Low-harm vegan dinner something to be thankful for

The following is a recipe for wild rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries, and pecans. Courtesy of: whatwouldcathyeat.com
The following is a recipe for wild rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries, and pecans. Courtesy of: whatwouldcathyeat.com
The following is a recipe for wild rice pilaf with butternut squash, cranberries, and pecans. Courtesy of: whatwouldcathyeat.com

The Thanksgivings of my early childhood probably recall those of most other Americans families: uncles making awkward and subtly offensive jokes; a football game playing on the television in the background; a separate table for all of the rambunctious children; dishes that reappeared on the menu every year despite the fact that no one truly enjoyed for their high culinary quality.

The soggy stuffing, saccharine cranberry sauce, and oh-so dry turkey slices left much to be desired from this supposed celebration of the harvest, not to mention a slight feeling of nausea from all of the heavy dishes consumed.

Not until I grew older and took Thanksgiving matters into my own hands did the holiday transform from a dreaded family gathering into a mouthwatering feast that we felt truly thankful for. By confronting the deeply racist, genocidal and fundamentally colonialist roots of the  holiday and leaving the turkey off of the table in favor of a vegan meal, my immediate family and I began celebrating an all-around compassionate—not to mention simply scrumptious and quite nutritious—Thanksgiving.

Creating a bountiful vegan Thanksgiving proves easier than one who is accustomed to heavy, meaty Thanksgiving meals might expect. Indeed, think of all of the dishes on a traditional holiday table that highlight the autumnal vegetables that we all know and love: sweet potato casserole made with soy milk and vegan butter, sautéed green beans, roasted squash and brussels sprouts, pumpkin pie…the list goes on.

Centering a Thanksgiving meal around seasonal plant-based foods will ensure an animal-friendly and healthy celebratory autumn meal for the whole family.

Following are a couple specific suggestions as to what one might serve at a vegan Thanksgiving dinner. To start, enjoy a steaming bowl of silky-smooth butternut squash soup topped with a dollop of cashew cream—don’t forget to dip your garlic bread in it!

To follow up that warming, creamy dish with something crisp and light, serve a salad of mesclun, pomegranates and toasted almonds tossed in a cranberry vinaigrette. For the main course, carve up a walnut-lentil loaf or a seitan roulade stuffed with wild rice—these protein rich, soul-satisfying dishes will make you wonder why you ever settled for lackluster, bone-dry turkey. Of course, you’ll need a bevy of vegetable-based side dishes to bolster the meal.

My favorites include mashed cauliflower with mushroom gravy, maple-glazed roasted root vegetables, and a whole-grain pilaf such as the recipe listed below.

To finish off this delectable celebration, don’t miss out on the tantalizing array of fall-inspired sweet treats that the realm of vegan baking has to offer. Don’t be fooled. Vegan baking doesn’t mean compromising on flavor. Revel in cranberry-apple crisp, sticky caramel pecan pie and the ubiquitous pumpkin pie—and, really, what kind of Thanksgiving would omit this staple dessert?

Introducing these dishes into your annual banquet are certain to leave you satisfied–and without the feeling of heaviness that so often accompanies traditional Thanksgiving fare.

With the popularity of vegan eating on the rise—indeed, Forbes magazine just named vegan dining as the top food trend of 2013—we can expect to see many more families embracing the vegetables that truly reflect the harvest season and replacing the turkey with plant-based proteins.

Doing the latter will not only benefit taste buds, but also consumer health, seeing as a recent FDA survey found that nine out of ten retail turkey samples were contaminated with fecal bacteria. Celebrating a vegan Thanksgiving is certainly a healthy, compassionate, and delicious choice.

As mentioned above, this pilaf serves as a hearty, bright addition to any Thanksgiving meal. The chewy wild rice, crunchy pecans, succulent butternut squash, and tangy cranberries combine to create a masterful dish full of contrasting flavors and textures.

 The Recipe
Wild Rice Pilaf with Butternut Squash, Cranberries, and Pecans
1 medium-sized butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes
2 cups wild rice, rinsed
6 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
3 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
6 tbsp olive oil, divided
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Place the wild rice and stock in a medium saucepan. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 40 minutes, or until some of the grains start to split. The rice should still be quite chewy. Drain thoroughly and place in a large bowl.
Toss the butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Spread the squash on two baking sheets. Roast until tender and starting to brown, about 20 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat . Sauté the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes.
Place the dried cranberries in a bowl with the warm water and vinegar. Let sit for 10 minutes, then drain.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, lemon zest, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, orange juice, lemon juice and fresh ginger.
Add the onions and garlic, cranberries, parsley, pecans and dressing to the wild rice and stir.
Gently mix in the roasted squash. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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