Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Help! A Vegan is coming to Thanksgiving Dinner!

My daughter took this photo - she's better at it than I am! : )
If you're an omnivore hosting Thanksgiving Dinner - finding out you have a vegan guest can be a cause for panic. It doesn't need to be! Here are a few helpful hints that might make the entire ordeal, um, I mean holiday - less stressful.

First, most vegans are decent, kind human beings who don't want to cause you stress on a day when you're already stressed out. We don't want you to make an entire separate "special" meal just for us. We don't want you to have to go out to shop for weird vegans-only sorts of food - you know, like Tempeh, Tofu, Seitan & Fake Turkeys (in fact, some of us don't like that special, vegans-only food any more than you do!). Most of us aren't prima donnas who want your holiday to revolve around us. And, many of us would rather fade into the woodwork and not have all your guests' attention focused on us and what we're eating or not eating.

Like you, when we think of Thanksgiving, we think of family, friends, love, and special desserts. But perhaps unlike you - turkey isn't part of our image of the perfect holiday.

So, what should you prepare when hosting a vegan?

A vegan is someone who does not eat ANY animal products. This includes: meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, butter, and such animal derived ingredients as glycerine, gelatine or (often, but not always) honey.

If the vegan offers to bring a dish to share - accept enthusiastically! If you already declined the offer - call them and accept enthusiastically! Many of us not only enjoy cooking, but like sharing food we like, and also we feel a little more secure knowing that if someone completely misunderstood the word "vegan" we still won't starve : )

I don't know a single vegan who isn't delighted with a plate of "side dishes" with no entree on their plate. Don't feel like you need to provide an entree for your vegan guest.

Try to offer at least three or four things that can be eaten by your guest - then make everything else however you usually make it. The vegan's dishes don't have to be fancy, or weird. In fact, it is better if they are not. Something like bread, salad, vegetable and sweet potato is lovely!  When he or she arrives, discreetly pull them aside and tell them which foods are and aren't within their dietary preferences. "The stuffing has turkey broth in it, but I made the mashed potatoes with Vegan Margarine and Soymilk."

Which brings me to my next point - look over your menu and see where you can easily and unobtrusively veganize a dish that won't even be noticed by your other guests. And, you know what your family notices and doesn't.

Here are several suggestions, one or two of which may work for you in your situation:

  • Make whole foods available where possible. Something like a plain baked white or sweet potato, boiled peas, salad, bread and fruit is a satisfying, pretty trouble free vegan meal for any day. And, most of your other guests can enjoy the same things.

  • Consider using a vegan margarine like Earth Balance Original or Soy-Free in place of butter in vegetables and desserts. Look for the word "vegan" on the label - as some of this brand's products have fish oil. Be aware that some vegans are vegan for health reasons, and also avoid any added fat or oil - so

  • For those who don't eat oil or margarine, Pull out some of the veggies before adding butter. This is also a good way to accomodate other guests for whom real butter is a must at the holidays.

  • Consider using a non-dairy milk (like soy or almond) in recipes like mashed potatoes place of dairy milk.

  • Try using veggie broth in place of chicken, turkey or beef broth for things like stuffing & potatoes.

  • If your sweet potato casserole is one with marshmallows (marshmallows are NOT vegan, unless you buy a special kind like Dandies -which are GREAT, but a little pricey) , then put a few in a marshmallow-free dish.

  • If that's not possible, put a plain sweet potato or white potato on the rack in the oven to bake - unadulterated.

  • Be aware that Gelatin desserts and salads are not vegan  -they're not even vegetarian. (I have had a couple of times in my life when that was offered to me as the ONLY vegan option in a restaurant or large dinner- when it's not even close : (  Gelatin is made from boiled animal bones and hooves - much like that gel-layer that settles to the bottom of your turkey roasting pan)

  • Serve Salad dressings  on the side (some, like Caesar's or Ranch, aren't vegetarian). Likewise, toppings like bacon-bits, cheese, and parmesan croutons can go in little dishes on the side. This will also be a help to any guests with dairy allergies, gluten allergies or other special diets.

  • To keep the traditional theme, consider serving Succotash (Lima Beans & Corn) or Squash. Both of these dishes were probably served at the first Thanksgiving, and are easy to fix.

  • Instead of simmering all the green beans or other veggies in fatback, serve them with optional real-bacon crumbles on the side (none of your omnivore guests will mind THAT substitution, I'll bet!)

  • Don't seat your vegan guest right by the turkey. Some vegans really miss meat (if they have had to quit eating it for their heart health or to reverse diabetes), others find it yucky - either way, sitting by it won't make their feast more pleasant.

  • A plate of hummus, veggies & pita chips on the appetizer table is an easy dish that will feed nearly any vegan with no hassles and on short notice. And, if that's all your vegan guest eats, he or she will probably still be happy and well fed.

  • If you do try to make a special dish just for your vegan guest be aware that omnivores almost always love vegan food, and they will have some, too. If you prepare just enough for the vegan, the vegan may not get any of it!

So, what IS a good vegan meal? This is a good guide to a full day's nutrition - if you follow this guideline, you'll be sure you're feeding your guest super-well.

But, most importantly - remember that the Thanksgiving holiday is about giving thanks to God and about  people, not about food. Personally, if I have good friends invite me for bread and water - I'll still have a great time! Of course, if there's some great coffee, and a nice glass of port, and a bit of vegan chocolate,  that's even better ; )

Over the next few days, I will try to feature a few great vegan Thanksgiving dishes : )

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