Let’s face it, turkey is pretty boring, ordinary, and often very stringy and dry. Many attempts have been made to hide turkey’s short comings and turn this bird into something it will never be..tasty. Regardless of the great lengths people go through to brine, slather in butter, BBQ, and dress it up, it still tastes blasé. If we are really being honest here, it is all the other things we bring to the table that make Thanksgiving interesting…stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn bread, gravy, cranberries, mac & cheese, butternut squash, biscuits, pumpkin/apple/pecan pie with ice cream & whipped cream, family and friends that make the meal memorable. And as you might expect, I have a vegan recipe that is healthier and will blow even a non-vegan’s mind.
Growing up in a big Italian family, food was the focal point of all gatherings. Much of what I learned about food and cooking came from watching them during various holidays and family gatherings; somehow they always magically created the most amazing smells that would emanate from the kitchen. Consistently, all the cousins would always try to sneak a bite of something without anyone noticing. Being part of a big family cooking was always a bit of a spiritual phenomenon sprinkled with loud chaos, and interesting personalities and dynamics.
I can’t say that I learned to be vegan from my upbringing but it certainly had an impact. My dad came from immigrant parents that had little money and a different palette for sure. My grandmother would buy a live chicken from a local farm and would chase it around the kitchen trying to chop its head off. The organs of chickens and cows were a cheap & nutrient dense alternative to meat – often offered from the local butcher for free – so things that appealed to my dad seemed appalling to me because of his upbringing and circumstances as a child. For instance, pickled pig’s feet was a regular sight when I opened my refrigerator as a child. Liver and onions, tripe and other organs were served at my dinner table, and it was encouraged by my dad because “it puts hair on your chest.” But seriously, what teenage girl wants that? One day, I came home to snails crawling up my shower wall because my dad was soaking them before cooking them for dinner. My dad would buy a whole baby lamb or a pig and chop it all up in the kitchen. My grandmother would eat the brains of the baby lamb – baked with bread crumbs and proclaimed as a delicacy. My family couldn’t afford the trend that was starting with processed foods and as a result, my dad prepared real and homemade food. These experiences led me to think differently about food; I saw the importance of homemade food and the atrocity of processed foods. But anyways, back to Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday and I actually loved all of the food – well, except the turkey. Turkey tasted weird to me. But it didn’t matter because there were literally 20 other amazing things on the table that I loved. Thanksgiving was my dad’s jam; he was a very talented cook. Every detail down to turkey stock, brine for the turkey, homemade gravy, fresh bread cubes for stuffing, he would make it all from scratch. It was a process that took many days and literally only minutes to consume once spread out on the table to feast. It was a true labor of love shared between family and friends while also being an expression of who you are, and where you came from. And suddenly, for those reasons, I began to love cooking.
Flash forward 25 years later and I have literally replicated every Thanksgiving dish my dad created but made it vegan. It is not only a healthier version but it also tastes just as good (honestly better in my humble opinion). But let’s talk turkey. You can’t replace turkey and it is honestly not worth replacing! I have tried those Tofurky roasts and other alternatives and they aren’t good either. Don’t bother. With my Vegan Thanksgiving Menu, you can ditch the turkey and no one will notice. People might even thank you.