My First Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Not everyone eats turkey on Thanksgiving. We are thrilled to have Chef Tal Ronnen, the most celebrated vegan chef working today, contribute to The Secret Ingredient with his story of a Thanksgiving past, and with one of his favorite vegan recipes for the holiday.

It was twenty years ago, and I had just become a vegetarian. A friend had told me about a magical place called Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glenn in upstate New York, not far from where I lived. Farm Sanctuary was an organization that rescued factory-farmed animals and provided a safe haven for them to live out the rest of their lives. Each year they had a potluck vegetarian Thanksgiving feast, and a friend invited me to go with him.

I remember it vividly. It was the first time I came face to face with live turkeys! I was immediately struck by how big they were, and soon found out that their size was due to being injected with so many hormones and steroids. Seeing these turkeys and what they had gone through was a turning point; I knew that day that I would stick to a vegetarian diet for the rest of my life.

Farm Sanctuary’s Thanksgiving meal was a potluck feast, but before we sat down to eat we had the opportunity to serve the turkeys spaghetti and grapes (a combination they apparently love!) on a silver platter. The potluck was put together by an eclectic group of people from different towns and cities in upstate New York; everyone arrived with a different vegetarian dish. Boy, has vegetarian food come a long way since then.

Since my first vegetarian Thanksgiving, I’ve loved coming up with new holiday recipes. Here are a couple I hope you’ll enjoy.

Sage and Pumpkin Seed-Encrusted Gardein™ with Cranberry Cabernet Sauce

  • 6 servings
  • 20 minutes for prep
  • 40 minutes for cooking

For the cranberry cabernet sauce

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large shallot
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup cabernet (or other red wine)
  • 1 cup faux chicken stock or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot
  • 3 tablespoons Earth Balance (vegan) butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the cutlets

  • 12 (3 packages) thawed frozen Gardein™ Chick’n Scallopini or fresh Chick’n Filets
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
  • 1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds (without shells)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
  • Unbleached white flour
  • 2 cups unsweetened soy milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for sautéing
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the cranberry cabernet sauce, heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté for 3 minutes. Next, add the thyme and cranberries and sauté for 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cabernet and scrape the bottom of the pan, then cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and cook until the liquid has been reduced by half, about 3 to 5 minutes. In a small bowl, mix the arrowroot with 2 tablespoons of water and whisk the mixture into the pan. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the sauce is thickened to your liking, then turn off the heat and whisk in the vegan butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Remove the thyme sprigs.

For the cutlets, process the sage, pumpkin seeds, paprika, breadcrumbs, yeast, salt, and pepper in a food processor until well incorporated. Place the flour, soy milk, and breadcrumb mixture on three separate plates or shallow bowls. Dredge each cutlet in flour, then in the soy milk, and then in the breadcrumb mixture. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat and cook the cutlets in batches until they are browned and crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. Do not crowd the pan.

Click here for the full menu, with recipes for mashed potatoes, salad, a cheesecake dessert, and other delicious dishes. Or, select a recipe from Tal’s cookbook, The Conscious Cook, to add a gourmet vegetarian dish to your traditional Thanksgiving table.

One Response to “My First Vegetarian Thanksgiving”
  1. Erica says:

    Great story 🙂 I just checked out the full menu- I totally want to make those sweet potato biscuits (YUM!)

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