Vegetarian Thanksgiving (except for turkey)

thanksgivingI thought last year’s Thanksgiving dinner was pretty healthy, but I wanted to one-up it by eliminating all butter, sugar and milk (including cream) from the menu this year.  I wanted to make the meal extra healthy for my friends and family, as we all hate being in food coma and spend the entire night regretting all the greasy food we consumed, which we, admittingly, do all too often. All the sweetness from this night’s dinner came from Agave nectar, a much healthier and tastier alternative to refined sugar.

Expect for ①the turkey, ②cheeses for the appetizer and ③the gelatin used for dessert, everything on the table was vegetarian. I know it sounds weird (it’s like so-called vegetarians claiming that they don’t eat meat except for bacon), but all side dishes this year had absolutely no animal products in them. Although everything was organic, natural and cooked with very little sodium (thus very light in salt), no flavors were compromised.  Instead, I though everything actually tasted more robust and very, very fresh.

What was so interesting about this year’s approach was that I didn’t have any set recipes when I got in the kitchen in the morning to begin the cooking process. I just went with whatever I felt like at that moment (any other day and all dishes would have come out completely different). Even when I went grocery shopping earlier this week to Whole Foods, I didn’t really know what I was going to make. I just walked around the store and picked out all the ingredients that looked good to me. When I picked up bunches of kale, I had no idea what I was going to do with them. The same goes for the parsnips — I had never cooked with this root vegetable until this night. I just relied on my body to tell me what I was truly craving.

I bought the organic, free-range, 10-pound turkey from Whole Foods (which we named “Mary” because it came from a company called, Mary’s Turkey).  I rubbed the rosemary / sage / thyme / garlic (lots of garlic) / salt / pepper / olive oil mixture between the skin and the flesh, as well as all over the outside of the bird.  I stuffed it with lemons and cooked it in 375 degree oven for about 4 hours.  The skin came out cripsy and the lemons in the cavity made the meat very tender, moist and flavorful.

Here are the side dishes for the night:

The appetizer plate, with olives, goat cheese drizzled with agave nectar, and manchego cheese (yes, these cheeses were not vegetarian, as you figured!). These are great to munch on when you’re waiting for all guests to arrive.  And I can never get enough of these lovely olives!


Parsnip puree with sautéed garlic and soy milk. I liked this better than traditional mashed potatoes because it was very light. Parsnips have this very distinct scent but the flavor is surprisingly mild. And soy milk made everything pluffy as well as, or better than, heavy cream. I recommend this alternative if you’re watching carb intake but still want something hearty and creamy.


Quinoa and vegetable salad. I cooked the quinoa in vegetable broth, added the diced, sauteed zucchinis and bell peppers, and dressed it up with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and lots of Italian parsley. It’s very similar to cous cous but I like the texture of quinoa better.


Very simple beets salad. I just boiled them and sprinkled sea salt on top.  Simple is best when dealing with beets.


Grilled vegetables. I first marinated onions, zucchinis and bell peppers in olive oil, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar and dill, and grilled them on a pan on a high heat. I served the dish cold.


Lentil salad with dill. I cooked the lentils in boiling water, drained, and dressed them with simple Italian dressing.


Sauteed yam with sage (left) and kale in miso sauce (right). I wanted to oven-roast the yam wedges but decided to sautee them in olive oil and let it cook in a little bit of water instead.  I didn’t add any sweetner for this but they came out sweet.  Kale with miso sauce was inspired by the salad I had at M Cafe de Chaya, but instead of dressing it with heavy peanut butter sauce, I decided to use miso.  I made the miso sauce by mixing the red miso paste with a tablespoon of agave nectar, and pour it in the pan while I stir fried the kale.


Green tea panna cotta with azuki topping. We loved this dessert that I created on the fly.  I really didn’t want to bake this year so the gelatin dessert was the ideal alternative — easy to prepare and contains no butter or any sort of fat.  It only has soy milk, green tea powder, gelatin, and a little agave nectar for sweetness.  I was afraid at first that it wouldn’t set properly because I didn’t have heavy cream or milk in it, but it came out to a perfect consistency after letting it sit in a refregirator for about six hours!


In additionl to the food, I made these place mats specially for this night using Amy Butler’s fabrics 🙂 I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving celebration with your loved ones!


7 thoughts on “Vegetarian Thanksgiving (except for turkey)

  1. Thanks Hirono for preparing ALL these wonderful dishes!
    We enjoyed it so much, this was probably the best Thanksgiving dinner to this date!
    Here’s the highlights/my favorites:
    1) TURKEY – who knew it was so good even without heavy gravy and stuffing? It was perfectly cooked and you didn’t need anything, anything at all to add to this perfect bird “Mary”.
    2) QUINOA salad – I think this was better than M-cafe. It was so light and so much better than rice, pasta, bread or any other simple carbs. I thought it was a perfect substitution this year.
    3) PARSNIP – omg… this was such a nice discovery… and i can’t believe you did so well considering it was your first time challenge. it was so much better than potatoes with loads of butter. you can taste the sweetness in every bite. A+++ on this.
    4) YAM – it was so sweet and tender. I loved it cold with the leftovers too.
    5) LENTIL – I want to make this too! I’ve never tried this and beets so I’d like any tip you can give me. I never enjoyed lentil as much as last night. They don’t usually taste all that great by itself, I’ve only had it in soup mostly, but this one stood very strong here.
    6) KALE – this is not in any order of all, as this was probably my most favorite one. again, much better than M-cafe chaya’s with loads of peanut butter. surprisingly, miso brought out sweetness and moist out of this veggie and it was cooked to perfection. aya & i couldn’t stop talking how good it was. did you stir fry it?
    7) last but not least – GREEN TEA pudding. it was so good & refreshing without guilt! it was so sweet and yummy.

    the “smaller” portion was great, and we all got to try everything and more for leftovers too. it was good even cold today. thanks to no-over the top salt and grease, we were able to taste and savor every item, and enjoyed every single bite. it was such a treat. i got to take a closer look and saw all the fine details like dill, and other herbs mixed in (saw so much more in daylight! i was like WOW! i didn’t know this was in there!) nice finishing touches with zucchini etc in quinoa salad too, as well as fresh chopped parsely in parsnip mash. i liked the hint of lemon overall.

    JOB WELL DONE! Thank you so much!!! 🙂

  2. Hi Saori,

    Thanks for your company last night! I had a wonderful time, and thank you also for brining Aya-san to the party!

    I too was surprised at how well kale came out. I think I’m doing to add it to my regular dinner lineup! I’m glad we went healthy this year. I didnt feel bloated afterward 🙂

    I can’t wait until Christimas! We’ll go healthy (but with full flavor) for that too!


  3. Thanks, Maya! Me cook for YOU? Girl, you’re an amazing chef. You must cook for ME again 🙂 That T-bone steak and the vegetables were so delicous last time I was up in Portland! And the cheesecake … mmm… heaven.

  4. Hi Passionate Eater! Thank you so much for visiting my blog! I adore your blog very much — both the pictures and your beautiful storytelling.

    Mmmm .. I think you’ll really enjoy the mashed parnips! Please let me know how it turns out. I love keeping family dinners vegetarian and light now so we have time to actually talk afterward, without all of us passing out in food coma 🙂

    Happy holidays!


  5. Pingback: Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta: Ellie Krieger « Time for Dinner

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