Green Guru: Vegetarian Thanksgiving

How to serve a turkey-free Thanksgiving without sacrificing taste.

How can I make a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner?

—Jane Degraw, Milwaukee, WI

There are plenty of delicious courses perfect for a traditional Turkey Day without the bird. A variety of seasonal sides—those time-honored dishes that the holiday brings to mind—make for a tasty and environmentally friendly meal.

Spiced nuts, mushroom-cheese-spinach strudel, sweet potato soufflé, and crisp salad with pears and dried cranberries are just a few of the delicious dishes guests could pile on their plates (see recipes below).

“A decade or two ago, people were often looking for vegetarian meat substitutes, something usually made from soy that would provide protein and stand in for meat in a sort of mock, second-best way,” says Susan Harville, co-owner of Ithaca, New York’s Moosewood Restaurant, a 38-year-old vegetarian establishment that also has 12 cookbooks to its name. “Today vegetarianism is accepted enough that people are simply looking for an appealing, colorful, healthful meal.”

Eating vegetarian is not only healthy, it also reduces pollution, waste, and the use of fossil fuels associated with raising animals. A United Nations report released last year stated that agriculture, especially for the production of meat and dairy products, accounts for 70 percent of freshwater use worldwide and 14 percent of the planet’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

For those who think of Thanksgiving without a main dish as strange, there’s always the option of cooking a Tofurky. Since its debut in 1995, the product’s popularity has soared. Diners have purchased more than 300,000 annually in recent years, reports creator Seth Tibbott.

If you’re still chewing on the idea of preparing a vegetarian meal, Harville has a few words of advice: “Don’t explain, don’t apologize, don’t argue, don’t preach—just serve an abundant variety of delicious, interesting foods. Enjoy yourself and be grateful, and no one will miss the meat.”


Recipes from Moosewood

October Bittersweet Salad 

Prep time: 20 mins; Total time: 20 mins; Serves: 8

This unusual combination of bitter and sweet, crisp and juicy, is delicious and very attractive with its glistening red vinaigrette. Choose whatever combination of salad greens appeals to you, but with an emphasis on the sharper-tasting ones, such as arugula, watercress, or mizuna. Peppery frisee, with its lacy leaves, is ideal. A large head of frisee will yield about 6 cups of greens.



Cranberry Vinaigrette

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 cup dried cranberries (craisins)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


8 cups mixed field greens, rinsed

2 to 3 firm but ripe Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cups peeled and shredded or thinly sliced turnips or cups celerty heart stalks, sliced on the diagonal

1/4 cup dried cranberries (craisins)

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese or blue cheese (optional)



Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender or food processor and whirl until the dried cranberries are finely minced and suspended in the dressing. Set aside.

Tear the salad greens into bite-sized pieces and arrange on individual plates or on a large platter.

Toss the pear slices and lemon juice together in a bowl to evenly coat the pears and prevent discoloration; then arrange them on the greens.

Top with the turnip or celery heart slices and sprinkle on the cranberries.

Finish with the crumbled cheese, if using.

Shake up or stir the Cranberry Vinaigrette and drizzle it evenly over the salad just before serving


Greener Spanakopita

Yields: 6 pastries; Serves: 6; Hands on time: 35 minutes; Baking time: 15 minutes

This greener version of spanakopita is lighter on the cheese, uses olive oil rather than butter, is loaded with masses of healthful greens but is still a crowd-pleaser, puffed and golden. Whole wheat filo is enjoyable to work with, more forgiving than white flour filo and the baked pastry has more integrity and flavor.



8 cups chopped sturdy greens, such as kale or collards

8 cups chopped delicate greens, such as spinach, chard, or mustard greens

4 ounces Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup grated feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

16-ounce package whole wheat filo dough

2 teaspoons sesame seeds



Steam the sturdy greens until tender, about 10 minutes. Place them in a colander to drain. Steam the delicate greens until just wilted and add them to the colander. Use your hand or the back of a spoon to press on the greens to get out as much water as possible. Place the drained greens in a mixing bowl. Add the Neufchatel, feta, dill, oregano, and pepper and mix well.

In a microwave oven or in a small pan on the stovetop, heat the oil and garlic just until the garlic sizzles and becomes golden but not browned. Pour the warm oil through a strainer. Stir the garlic into the greens and cheese mixture, and set aside the garlic-flavored oil.

On a dry flat work surface, unfold the stack of filo sheets. Have the bowl of filling, the reserved garlic oil, and a pastry brush near at hand. Take two sheets of filo from the stack and place them with a short side near you. Brush lightly with the oil and fold in half lengthwise. Place a scant 1/2 cup of filling near the bottom corner of the filo and fold up and over diagonally, forming a triangle. Continue to fold as you would a flag to make a small triangle pastry. Brush the top with oil and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Assemble the rest of the pastries. Sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds. In a preheated 375º oven, bake for about 15 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Ingredient note: We like Fillo Factory brand organic whole wheat filo dough.


Mushroom, Cheese, and Vegetable Strudel

Serves: 12




1 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped (1½ cups)

1 medium red bell pepper, diced (1 cup)

2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)

2 tsp. dried thyme

1 lb. white mushrooms, sliced (5 cups)

2 10-oz. bags baby spinach

¼ tsp. ground nutmeg

1 14-oz. pkg. firm tofu, drained

8 oz. Neufchâtel cheese, softened

1 cup grated extra-sharp

Cheddar cheese (4 oz.)


¼ cup olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)

1 tsp. dried thyme

1 lb. whole-wheat phyllo dough, thawed

½ tsp. poppy, sesame, or fennel seeds, optional



Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat 18- x 13-inch baking sheet with cooking spray.

To make Filling: Heat oil in pot over medium heat. Sauté onion, bell pepper, garlic, and thyme in oil 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms, and cook 10 minutes, or until wilted. Stir in spinach and nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook 5 to 7 minutes, or until spinach has wilted, stirring occasionally. Drain, and cool in bowl.

Purée tofu, Neufchâtel cheese, and Cheddar cheese in food processor until smooth. Stir into mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

To make Strudel: Heat oil, garlic, and thyme in small pot over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Cool.

Cover bottom of prepared baking pan with 2 phyllo sheets, allowing sheets to overlap each other and hang off sides. Brush with garlic oil. Place 2 more phyllo sheets on top, and brush with garlic oil. Repeat 4 times, until you have a 6-layer bottom crust.

Spread Filling in crust, leaving 3-inch edge all around. Brush edges with garlic oil. Fold sides of phyllo over filling. Cover filling with 2-sheet layer of phyllo (4 sheets total), overlapping sheets in center. Brush with garlic oil. Repeat layering 2 sheets at a time until you have 4 layers (16 sheets phyllo total), brushing every second sheet with garlic oil. Tuck under edges. Sprinkle top with seeds, if desired. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until golden. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting into slices.


Sweet Spiced Nuts

Preparation Time: 10-15 min; Cook Times: 20 min; Serves: 6



1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 pinch of cayenne, optional

3 cups shelled nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cahews)



Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously oil a baking sheet. 

In a saucepan on medium-high heat, stir together the sugar, 1/4 cup of water, salt, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and cayenne and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir constantly for 1 minute, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the nuts and mix well to evenly coat them with the syrup. Remove the coated nuts with a slotted spoon and spread them out on a prepared baking sheet.

Bake until browned, 10-15 minutes, stirring once after 5-6 minutes. After you’ve taken them out of the oven, stir again to break apart any clusters. Allow the nuts to cool before serving.


For more recipes, visit the Moosewood website