Tofurky no! 3 veggie vittles for your day of thanks

Pass the shepard's pie with chard-lentil filling and onion gravy, willya?

Hello vegetarians. I'm checking in for quick sec – are we braving the snarky Tofurky asides and dietary litigation with the extended fam well this year? I hopes. 

The holidays can be a trickily-navigated time for the meatless maverick – but they also present a sweet opportunity to show your loved ones that this whole rejection of the agro-business line can be both heart and belly-warming. Call it culinary evangelism if you must. Read on for some gems from the newest crop of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks that'll have everyone at the table giving thanks.


Cranberry–cashew biryani 

From Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite For Reduction (Da Capo, 336 pages, $19.95)

Moskowitz is royalty in the vegan punk cupcake world, and her knack for the realm of savory snacks seems to have hit a nerve with her last popular release, Veganomicon. Appetite For Reduction (set for release Dec. 7) follows the same straight-forward format, this time focusing on vegan foods that are exceptionally good for the old waist line for all you double-time health nuts. This Indian-inflected rice dish will be the perfect substantial side to impress on your parents that you've learned to cook, suddenly, somehow. Throwing your own pilgrim party? Moskowitz's excellent food blog, Post Punk Kitchen has a mega-recipe for vegan Thanksgiving in an hour. AN HOUR. Rock. For the purpose of this biriyani, by the way, cashew pieces equals roughly chopped nuts. 

Serves 4 

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup small-diced carrots

1 cup brown jasmine or basmati rice

1 teaspoon garam masala

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon salt

2-1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup roasted cashew pieces

1/2 cup frozen peas

chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

Preheat a 2-quart pot over medium heat. Pour the oil into the pot and mix in the cumin and mustard seeds. Cover the pot and let the seeds pop for about a minute, or until the popping slows down, mixing once. If the seeds don’t pop, turn up the heat a bit until they do.

Add the garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add the carrots, rice, garam masala, turmeric, red pepper flakes, and salt, and stir constantly for about a minute. Add the water and tomato paste. Cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat as low as it will go and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes the water should be mostly absorbed. Stir in the cranberries, cashews, and peas. Cook for another 15 minutes or so, until the water is completely absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve topped with the cilantro, if using.


Shepard's pie with chard-lentil filling and onion gravy

From Kim O'Donnel's The Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook (Da Capo, 264 pages, $16.95)

A pie plate of power – even if the stuffing's got pork and the carrots came into an unholy alliance with chicken stock, this shepard's pie will be at the ready to guide you into fields of fullness at your family's table. O'Donnel, a one-time writer for the Washington Post, has put together a satisfying bunch of recipes in this book, which empowers the reader to make cruelty-free concotions that mimic even the most traditional of comfort foods. The recipe bellow has got a lot going on, stove-top acreage requirement wise – O'Donnel recommends starting the lentils first, then working on the gravy while they simmer.

Serves 6

Wine-braised lentils

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup onion, diced

1/4 cup carrot, peeled and diced

1 sprig fresh thyme, or

1/2 teaspoon dried

1/2 cup dried brown or green lentils, rinsed (the smaller French lentilles du Puy, with a more refined texture, are my preference, but they’re not always available. Use what you can find in your local market.)

2 tablespoons red wine you enjoy drinking

3/4 to 1 cup water

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion, carrot, and thyme. Cook for about 5 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the lentils and stir to coat. Add the red wine (if using) and bring to a lively simmer. The wine will reduce a bit. Add 3/4 cup of thewater, return to a lively simmer, then lower the heat, cover and cook until fork tender, about 40 minutes. Check and add a little extra water if need be, to keep the lentils from drying out completely. Stir in ¼ teaspoon of the salt, taste, and add the remaining salt, if needed.

Makes 11/2 cups. If you love these lentils, amounts may be doubled for a big pot that will keep for days and pair up seamlessly with your favorite grain.


Onion gravy

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups onions, sliced thinly into half-moons

1 or 2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

2 cups water

1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

In a deep skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onions and thyme. With tongs, toss to coat the onions with the butter and cook over medium-low heat, until softened, reduced, and jamlike, about 25 minutes.

Add the balsamic vinegar, stir, and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the water and bring to a lively simmer. Reduce by half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and cook for an additional 5 minutes; the gravy will continue to reduce. Stir in the salt and sugar, and taste. Finish off with the soy sauce.

Turn off the heat, cover, and gently reheat at a simmer, just before serving with pie.

Makes approximately 11/2 cups


Shepard's pie

1 cup wine-braised lentils

11/2 cups onion gravy 

2 pounds medium-size potatoes

(4 to 5 potatoes; my favorites are Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn), washed, trimmed/peeled as needed, and cut into quarters

2 teaspoons salt

3 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole

5 tablespoons olive oil

Ground black pepper

3 to 4 cups chard (from 1 bunch), washed, stemmed, and chopped finely into “ribbons”

1 clove garlic, chopped roughly

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Grease a 9-inch pie plate.

Fill a medium-size saucepan with 4 cups of water, and add the potatoes and salt. The water should just barely cover the potatoes. This is important.

Cover and bring to a boil. Add the whole garlic. Return the lid and cook until fork tender, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer the potatoes and garlic to a large mixing bowl and mash with a hand masher. Stir in the reserved cooking liquid as necessary to moisten the potatoes. Add 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and stir in vigorously with a wooden spoon. Taste for salt, pepper, and texture and season and stir accordingly; mashed potatoes should be smooth and well seasoned.

In a large skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and cook the chard with the chopped garlic, until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes, regularly tossing with tongs to cook evenly. Stir in the nutmeg and season with more salt to taste, if needed. Transfer to a medium-size bowl.

Portion out 1 cup of the lentils (the rest is cook’s treat) and stir into the chard until well combined.

Assemble the pie: Transfer the chard mixture to the greased pie plate. Top with the mashed potatoes, and with a rubber spatula,

smooth the mash so that it’s evenly distributed and completely covers the surface. Top off with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Place the dish in the oven and heat through, 20 to 25 minutes. During the final 2 minutes of cooking, set the oven to the broil setting to brown the cheesy-mashed top.

Remove from the oven, slice into wedges, and eat hot with a ladleful of onion gravy.



Butternut squash and vanilla bean risotto

From Jenn Shagrin's Veganize This! (Da Capo, 256 pages, $19)

True to its name, Veganize This! takes on the challenge of de-meatifying things that you never knew could be made animal-free (sea bass and beef ragu, anyone?) Sadly, this means it relies a lot on processed meat substitutes, but the end result of all the Mimicreme and soy products does tend to be delicious. The book includes an entire chapter on surviving the holidays, veganism intact -- from whence sprang this recipe. Originally seen on Giada De Laurentiis' Italian cooking show, this risotto is raring to go for Turkey Day. You gotta check out the book's Jewish treats, too: vegan matzo ball soup and kugel! 

Serves 6

4 cups vegan vegetable broth

1 large vanilla bean

12 ounces butternut squash, peeled and cubed

3 tablespoons vegan margarine

3⁄4 cup onion, chopped finely

11⁄2 cups arborio rice

1⁄2 cup dry white wine

1⁄2 cup nut cheese (any flavor), grated finely, or 1⁄4 cup vegan parmesan blend plus 1⁄4 cup vegan mozzarella, grated finely

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Cracked white peppercorns

2 tablespoons chives, chopped finely (for garnish)

Warm the vegetable broth in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add, along with the empty bean pod, to the broth.

Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat to low. Add the squash to the simmering broth, and cook until desired tenderness, about 10 minutes. Remove the squash with a slotted spoon and set aside. Lower the heat to low and cover the pot.

While the broth is covered and simmering, take a large, heavy saucepan and melt 2 tablespoons of the margarine over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir well with the margarine.

Add the wine and simmer until it has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1⁄2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1⁄2 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Allow each addition of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total.

Discard the vanilla bean pod. Turn off the heat. Gently stir in the butternut squash, cheese, the remaining tablespoon of margarine, and the salt.

Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives. Serve!