Preparing a holiday feast can be incredibly stressful, especially when catering to dietary and health preferences that stray from tradition—whether you’re doing it for yourself or for your hippie in-laws who recently discovered The China Study.
“Vegetarians are used to playing second fiddle and just having sides,” says expert chef Myra Kornfeld. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Kornfeld is teaching public cooking classes, like “A Vegetarian Thanksgiving” on November 22, at the Natural Gourmet Institute (where you can also learn to make gluten-free sides, pickled gifts, and raw desserts, among other things), and she’s the author of The Healthy Hedonist Holidays: A Year of Multi-Cultural Vegetarian-Friendly Holiday Feasts.
Whether you’re cooking a giant bird or not, the key to cooking any feast is figuring out what you can make in advance and then prepping different dishes in the week leading up to the big day, she says. “You have to analyze each dish and say ‘What’s my game plan?’ and then chart it.”
To make the best possible veggie-centric plan, we got Kornfeld’s three tips for prepping a meat-free Thanksgiving meal (so you can get back to planning the most Zen seating arrangements possible), plus one of her amazing recipes:
1. Make the main course shine. Simply not making a turkey is not enough. “A vegetarian main course should be something that’s a really good stand-out dish,” Kornfeld says. As in, it should be substantial and hearty, but also have some wow-factor. “It shouldn’t just be squash and rice.” For the class, Kornfeld will be teaching student how to make a polenta casserole with squash, beans, peppers, and lots of spices.
2. Say no to tofurkey. An easy substitute may be tempting, but processed faux meats will not impress, nor will they make for a healthy meal. Stick to fresh, seasonal ingredients with a minimum of packaged foods. “You want all kinds of real food, nothing processed, no chemical additives, none of the junk. That’s how you keep it healthy no matter what,” Kornfeld says. Plus, “it’s just vibrant. People forget about the life force in food, but when it’s really fresh, it’s great.”
3. Create balance. A table filled with all-things-beige, meatless or not, will not inspire. Kornfeld suggests thinking of the plate in three categories: Protein, starchy, and light and leafy. “You need a minimum of one in each of those categories, but I say have two in each, plus a fruity option, like cranberry.” Starchy includes dishes like squash, sweet potatoes, and parsnips. For light and leafy you can do brussels sprouts, green beans, or kale salad. —Lisa Elaine Held
Sweet Potato Gratin with Coconut Milk and Chipotle Chile
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 6 medium), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1. Mix together sweet potatoes, coconut milk, chipotle chile, lime juice, salt, maple syrup, and garlic in a medium bowl.
2. Transfer mixture to a baking dish (7 by 11-inch baking dish is ideal). Cover, then bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the sweet potatoes are just tender.
3. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes until the tops are browned.
Check back next week for tips on prepping the perfect Paleo feast!
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