Thankful to be Vegan

Several years ago, while I was in graduate school, I decided to forgo my annual trip home for Thanksgiving and cook for my friends who were staying in Athens for the holiday (working) break. You see, we had a week off for Thanksgiving, then one week of exams, then we were off for nearly a month for the winter holidays. That Thanksgiving week was a boon to those of us who had put off papers and studying, and the holiday break was so close at hand that it seemed silly to return home for both. Besides, I wanted to stay in Athens, cook, and then run the Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving morning. (Yes – I was a little bit crazy, but it was amazingly good fun.)

This is a partial recreation of that Thanksgiving dinner. Add a green salad and two or three more desserts and you’ll have it pretty much exactly as I served it. The pumpkin is truly gorgeous when it comes out of the oven and makes a lovely centerpiece to your meal. (Mine looked so sexy everyone wanted to touch it. I have a picture of all my guests with their hands on the pumpkin. Strange, but true.)

You can prepare the soup two days ahead, as well as the pumpkin and its stuffing, if you have room to keep the hollowed out pumpkin in your fridge. Don’t stuff it until you’re getting ready to bake it. Re-heat the stuffing before baking or you’ll need to add another 20-40 minutes to the baking time.

You can make the pecan pie (and any other desserts) one day in advance. Bake the bread just before serving.

If you are an inexperienced holiday host, having some nuts, olives, and/or raw veggies with dip (along with wine or your favorite juice or cider) for guests to nibble and sip helps cut down on the “when will dinner be ready?” nerves.

Serve the soup and bread while the pumpkin finishes baking. You can serve a green salad American style (before the entrée) or European style (after the entrée), whichever works better for your timing. A plate of baby spinach leaves sprinkled with pomegranate seeds makes a lovely salad. Equal parts orange juice and olive oil with a bit of salt and pepper works as a quick and easy dressing.

Most of all, relax. Take your time. Don’t stress. Be thankful you have friends and family to cook for.

Creamy Mushroom Soup
Recipe By: Nava Atlas, Vegetarian Celebrations
Serves 8
Preparation Time: 45 minutes

3 tablespoons margarine (Earth Balance), divided
1 cup onions, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery ribs with leaves, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups water
2 vegetable broth cubes
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine, optional
12 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
6 ounces fresh shiitake or other wild mushrooms OR 6-8 large dried shiitakes
2 cups canned or cooked navy beans or cannellini
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced parsley

Heat 2 tablespoons of the margarine in a large soup pot. Add the onions and sauté over moderate heat until golden. Add the next five ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the seasonings and wine, cover and simmer over moderate heat for 15 minutes.

Add half of the sliced white mushrooms and simmer another 10 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and let stand several minutes.

If using fresh wild mushrooms, wipe clean, remove the stems (you can save these for broth or discard), and slice the caps. If using dried shiitakes, soak in warm water for 15 minutes, then remove and discard the stems and slice the caps. Heat the remaining tablespoon of margarine in a skillet. Add the reserved white mushrooms and shiitakes. Sauté, covered, for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup along with the white beans, in batches in a blender (Be careful! Don’t fill a blender more than half full of hot liquid) or with an immersion blender in the pot. Return the soup to the pot and stir in the sautéed mushrooms. Grind in pepper to taste. (You can make the soup up to 2 days ahead and refrigerate it, tightly covered, at this point.)

Before serving, bring to a simmer for at least 10 minutes. Adjust the consistency with more water if soup is too thick. Divide among soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with the parsley.

Wild Rice Stuffed Pumpkin

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett
Serves 8
Preparation Time: 3 hours

4 pound pumpkin
3/4 cup brown rice
3/4 cup wild rice
1 teaspoon salt or seasoning salt
2 tablespoons margarine (Earth Balance)
1 cup onion, finely diced
2 large scallions, sliced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
sea salt to taste
freshly ground pepper
dash cinnamon
dash nutmeg
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pecans, dry-roasted, chopped
1/4 c hot water

Cut the stem end of the pumpkin as if you were about to carve a jack o’lantern. Set aside “lid”. Remove strings and seeds inside pumpkin and discard (or save seeds to roast and munch on). Using a grapefruit knife or melon baller, scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin, leaving a 1/4 – 1/2” thick shell. Chop flesh and set aside.

In a large saucepan, bring 3 quarts of salted water to boil and stir in the brown rice and wild rice. Bring rice back to a boil. Cook over low heat, covered until still a bit hard to the bite — about 35 minutes. Drain well.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the margarine in a skillet. Add the onion and celery and sauté until the onion is golden. Add the apple and sauté another 5 minutes.

In large bowl, combine pumpkin flesh, the sautéed mixture, the partially cooked rice, the orange juice, scallions, and dried cranberries. Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Spoon stuffing loosely into pumpkin, sprinkle with the hot water and put “lid” on tightly. Place on sturdy baking sheet and bake till pumpkin is tender to the point of a knife — about 2 hrs. Cut into wedges and serve.

Braided Sweet Potato Bread

Recipe By: Nava Atlas, Vegetarian Celebrations
Serves 8
Preparation Time: 3 hours from start to finish

1 package active dry yeast (or 2 teaspoons)
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup canola, safflower, or olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 cup soy milk
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
soy milk to brush top of loaves

Combine the yeast and the water in a medium-sized mixing bowl and let stand 10 minutes. (The yeast water should look bubbly. If not, try again with fresh yeast.)
Stir in the oil and thyme, then the mashed sweet potato, maple syrup, and soy milk. Stir gently until the mixture is smooth.

In another bowl, combine the flours, cornmeal, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the wet mixture. Work together, using a spoon at first, then hands, until thoroughly combined into a dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 8-10 minutes, adding additional flour a little at a time until the dough loses its stickiness.

(Or you can knead the dough in your large stand mixer or large food processor according to the directions.)

Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Punch the dough down and turn back out onto the board. Divide into six equal pieces. With hand, roll each piece into a long coil, about 1 inch in diameter. To make each loaf, braid three coils and pinch the ends together. Place the loaves on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, cover with a tea towel, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Brush the tops of the loaves with soymilk. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the loaves feel hollow when tapped.

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Notes: To make a bread braid without stretching the dough too much, begin the braid at the center of the loaf, then braid out to each end.

To make the dough in a bread machine, cut the recipe in half, put the ingredients in the order your machine requires, and stop at the end of the first rising period. Continue on to punch down, divide, shape, and bake your bread as directed.

Georgia Kudzu Pecan Pie

Recipe By: Meredith McCarty, in Lorna Sass’ Complete Vegetarian Kitchen
Serves 8
Preparation Time: 45 minutes, plus time to set

1 9 inch unbaked pie shell (check ingredients or make your own)
1 1/2 cups brown rice syrup (see cook’s notes)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup agar flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons kuzu or arrowroot
water, to barely cover the kuzu
2 cups toasted pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Set pie weights or beans into the pie crust and bake on the middle shelf of a 375 F oven until lightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Set on a rack to cool. This is a good time to toast your pecans as well. Check them after 12-14 minutes.
2. In a heavy saucepan, prepare the filling. Whisk together the rice syrup, water, agar flakes, cinnamon, and salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over very low heat until the agar completely dissolves, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, dissolve the arrowroot in water to barely cover and add to the agar-rice syrup mixture. While cooking the mixture at a low simmer, whisk it until the chalky color becomes clear.
4. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes. Stir in the pecans and vanilla and pour into the prepared pie crust, taking care to distribute the pecans evenly.
5. Let the pie cool to room temperature and set, about 2 hours (or refrigerate pie about 1 hour to firm up more quickly). For optimum flavor, bring to room temperature before serving.
Cook’s notes: For the filling, Meredith favors the dark brown rice syrup made by Mitoku. Other brands (often lighter in color) sometimes prevent the filling from setting firmly. (Lisa’s note: I use either Tree of Life Rice Syrup or Lundberg Gluten-Free Brown Rice Syrup – both quite light in color – and both work well).

Option: To really make this pie a truly decadent Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie, use about 1 cup water and 1/2 cup bourbon to dissolve the agar flakes (the alcohol will dissipate while simmering, leaving just the flavor), and add 1/2 cup non-dairy chocolate chips to the partly cooled filling before you pour it into the crust. Yum!!