In Lieu of Turkey, Thanksgiving Sparks Vegetable-Inspired Creativity

CNN News Wire | 11/24/2009, 4:03 p.m.
Going vegetarian on Thanksgiving doesn't mean forcing tofu into faux poultry or shaping legumes into meat-like blobs.

Forget Tofurkey. Why bother, some vegetarians say, with the pretense?

"That scares me," said Melissa Melcombe, a 25-year-old vegetarian. "If you try to shape a loaf like a turkey, it looks like piles of mush and ends up more comical than traditional. I don't think it's ever occurred to my family. It's kind of like making a piece of tofu look like filet mignon. We don't have to kid ourselves."

Rather than lamenting the lack of a basted bird at the center of the table, vegetarian iReporters like Melcombe relish the opportunity to experiment beyond the traditional side dishes of mashed potatoes and green bean casseroles, on the food-friendly holiday.

Melcombe, a longtime vegetarian from Brentwood, California, said she is frequently asked what she eats for Thanksgiving.

"I thoroughly enjoy setting the record straight -- we vegetarians do appreciate a delicious Thanksgiving meal sans the turkey," she wrote in her iReport. "Turkey has tryptophan anyhow, so the good news is that those of us who don't consume the bird can actually stay awake for dessert."

Thanksgiving is an opportunity for Melcombe, her vegetarian parents and 16-year-old brother to brainstorm an eclectic menu. Usually, they settle on a blend of the traditional -- such as squash and corn dishes, mashed potatoes and a homemade cranberry apple sauce -- and nontraditional side dishes such as sweet potato oven fries and a broccoli dish with basil, pine nut, parmesan and spinach in phyllo pastry.

"Our main dish -- that's always the topic of discussion," Melcombe said. "It's easy for people who eat meat, because they know what they're going to eat. It's fun for us every year, because it's a good time to try a new recipe."

Sometimes they buy a premade protein loaf made of lentils or a wheat protein known as seitan, or they experiment with an elaborate rice dish. But last year's cranberry and pecan wild rice pilaf didn't satisfy everybody's taste buds, so the Melcombes are back at the drawing board.

For many iReporters, Thanksgiving is all about experimenting with eclectic flavors.

Swathi Krishnam plans to celebrate the holiday by infusing spices and flavors into the food that influenced her childhood in India and Trinidad. The lifelong vegetarian plans to serve an all-vegetarian meal to her Thanksgiving guests in her Glen Allen, Virginia, home.

"Even with vegetarian dishes, there's so many varieties," said Krishnam, 27. "It's not a monotonous menu."

Her Thanksgiving menu considerations include stuffed mushrooms, chili biscuits, spicy cauliflower, banana pie and flavored soya chunks marinated in green chili.

"I've heard turkey is pretty filling," Krishnam said. "My main goal is to have the plate full of variety. Once you have variety, when people put it on their plate, you don't notice the turkey is missing. There's so many things. You give them other options."

Her favorite protein is soya chunks. Click here for her recipe. Also derived from soybeans, soya chunks lock in flavor and seasoning better than tofu, she said. Krishnam submitted several iReports featuring her favorite vegetarian recipes.