November 18, 2009 | 4:30pm
Eating Our Words isn't a vegetarian (or -- perish the thought -- a vegan), but we have a lot of friends who are. And for those folks, Thanksgiving can be a nightmare of avoiding the main show (that dried out or deep-fried turkey) while navigating gloppy side dishes like green bean casserole, diabetic-coma-inducing syrupy sweet potatoes and dry, bland stuffing that is only partially palatable when drenched with a copious amount of gravy. Oh, what's that? Gravy is made with meat? Never mind, then. They'll just have to enjoy the pecan pie at the end.
In our family, the turkey has never been the star of the show. It's just another item to fill out the dinner table before we gorge on veggies and sweets before enjoying the warm embrace of the couch while watching football. While we certainly appreciate meat and the kitschy nostalgia associated with items like canned cranberry sauce, it's just as simple to update your Thanksgiving spread with some more veggie-friendly options. Our vegetarian friends and family never have a problem dining with us on Thanksgiving, and we end up with a healthier overall meal as a result.
Below are some of our favorite vegetarian Thanksgiving recipes. Some of them can function as both side and main dishes, while some will probably steal the show from that dead bird entirely. And before you ask, we will never -- never -- suggest Tofurky.
Chickpea, Pumpkin & Raisin Couscous
Chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans) are an excellent source of protein, not to mention calcium, fiber, iron and healthy carbohydrates. They're also low in fat and cholesterol, as well as mighty tasty. In other words: We love anything that contains chickpeas. And guess what else is low-fat, low-cholesterol, high in protein and other nutrients? Couscous. Add the seasonal pumpkin, ginger and cinnamon in the recipe above and you have a very delicious and nutritious Thanksgiving dish that can easily replace any meat. And did we mention how cheap it is to make? Serious Eats did the math: $6.85 per serving.
This savory little pie from last year's NPR segment on vegetarian Thanksgiving options
is a good choice for anyone looking to eliminate fat (in this case, butter and cheese) without sacrificing taste. As with the couscous, it can also be served as a main dish, but we like it served in delicate slices as a side. (We also like it made with butter and cheese, but we'll leave that decision up to you.)
We love butternut squash. Not only is it beautiful to look at, delicious to eat and seasonal to boot -- it's also packed with nutrients like beta carotene, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin C. And because it's low in fat and cholesterol, you can eat it with (mostly) wild abandon without feeling bad afterwards. This recipe comes in a whole pack of suggested vegetarian options for Thanksgiving, but we prefer this one because -- as the site says -- you get to stuff it just like you would a turkey.
This could easily replace the sodium-drenched green bean casserole at your table this year. Sure, Brussels sprouts are awesome when braised in cream and studded with bacon, but this recipe is actually every bit as delicious. And we guarantee that it will make even the most hardcore Brussels sprouts hater change their tune.
Why buy canned cranberry sauce when this chutney is so easy to make and so full of flavor? It has the added bonus of making your house smell like the inside of a Yankee Candle store, which is always welcome. The tangy cranberries and spicy ginger pair perfectly with the mellow pears in this recipe, and would be wonderful for vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike.
Looking for more options? Chow.com has a fabulous list of their 10 favorite vegetarian Thanksgiving items
. It includes dishes like smoked cheddar souffle and savory egg pudding. If those don't butter your bread, take a stroll through Serious Eats' "vegetarian" archives
from the past few weeks. All of the fall-inspired dishes there would also make a lovely addition to any Thanksgiving spread.