranberry Molds (follows)—a tiny jeweled mound
Clover Leaf Rolls (follows)—served piping hot
Cucumber Spears (follows)
Blue Cheese Autumn Salad (follows)
Shiitake Mushroom Gravy
1 small package dried porcini mushrooms, destemmed and minced until almost a powder
12 large fresh shiitake mushrooms
butter, unsalted, 3 Tablespoons
flour, 6 Tablespoons
2 cubes of Knorr's vegetable boullion
oregano and thyme to taste
1. Put dried mushrooms in 4 Cups water.
2. Slice fresh mushrooms thinly.
3. Sauté shiitakes in wine and a little oil. Set aside.
4. Bring the dried mushroom water to boil with the boullion cubes.
5. Remove the shiitakes from the fry pan. Melt 3 Tablespoons butter into the unwashed fry pan.
6. Gradually mix in 6 Tablespoons flour.
7. Pour broth into the skillet. Mix and heat.
8. Add the shiitakes back in. Adjust with herbs to taste.
9. Let flavors meld overnight and reheat just before serving.
Simmer 20 minutes uncovered until soft and juicy 2 or 3 of your favorite fruits (cubed small) with a 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries, 1/2 Cup. freshly squeezed orange or Clementine juice, 1/4 Cup raisins or currants (optional), and 1/4 Cup maple syrup. Immediately spoon sauce into ramekins or small glass bowls. Let cool. Cover and refrigerate over night. Right before serving the meal, slide 1 of each mold out of the bowl and onto each person's plate. Serves 4 to 5 people. (You may need to bathe the bottom of each bowl in a little warm water to loosen the cranberry mold).
Clover Leaf Rolls
1 to 1 1/2 Cups mashed potatoes
1 package yeast
1/4 Cup warm water
2 eggs plus enough scalded and cooled milk to make 2 Cups liquid
1/2 Cup melted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 Cup sugar
6 Cups bread flour
1. In a large bowl dissolve yeast in water. Add mashed potatoes, eggs, milk, butter, salt, and sugar. Stir well.
2. Stir in 3 Cups of flour, beating until smooth after each cup. Add the fourth cup. Beat until dough is smooth and elastic. Stir in the fifth cup to make a stiff dough. Measure the sixth cup and sprinkle of half of it on a large wooden board.
3. Turn the dough out onto the floured board. With well-floured hands knead the dough 5 to 7 minutes until smooth and elastic. Use the remaining flour as needed.
4. Put the dough in a buttered bowl and lightly butter the top of the dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled (1 1/2 to 2 hours).
5. Punch down. Divide into 6 parts, wrap each part in plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
6. Grease 2 to 3 muffin tins. When the dough is chilled, take 1 piece of dough at a time. Each piece makes 5 rolls, or 15 spheres. A roll is 3 spheres put together in one cup of a muffin tin. Make 30 rolls total.
7. Cover and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size. (At this point, if you need to wait for the oven, put them in a cold place, like outside).
8. Brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter.
9. Bake at 425 degrees for 10-13 minutes or until light golden brown on top.
10. Serve piping hot in a basket, wrapped in a clean cloth napkin to keep warm. Provide pats of decadent salted butter.
UPDATE: We've had amazing success doing these things: Merely ricing a boiled russet potato rather than making mashed potatoes. Allowing the dough to sit in the refrigerator for 2 days after Step 5. Not sticking the clover leaf rolls in the oven right after something hotter was cooking.
Use an English cucumber or small pickling or Persian cucumbers. Peel, slice in half lengthwise. With a spoon scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut into finger-sized sticks. Toss with a little fresh-squeezed lime juice and a bit of freshly chopped cilantro. Serve within an hour.
Blue Cheese Autumn Salad
Nota Bene: I'm making this tomorrow, but I've never made it before! I do make an extremely fancy salad every year as a symbol of the Harvest Bounty. Since you will probably have leftovers, and greens go bad quickly if already dressed, the most practical thing to do is store the greens separately from the toppings and serve the dressing on the side. Myra Kornfeld's Voluptuous Vegan features a salad which combines marinated vegetables with fresh lettuce, no dressing required. I made it at a large Thanksgiving a few years ago. That was extremely convenient, as the vegetables just kept getting better and better, and I easily combined them with lettuce last minute. But that salad took me 3 hours to make so I'm trying a blue cheese one this year as a substitute for cheese and crackers.
For beautiful greens (I learned this trick in New York City's Little Italy): Mix your favorite green greens with bits of red raddichio and white, crispy endive.
For the topping: handfuls of crumbled blue cheese, toasted chopped hazelnuts, and slivers of unpeeled, crunchy Asian pear (any variety). If the toasted nuts are still warm, they will make the blue cheese melt and ooze in a lovely way all over the greens.
For blue cheese dressing: Mix 1/2 Cup crumbled blue cheese with 1 Cup hand-beaten whole-milk yogurt, an increasingly rare commodity. Add juice of 1 lemon or more, to taste. Grind on fresh black pepper.
Serve in a large fancy bowl at the center of the table with dressing on the side. (Everyone always wants a different amount of dressing.)
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