Eat Well: Countdown to Thanksgiving = Squash + Potatoes + a Dilemma

The following post was written by my mom, WWW. Thanks as always for your recipes and insight, mom. xoxox
I haven’t been a vegetarian long enough to really deal with the problem of what to do for Thanksgiving. Last year, I made a turkey anyway…searching the entire county for a Tom that at least had a relatively happy life while he was on this earth. I agonized over this decision and decided that my Thanksgiving memories are entirely wrapped around the traditional turkey dinner and I couldn’t imagine not having a turkey on the table for the holiday—even if I didn’t eat any of it. When I was little, one of my joys was waking up early on Thanksgiving to help my mother with the turkey. Thanksgiving and the smell of turkey roasting in the oven are synonymous in my brain. And as an adult, I have prided myself in duplicating my mother’s recipe for moist turkey breast and mouth-watering gravy, made the French way from a roux. Our grandmother’s stuffing recipe, made from corn flakes, is so ingrained in my head from 50 plus years of cooking it that I don’t even have a hard copy of it.

Note to self—write it down, soon, in case something happens to me. I would hate a family favorite to die with me!

This year, my goal is to do Thanksgiving without turkey and I am concerned, not only because of the absence of turkey smell in the house, but because most of the family members coming to dinner are meat eaters. I am actually a little stressed over this and not sure if I should warn everyone ahead of time, ask someone else to bring the turkey for those who want it, or just surprise everyone on the day and see what happens. I feel confident that I can cook an amazing meatless meal on a normal day but Thanksgiving is different. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday BECAUSE of the traditional foods and aromas.

For the next four weeks, I am going to share with you my Thanksgiving menu as it evolves—both new recipes and old. The trick to this menu will be to have lots of flavorful foods that smell good as they cook. I am starting with an incredibly delicious squash soup. This is a fairly new recipe from an amazing cookbook called “Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho La Puerta.” I made it for Rebecca and her family last winter and Rebecca said it was the best soup she has ever had. Archer even loved it! It feels and tastes like fall and has a pungent flavor.

Squash-Apple Soup with Thai Red Curry
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (about 4 cups)
"peel first before you split. Use a really sharp peeler since the skin is tough."

1 apple, cored, peeled and diced
2 leeks, white part only, washed and sliced
"split leeks and clean in water, spreading the leaves apart as you clean to get out all the sand"
1 small carrot, peeled and sliced
½ stalk celery, finely chopped
1 T chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
4 cups basic vegetable stock (homemade or boxed)
2 cups water
1 T brown sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste
thinly sliced chives
Thin strips of orange zest

• In a 4-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the squash, apple, leeks, carrot, celery, and basil and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened; do not brown.
Add the curry paste and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute.
Add the stock, water, brown sugar, and salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.
• Cool for 30 minutes, then, with an immersion blender or in a blender or food processor, puree until absolutely smooth.

• Reheat and taste for seasoning, adding salt if needed. Serve very hot, with a sprinkling of chives and orange zest, if desired.
You can serve this soup in Squash bowls. (ED: Choose small acorn squash or pumpkins, no more than 6 inches in diameter. Scrub the squash in cold water. Cut off the top quarter of the squash, saving it to use as a lid, and a small slice from the bottom, so the squash sits flat without wobbling. Scoop out the insides to create a cavity large enough to hold 8 ounces of soup. Brush inside and out with oil and bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F, until shiny and lightly browned but still very firm. Use within 24 hours.)

Here is one of my TRADITIONAL recipes. I have made these amazing sweet potatoes for 30 years, ever since Larry’s aunt brought them to our house in New Jersey when I was pregnant with Rebecca.

Aunt Fay’s Pecan Topped Sweet Potatoes
3 lbs sweet potatoes
2 eggs
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter (melted)
salt to taste
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
½ t nutmeg
½ cup orange juice
1 cup chopped pecans

• Cut sweet potatoes in thirds and boil until tender. Drain water and cool potatoes, enough so you can peel them (the peel will slip off). Mash well.
• Add ¼ cup of the brown sugar, orange juice and seasonings.
• Beat eggs and add to potatoes
• Put into a 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and the rest of the sugar. Pour butter over the top. Cook for 30 minutes at 375, uncovered.
I do steps 1 and 2 the day before. Then on Thanksgiving, I add the eggs and finish with step 4. I always double the recipe. You will have to cook them a little longer if the potatoes are cold.
I would love to get feedback from the vegetarian readers amongst you on how YOU handle this holiday (please don’t tell me about tofurkey. I am not a huge fan of meat substitutes). And I will let you know if at the end of it all, I give in and cook a turkey. It may be that the only way for me to handle this holiday is to make it the ONE day a year that I actually cook meat. After all, being a vegetarian is, as Michael Pollen so wisely stated, an omnivore’s dilemma.



Anonymous | 4:19 PM

The soup sounds delicious and I plan to try it. Can I do without the basil since it's not growing fresh here in Western PA anymore?

Emily | 4:28 PM

That soup looks incredibly delicious!
I have been a vegetarian for a few years, off and on, and as a teen as well. My partner has been vegetarian for most of his life. We have yet to host Thanksgiving ourselves but make a good meal out of the side dishes at our parent's houses. Most of Thanksgiving tradition for me is about the cranberries, potatoes and other veggie sides anyway. I'm not a huge fan of meat substitutes either. Follow your heart, but I'm guessing your cooking is good enough that the family won't object to a lack of turkey!

LindaB | 4:35 PM

Oh thank you for the soup recipe and in advance for your future recipe posts!! My Dad is vegetarian and both Mom and I are vegan. I just began the vegan diet this year and since I host Thanksgiving, I am looking for lots of yummy veg recipes to fool and delight everyone! I can substitute the eggs and butter in the sweet potatoes recipe - excited to try it out.


You guys. This soup is seriously life changing. It's AMAZING. And kimfox - I'm sure my mom will be able to answer your question later this eve. Standby!

Amy | 5:23 PM

I have a stuffed butternut squash recipe that has become my "turkey" for the holiday. And vegetarian gravy.

avb | 5:30 PM


I grew up macrobiotic, so every Thanksgiving was meat-free for me till age 11. We tried the tofurkey one year, but no one ate it. Honestly, no one ever really missed not having a turkey because of all the other wonderful food (and people!) My parents did, however, tell people in advance so those who wanted turkey brought their own.

Though I enjoy seeing and smelling a turkey on Thanksgiving, I don't eat it (never became much of a meat eater). In the end, it wasn't a big loss.

Jennifer | 5:34 PM

My parents still host the Thanksgiving festivities, but with 3 vegetarian children with families of their own now, there's little need for the whole, huge bird taking center stage. My parents still like turkey, so they compromise by making just a roasted breast, and then we kids take over making the sides. We have done Tofurkey in the past because my brother is into the whole faux-meat thing. But what my sister and I prefer is just making a yummy tofu dish (I have a great rosemary-lemon tofu recipe if you're interested), and/or a fancy veg dish that can act as a centerpiece to the dinner plate. We've made stuffed portobello mushrooms (stuffed with broccoli, cheese, etc), and we've also done different veg "loafs" like the tofu/walnut/mushroom recipe from Ken Charney's "The Bold Vegetarian Chef". I know there are diehard turkey fans, but I think most of us are all about the sides, anyway. And with the two recipes you've already shared, I think your holiday is going to kick some major culinary butt. Or thigh. Or drumstick. :)

MAV | 6:51 PM

aw, let the meat-eaters have their turkey. just let someone else bring it. we attended thanksgiving dinner for years at a vegetarian home and always brought the turkey. the vegetarians were happy they didn't have to deal with a moral dilemma and the omnivores were happy they still had the quintessential thanksgiving fare. we'll be spending this thanksgiving in tokyo and i'm already on the hunt for an expat dinner w/turkey and all the trimmings.

Anonymous | 6:52 PM

that looks super duper fabulous. BUT. you need to warn people. for reals.

Wendy Woolf | 7:40 PM don't have to use the basil. I actually used some frozen chopped basil that I still had from my summer garden but the soup will definitely still taste wonderful sans basil.

kate m | 7:58 PM

do without the turkey! there are so many other good smells. i never miss it myself. excited to try this soup... sounds awesome. as do the sweet potatoes. i like one poster's portabello mushroom idea... we like to stuff them with goat cheese and top with caramelized onion, garlic, and arugula. it has a meaty sort of taste. my favorite thanksgiving food is colcannon -- mashed potatoes and cabbage. incredibly delicious.

Anonymous | 8:16 PM

Soup does, indeed, sound amazing. I look forward to making it, curry is one of those things that I crave at certain times of the month.

We're going on our 9th Thanksgiving as vegetarians, and honestly, it's all about the side dishes. I've hosted once or twice in that time, and let someone else cart in the carcass (and cart it out with them - I don't like it in the house/garbage bin) or we've just gone without. Turns out many of our memories are tied to the side dishes more than the main (case in point: the damn sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top that my mom always had to make for my grandma and had to pass around and around the table with nobody but gram taking any from the dish. Ah, good times. Now I actually eat sweet potatoes! Maybe it's time to resurrect this particular tradition!)

I cook for my entire extended family pretty often and I just simply don't prepare meat. If someone wants meat at a meal I'm making, they bring it or prepare it themselves (I try to encourage them NOT to prepare it at my house, I don't like the mess and the worry about cross-contamination of surfaces and knives and the like.)

My feeling is that if you make a lot of yummy side dishes, the turkey won't be missed (though I agree, just to protect yourself you should warn people. It used to suck when my dad would come over and more or less ask "where's the beef?" I think I've successfully convinced him now over the years with many meatless meals that he can be satisfied and enjoy the meal without the meat, but it's taken some time and some expectation-setting.)

I do make regular stouffer's stuffing (thankfully in my family it was never a tradition to actually stuff the bird, we always did stuffing on the stovetop, so this is easy to co-opt into veg-friendly fare.) I also make vegetarian gravy, using butter, flour, veg broth (homemade is SOOOO easy to make) and occasionally a little milk. That way we can drench our favorite things in gravy and still feel like it's thanksgiving!

Good luck to you - it's different, but easy enough I've found.

Megan | 8:23 PM

Last year my vegan friends came over and we made "turkey" out of stuffing and oil-based pastry crust, just for fun. It tasted eh, but only because we didn't use a very good stuffing recipe.

here is a better shot of the turkey.

Angela | 8:25 PM

I don't think there's anything wrong with opting out of the turkey and am sure you will host an amazing dinner, BUT I would warn your guests. Some may not be willing to forgo that tradition. If that's the case they should have the opportunity to bring their own or make other plans.

Anonymous | 8:38 PM

WWW, why don't you like meat substitutes? I tried it for the first time yesterday and while it definitely did not taste like the real thing, it was kind of good in its own way.

Caitlin | 9:30 PM

Hmmm... I've been a vegetarian since high school, and my mom would help making Thanksgiving veggie friendly by offering a mushroom gravy in addition to the turkey gravy. She also did the stuffing veggie friendly. Of course, there was turkey, but with those 2 alterations, I still had a full plate!

Cave Momma | 9:36 PM

My FIL is vegan and they always do a tofurkey which is just terrible. I am a meat eater though I have never liked Turkey and a lot of other "traditional" Thanksgiving foods. So over the years my mom (a fabulous chef) has changed it up and, along with a few traditional Thanksgiving items, has added in all sorts of different things as well. I say leave the Turkey alone (if someone wants it THAT bad, they can bring it) and stick with lots of other yummy things. I bet nobody will even care in the end.

Wendy Woolf | 9:40 PM problem with meat substitutes is that they are highly processed and my vegetarian philosophy really is about letting the vegetables shine on their own and not trying to duplicate meat.

Thanks for all of your comments and ideas. I will be discussing this topic more next week!

Mymsie | 10:21 PM

The New York Times just posted a great list of vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes.

Mymsie | 10:22 PM

Oops, wrong link. This is the right one:

Evie | 7:59 AM

I agree with the philosophy of vegetarianism of avoiding processed meat-approximates, however, Thanksgiving feels different. I have to recommend a product: the brand Quorn does a
"turk'y roast" (gluten-free!). It tastes delicious, and when sliced, doesn't look pale and sad like many fake-meats can.

We tuck a sprig of rosemary between the plastic wrap and the roast when it's cooking.

Maybe when my partner (also vegetarian) and I have our own family or host the event, we'll skip the fake-meat. When we gather at my parents' house though, it's fun to have our own turk'y.

Susan | 8:16 AM

I made this recipe the other night; delish. It would make an elegant Thanksgiving dinner main course. Quinoa-stuffed acorn squash with figs, goat cheese, walnuts.

Anonymous | 8:34 AM

I would still definitely make sure there is a turkey/meat option..

I don't eat really any vegetables besides corn, beans and potatoes (tomatoes if its ketchup or salsa lol) and I would be devastated if I showed up on Thanksgiving to no turkey. Nothing to do with how good your cooking may be, veggies can be cooked in the most delicious way I'm sure, but I still won't eat them...

Megan Stuke | 9:18 AM

I was vegeterian for years and I understand your impulse to avoid the turkey altogether.

However, I don't think it's the best approach. I think for many people, yourself, admittedly, included, Thanksgiving is *about* the turkey (and the thanks). If you were having guests over any other old day of the year, I'd say let them enjoy your brand of cooking on your terms. But Thanksgiving isn't so much about the hostess as it is the holiday itself, so I'd say just let someone else bring the bird, and kindly ask them to get a free-range one if that will help you rest easier.

Maude | 9:35 AM

I've been a vegetarian for almost 25 years now and have prepared a turkey for the non-vegetarians (who always outnumber me) every time I've hosted Thanksgiving. There have always been so many delicious side dishes that I never felt the need to prepare a turkey replacement for myself. At Christmas time, however, my mother or I will make a lentil nut loaf from Laurel's Kitchen and serve it with a home made vegetarian gravy (I make a roux and use a bay leaf and some herbs and a combination of soy sauce and Marmite to replace the salty brown meat juice). I also make a vegetarian stuffing and vegetarian gravy for thanksgiving because, those, I would miss.

Kerry | 9:43 AM

Whatever you do, Don't. Eat. Tofurkey! My parents are vegan and my mom cooks one for special occasions. It chews and tastes like bike tire. I'm thinking I should forward her the soup recipe though...

jennx | 10:21 AM

My husband has been a vegetarian for 10 of the 12 years we've been together. My go-to Thanksgiving main course is a lentil loaf with miso gravy. We have a rotating potluck T-Day dinner and there are never any leftovers even with my husband being the only veg in attendance.

That said even as the vegetarian cook in the house I'd be horribly disappointed if I went to a Thanksgiving dinner and there was no Turkey and no warning in advance.
I vote for having someone else prepare and bring the bird or at the very least a heads up to the guests.

SAF4kids | 10:22 AM

I love butternut squash, and can't WAIT to try this recipe!

If no one has given you this hint before, try microwaving the squash for about 5 minutes before peeling -- makes it MUCH easier!

team stephens | 5:52 PM

just happened to see this on a foodie blog i read & thought of WWW's turkey dilemma... :)

Kim | 5:59 PM

My husband went vegetarian two years ago. The two things that prevent me from doing so are Thanksgiving turkey and chicken tikka masala.Iwould love something that could take it's place. Tofurky just doesn't cut it.

Our family recipe for stuffing includes cups of Grand Marnier. Now that I have a daughter eating it, I need a new one. I am yet to find something amazing. So if you want to share your cornflake one, I would not discourage you. Because the few things I've made from your posts were quite delicious.

Wendy Woolf | 8:19 PM

Hahah! Love the paper turkey, team Stephens! And kdk...I will share my stuffing recipe in a couple of weeks!

Leah | 7:07 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leah | 7:10 AM

This post has inspired me to cook this morning! The soup is simmering on the stove and my house smells AMAZING! I have been a semi-vegetarian for 15 years (I eat birds and fish occasionally) and I am considering a non turkey Thanksgiving this year for my family. Please keep posting yummy smelling and tasting recipes! I can't wait to taste this soup!
p.s. love your entire site!

natasha | 7:25 AM

peta cashew nut roast = vegetarian thanksgiving HEAVEN

OneRadMother | 12:29 PM

I just tried an amazing recipe for a gouda + brussel sprouts casserole. I slip tofu into nearly everything with veggies - it seems to beef it up and make you feel full without the meet (sorry for the pun).

Alison | 4:07 PM

Something to add to your collection - this is the best cranberry sauce ever, a woman who shops at the kitchen supply store where I used to work gave it to me 6 years ago and I'm still making it every year. It's very simple, but the ginger is so tasty.

Cranberry Sauce:
1.5 cups sugar
1 navel orange (or 2)
.5 tsp fresh grated ginger (don't use the canned stuff, it's easier but it has no flavor)
4 cups fresh cranberries
.5 cups toasted pecans (optional, I usually don't include them because of nut allergy people)

Grate the ginger and one orange peel, put in a pot with the sugar. Add the juice from the orange (or 2) and simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cranberries and cook until they all pop - about 5 minutes. Let them cool and then you can add the pecans. (It's good without the pecans, too.)

Good luck, looking forward to more recipes! :) | 5:08 PM

i am just like withoutsanity, i am a very picky eater and even get upset when there are almonds in the stuffing because that is one less thing for me to eat! i'm not saying you have to cater to your pickiest eater but not having a turkey at thanksgiving(especially without a warning) would not only upset me but also turn me off to vegetarian/veganism. i'd show up, mouth watering, end up eating only corn and be resentful for the rest of my life(or for at least a half hour). with a warning i'd be prepared, not be angry for feeling tricked and at least have the option to be able to eat before I came over.

Wendy Woolf | 7:06 PM

Alison...I love the cranberry recipe! I make orange cranberries but haven't tried with ginger. I'll have to try it!

Leah | 3:52 PM

Best Butternut Soup Ever!

Nadia Carriere | 7:26 PM

I was raised Vegetarian, ate meat for 5 years after meeting my husband and then went back to veg 4 years ago, so Vegetarian Thanksgivings are the norm around here. ;)

Our menu looks something like this:

Caesars Salad (amazing recipe, completely vegan and tastes so much like the real thing!)
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry sauce
Roasted squash
Brussels Sprouts


Pumpkin or Apple pie

Look forward to watching as your menu unfolds ;).

Stella :D | 6:36 PM

WWW - Your photos of the butternut soup have had me drooling since last week. I made it this afternoon and you're right - it could be the best soup ever made! So many amazing flavors blending together. Thanks so much for the recipe. AND, I find your photo tutorials incredibly helpful, so thanks for taking that extra step. For instance, I have never cooked w/ leeks before, so I appreciated your photo of how to wash them. ;)

Katie | 2:38 PM

I'm making this soup for our family tonight. It smells amazing and tastes great. It is a bit spicy for the younger palates in our house, though. I'm going to cook a turnip and a potato and will puree them into the soup to try and soften the heat a bit. Those who don't like a lot of spice may want to start with less chile paste!

LC | 7:20 PM

Aunt Fay, wherever you are, the sweet potato recipe is DIVINE. Thanks WWW via Rebecca for posting it. Huge hit at the Thanksgiving table here in Seattle this year!

janet @ the taste space | 5:07 PM

I look forward to seeing how your menu evolves.. my Thanksgiving is this weekend and my contribution will (hopefully) be a sweet potato, black bean and millet casserole. Now sure how the meat eaters will look upon it, but at least there will be something at the table for me to eat. :)