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The Tofu Turkey Solution

Vegetarians coming for Thanksgiving dinner? — no worries

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When she was 10 years old, Natalie Exner took one look at her family’s Easter ham and promptly informed her mother she was a vegetarian. “I had just watched the movie Babe,” she says. “And I haven’t touched meat since.”

Next week, when Exner (CAS’09) arrives at her family home in Reading, Mass., there will be a huge turkey on the dining room table, but she won’t be eating any of it. Exner isn’t worried; her family’s holiday spreads always include an abundance of meatless side dishes. “We typically have 15 or more people for dinner,” she says. “And everyone brings a different side, so I never go hungry.”

Meat-eaters who are hosting vegetarian guests needn’t worry, either, but they should do some research, and perhaps some extra work, says Kim Hannon, BU Dining Services executive chef, residential dining. “Offer plenty of breads, beverages, fresh fruits, and nongelatin desserts,” she says. “Also, thoroughly read the ingredients of all prepackaged foods, and beware of gelatin, whey, sodium caseinate, and ‘natural flavors,’ which can be animal-derived.”

Most traditional Thanksgiving side dishes can be prepared to accommodate vegetarians — and even vegans — by making a few minor changes. Mashed potatoes, vegetable casseroles, and stuffing all make for savory vegetarian alternatives, as does Exner’s favorite dish: green bean casserole.

“Use vegetable oils instead of animal fats for frying and vegetable shortening, such as Crisco, for pie crust,” Hannon says. “Substitutions like vegetable broth, soy margarine, and soy milk are great for vegans. Just remember to keep your cooking utensils separate to prevent cross-contamination between meat and vegetarian foods.”

Still, it’s nice to have a meatless main dish, particularly if several guests don’t eat meat. Vegetable lasagna, butternut squash stuffed with wild rice, or a hearty vegetarian stew are tasty options. And for purists, there’s always tofu turkey with vegan gravy.

More adventurous chefs can make their own tofu turkey (see recipe below). A simpler alternative, for those with less time or inclination, is buying a Tofurky Roast.

If your Thanksgiving gathering includes one or more vegetarian guests, you may want to consider some of the recipes below.

Tofu Turkey with Vegetarian Stuffing (can be vegan)

Ingredients
5 (16 ounce) packages extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 sweet onion, finely diced
1 cup chopped green apple
1/2 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 cup dried sage
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 cup vegetable broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
3 cups prepared herb stuffing or stale cubed bread
1/2 cup sesame oil
1/4 cup tamari
2 tablespoons miso paste
5 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon honey mustard
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Directions
1. Mash the tofu and line a medium-size round colander with a cheesecloth or a clean dish towel. Place the crumbled tofu in the colander. Place another cheesecloth over the top of the tofu. Place the colander over a bowl to catch the liquid. Place a heavy weight on top of the tofu. Refrigerate two to three hours.
2. Make the stuffing: in a large frying pan, sauté the onion and apples in 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter. Add the garlic, sage, thyme, salt and pepper, rosemary, and the vegetable broth. Stir well; cook for 5 minutes. Add the prepared herb stuffing or bread cubes and the pine nuts and mix well. Remove from heat.
3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.
4. Combine 1/2 cup sesame oil, 1/4 cup tamari, miso, orange juice, mustard, and orange zest in a small bowl; mix well.
5. Remove the weight from the tofu. Hollow out the tofu so that there is one inch of tofu still lining the colander. Place the scooped-out tofu in a separate bowl. Brush the tofu lining with a small amount of the miso seasoning. Scoop the stuffing into the center of the tofu shell. Place the leftover tofu on top of the stuffing and press down firmly. Turn the stuffed tofu onto the prepared cookie sheet. Put the leftover tofu side (the flat side) down, and gently press on the sides to form an oval shape. Brush with 1/2 of the oil-tamari mixture. Place the sprigs of rosemary on top of the tofu. Cover with foil.
6. Bake for one hour, then remove the foil and baste with the remaining tamari-oil sauce (reserving 4 tablespoons of sauce). Bake another hour or until the turkey is golden brown. Place on a serving platter, brush with the remaining tamari-oil mixture, and serve hot.

Serves 10.

Vegetarian Gravy (vegan)

Ingredients
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup chopped sweet onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions
1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, nutritional yeast, and soy sauce to form a smooth paste. Gradually whisk in the broth. Season with sage, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Serves 10.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes (not vegan)

Ingredients
2 1/2 pounds unpeeled red potatoes, quartered
6 ounces butter, room temperature
2 1/2 ounces Romano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons and 1 1/4 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (optional)
1 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano

Directions
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 35 to 40 minutes. During the last 10 minutes, add garlic to the water; drain. Stir in butter, cheese, garlic, salt, and oregano. Mash with a potato masher or an electric mixer.

Serves 5.

Pumpkin Corn Pudding (not vegan)

Ingredients
1 cooking pumpkin, about 8 to 9 inches in diameter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 cup cornmeal
4 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed, divided
4 cups milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup finely sliced scallions
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cut off the top of the pumpkin. Scrape out the seeds and coarse fibers. Season the cavity with salt and pepper.
3. Place the pumpkin, cut-side down, in a baking dish. Bake until tender, but still firm enough to be filled, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
4. In a dry, medium saucepan over medium-high heat, toast the cornmeal, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
5. In a food processor, puree 2 cups of the corn. In a medium bowl, mix it with the remaining corn and set aside.
6. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the milk until steaming. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the cornmeal. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened, about 5 minutes.
7. Stir in the reserved corn mixture, then stir in the eggs, scallions, thyme, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
8. Flip the pumpkin cut-side up and return it to the baking dish. Spoon the filling into the pumpkin. Bake the filled pumpkin for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the filling is puffed and browned on top.

Serves 8.

Sautéed Asparagus and Watercress with Garlic (vegan)

Ingredients
1 1/2 pounds asparagus spears
6 bunches watercress (course stems removed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 large cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1. In a large heavy skillet, sauté the garlic in the oil over moderately high heat for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the watercress and asparagus and stir the mixture until it is combined well. Sauté the watercress and asparagus, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes over medium to high heat, or until the watercress is wilted and the asparagus is tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 8.

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Vote here.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.