A Thanksgiving menu for everyone

Vegan Thanksgiving
Whole roasted winter vegetables take the place of a turkey in this menu.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

I once flinched every time I heard the word “vegan,” assuming it meant less flavor and more judgey-ness. Maybe you do too. But I’m a changed woman, thanks to my kids who eat only plants to help save the planet. To give them all the Thanksgiving classics without compromising on taste, I took my years of pro culinary training, lessons from master chefs and endless research to create these dishes over months of test kitchen tinkering. Throughout the process, I had to convince myself this was a good idea. For starters, I stopped thinking of it as vegan and thought of it as just cooking plants and making them the most delicious they could be for Thanksgiving. Here’s how the rest of that conversation went in my head:

Why even bother with vegan cooking on Thanksgiving?

Because the holiday is as much about feeding family and friends as it is about food, and if even one of them doesn’t eat meat, it’s nice to offer lots of options.

But I really want turkey on the table!

Good thing Ben Mims has such an awesome new recipe for one. If you’re not going to do the bird, don’t attempt a Tofurky. That’s just weird. Better to create this cornucopia of winter vegetables, which can be as showstopping as a big bird and carved like one too.

But can a vegan Thanksgiving taste good?

Can it?! Some of the best dishes I’ve had in the last few years from superstar chefs have been vegan: Enrique Olvera’s ramen in black bean broth; Niki Nakayama’s charred baby corn; Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s beet tartare; Wes Avila’s sweet potato tacos. Obviously, it’s possible (even if other chefs haven’t caught up).


But how can those high-end dishes translate into homey Thanksgiving dishes?

It’s the philosophy that translates. Start with good produce and cook it right, balancing savory, sweet, acid, fat and heat, to make it tasty. The trick is to not think about what’s missing, but what can be gained.

Fred Rogers was anything but a glutton; his Thanksgiving shows were about hunger not just bounty, and he refused “to eat anything that had a mother.”

But don’t you have to use weird substitutes to make vegan food?

Nope. Whole ingredients work just fine. Yes, I add nutritional yeast to mimic a creamy cheesiness, and chickpea cooking liquid is whipped like egg whites to create a “marshmallow” topping, but neither has long, sketchy ingredient lists.

Are you sure this doesn’t require any weird ingredients?

Everything is easy to find in any supermarket. If you’re cooking for strict vegans, use organic sugar (regular granulated sugar is often filtered through animal bone char to make it whiter... the more you know!).

Will this feel like Thanksgiving?

Definitely. These are the classic dishes in the traditional American cannon. An easy-to-mix poultry seasoning of dried herbs and spices will make the kitchen smell just like Thanksgiving. Aromatics such as onion and garlic plus umami-rich ingredients like mushrooms add the depth of flavor that comes from meat.

What if I only need to go so far as vegetarian?

These dishes work for any diet on the meatless scale, but you can substitute butter for oil in all the savory recipes. You can make an all-butter pie crust if you’d like, and if you’re fine with meat, this duck fat crust tastes amazing in apple pie.

Do these dishes work with other meaty or dairy Thanksgiving dishes?

Of course. You can make whichever ones you want. They’ll work with any menu and taste great any other time of year too.

Will some guests be turned off by this vegan menu?

Not in taste. If they’ll balk for other reasons, don’t say a word. Perhaps they’ll react as our food team did when trying them and think these dishes taste better than the classics even before they knew for sure they were vegan. Don’t think of it as deception. Think of it as being a gracious host giving your guests the best meal of the year.

Let’s get cooking!

Start by reading this planner and get the recipes that follow.

The Menu

Slow-Roasted Winter Vegetables

Swap a whole turkey for whole vegetables as your Thanksgiving showstopper. See the full recipe » | Watch the step-by-step video on Instagram »

Purple cauliflower looks especially dramatic
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Poultry Seasoning

From-scratch poultry seasoning gives poultry-less dishes a distinct Thanksgiving taste with almost no effort. See the full recipe »

Poultry seasoning
Poultry seasoning, a dried herb blend, makes bread stuffing smell meaty even when it’s vegan.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Double Mushroom Gravy

Fresh and dried mushrooms simmered together with smoky bourbon give this gravy the depth that normally comes from meat. See the full recipe »

Vegan Thanksgiving gravy
Big chunks of mushrooms make this vegan Thanksgiving gravy extra satisfying.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Country Bread Stuffing With Lots of Celery

The classic stuffing combination of sauteed onion and celery with toasted bread gets its buttery taste here from nutritional yeast, which you can buy online or in grocery stores. See the full recipe »

Country Bread Stuffing
Stuffing baked in a pan gives you a crunchy top.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Creamy Leek and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Silky and soft, these are the ultimate comforting mashed potatoes. Caramelized leeks and nutritional yeast give these vegan spuds even more richness and complexity than butter and cream. See the full recipe » | Watch the step-by-step video on Instagram »

Creamy Leek Mashed Potatoes
A final drizzle of olive oil adds even more richness.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Smothered Green Beans with Creamed Mushrooms and Fried Onions

Just like the standard American green bean casserole, this one smothers green beans in creamed mushrooms, then tops them with crunchy fried onions. See the full recipe »

Smothered Green Beans with Creamed Mushrooms and Fried Onions
Top with the fried onions right before serving to keep them crunchy.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts With Chile-Maple Glaze

Pan-searing Brussels sprouts saves you oven space and time. The edges get nicely browned while the centers end up tender. A light glaze of maple syrup and cider vinegar give these garlicky sprouts an irresistible balance of sweet and sour. See the full recipe »

Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts With Chile-Maple Glaze
You can double the recipe and use two skillets for a bigger batch.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Smashed Sweet Potatoes With Torched Meringue

Mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows baked on top is a Thanksgiving staple that gets a vegan twist here. The result is lighter, fresher and more flavorful. See the full recipe »

Smashed Sweet Potatoes With Torched Meringue
A kitchen torch browns the top nicely.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Cast Iron Cornbread

This isn’t a great cornbread for vegans. It’s an amazing cornbread. Period. See the full recipe »

Cast-Iron Cornbread
Serve straight from the skillet or unmold before cutting into wedges.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Citrus Rosé Cranberry Jelly

Cranberry jelly molds often use gelatin, but cranberries and citrus have enough natural pectin to set into a delicate jiggle. And unlike canned jelly, this has a fresh, fruity taste. See the full recipe »

Citrus Rosé Cranberry Jelly
Garnish the dish with fresh cranberries and rosemary.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Oven-Fried Apple Pie With Spiced Shortening Crust

Fresh apple cider adds a subtle sweetness to the crust and makes it tender. See the full recipe » | Watch the step-by-step video on Instagram »

Oven-fried apple pie with spiced shortening crust
Slices are packed with apples.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)

Bourbon Pecan Pie With No-Roll Crust

This pie includes both the fat and the water of canned coconut milk to add richness without a tropical taste. See the full recipe » | Watch the step-by-step video on Instagram »

Bourbon Pecan Pie with No-Roll Crust
This is even more delicious than regular pecan pie.
(Evan Sung / For The Times)