How to create the perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving menu

No, Tofurkey is not the answer. Haven's Kitchen's Julia Sullivan offer her tips on creating an inspired Thanksgiving meal without the meat.


It’s a myth that when turkey’s off the menu, Thanksgiving dinner planning is a piece of cake. Especially if you happen to be hosting a dinner with an inordinate number of vegan yogi guests, gluten-intolerants, and so on.

But take it from chef Julia Sullivan, you can create a super-inspired yet manageable vegetarian menu. Sullivan, who cooked at Per Se, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Franny’s, is now the operations director of Haven’s Kitchen, the city’s seriously sweet farm-to-table cooking school in Union Square.

Julia Sullivan at Haven's Kitchen
Sullivan cooked at Per Se, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and Frannie’s before becoming the opening chef for Haven’s Kitchen,

This November, the school added a Vegetarian Thanksgiving class to the course schedule. So we asked her to give us part of the syllabus for creating the perfect vegetarian Thanksgiving menu. These are her top three pointers:

1. Don’t roast or mash everything.
“Thanksgiving tends to be a soft, brown meal,” Sullivan says. “The key is to not roast and mash everything. You want to vary ingredients, your cooking techniques, and textures.”

That means different veggies, served in different ways. So, for example, she suggests serving a shaved brussels sprout salad alongside roasted sunchokes, and a cranberry sauce tart.

2. Add something acidic or bitter. “Make sure there’s some acid in your menu, so the flavors don’t all just blend together,” she explains. These might include dishes with a bit of bitterness like the aforementioned cranberry, a batch of steamed broccoli with lemon zest and slivered almonds, and perhaps even something pickled.

3. Skip the faux turkey. While it can be tempting to just swap out a real turkey for a fake one, Sullivan prefers to just focus on “making things rich and filling and hearty versus making something that will taste like meat.”

Example: For her main dish last year, Sullivan served a butternut squash and mushroom mac ‘n cheese. Other options include a pureed root vegetable soup, farro with kale, mushrooms, and butternut squash, or roasted cauliflower steaks.

With dishes like these, guests won’t miss their annual dose of tryptophan. Plus, you’ll have a much livelier after-dinner crowd on your hands, for better or worse. —Lisa Elaine Held

For more information on Haven’s Kitchen cooking classes, visit

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