Thanksgiving: Vegan Alternatives to Turkey
On my first meatless Thanksgiving a dozen years ago, my family graciously bought my a “Tofurkey” so I wouldn’t be left out. It was the most unappetizing act of lovingkindness ever. Tofurkey back then was utterly disgusting. And while Tofurkey products have since improved enough that I will now eat them again, I still don’t think of them as the perfect vegan/vegetarian turkey replacement. So here are some better ideas!
Seitan is made from wheat gluten, so it is not suitable for the celiacs or gluten-free fanatic amongst us, but for those of us (like me) who love wheat, it’s perfect. It’s chewy and versatile and is sometimes called “wheat meat” because it so perfectly replicates the texture of meat. Plus, because it’s made from gluten, it is protein, which makes it a good meat substitute.
Seitan is in my view the perfect meatless meat. It has the right texture and it kind of takes on whatever flavor you want it to. If you’re making it yourself, mix herbs and spices in with the vital wheat gluten as you mix it to give it additional flavor. Plus, if you make it yourself, you can probably make it turkey-shaped. You could always stuff it with actual stuffing and pour some yummy vegan gravy over it if you want a traditional healthy alternative to turkey at your Thanksgiving table!
Of course there’s no reason why you have to restrict yourself. Give thanks in whatever your culture is! Cook seitan into a curry or stick some hot sauce on it and call it faux chicken wings. Or, my favorite, stick it on kebabs and bake it in the oven covered in green goddess dressing!
You thought I was going to say tofu, didn’t you? Well, I will, but it doesn’t rank as high on my list as tempeh. Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and you can generally still see the soybean shapes in the block of tempeh. Unlike tofu or seitan, tempeh has a very distinct, nutty flavor. Although it can’t be easily shaped into “turkey” form, I think the distinctive nutty flavor makes it a great vegan turkey alternative. The nutty taste complements other traditional Thanksgiving foods like cranberry, green bean casserole, and apples.
Tempeh is also a good option if you have vegan and gluten free guests at your table. It’s also considered low FODMAP and is acceptable on a high alkaline diet. For a main dish, consider glazing the tempeh with a cranberry sauce, or a maple syrup. Crumbled tempeh can also be deep fried as a crunchy high-protein topping on your green bean casserole if you have nut-free guests!
TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein)
Textured vegetable protein, or TVP for short, is made from soy flour and comes in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and textures. It can be sold as flakes or in chunks. It is relatively versatile, which makes it a good Thanksgiving meat substitute. It’s more highly processed than seitan or tempeh, but it is still vegan, high protein, and healthy.
One of the most popular forms is in the shape of “mince.” It looks like and has the texture of minced meat (I would guess beef, but it’s been a long time since I had actual minced meat!). As a Thanksgiving substitute and main course, I recommend making it into a meatloaf, and substituting the normal ketchup on top for a more festive cranberry relish!
Okay, it had to be mentioned. Tofu does tend to be the classic vegan or vegetarian meat alternative. However, the texture is often a challenge for people who aren’t accustomed to it. It’s not my favorite turkey substitute, but it can still have a place at your Thanksgiving table!
If you have guests or children who you think might object to the bland taste of tofu or its unusual texture, try preparing it differently. Drain the water from hard tofu by wrapping it in tea towels and placing a heavy plate over and under it and letting it sit for a half an hour or more. Then marinate in flavorful sauces and bake to give it a good flavor, or deep fry it to change its texture. Like tempeh, you can crumble hard tofu and deep fry it for a crunchy topping on savory dishes (if you want to do this, consider freezing the tofu first). You can also crumble it to act a bit like TVP, although it might not be as convincing a substitute.
But to my view, much better than trying to use tofu as a Thanksgiving main dish is to use it in desserts. Silken tofu can be used to create vegan versions of holiday puddings, cheesecake, and – of course – pumpkin pie!
Forget the Substitutes
Why bother with substitutes anyway? Just make an awesome vegetarian main dish. Want all-American fare? Make homemade veggie burgers with whole wheat bread rolls. Or go for a more exotic main dish such as a vegetarian moussaka.
Or scrap the idea of a main dish entirely. Many traditional Thanksgiving meals have more than one main dish anyway – like turkey, ham, and brisket. Avoid the trouble by simply making an abundance of side dishes. This gives you all the freedom you need to make whatever you want! And lots of traditional Thanksgiving dishes, such as stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, can easily be made in vegan versions.
Just because you’re not having turkey at your table doesn’t mean you can’t have a traditional Thanksgiving… and you’re giving the turkeys something to be thankful about, too.