Guess Who’s Coming to Thanksgiving Dinner — a Vegan!

Gather and give thanks

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday — hands down, the best holiday of all. When the first of November rolls around, planning my annual Thanksgiving dinner begins to dominate my Pinterest and blog meanderings as I search for new ideas and foods to make for my family and friends. Like many, our Thanksgiving menu is centered on the traditional roast turkey with my signature dressing, along with lots of side dishes and topped off with a smörgåsbord of desserts. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a family gathering and cooking memorable meals for my loved ones.

My pleasant daydreaming was going great until my L.A. daughter called with news. “Guess what, Mom — we’d love to have you make dinner for us. My boyfriend is a vegan.”

Vegan. Not a vegetarian, paleo, or a gluten-free person. Vegan. As a food writer and product developer, I’m familiar with most of the trendy diet fads, dietary restrictions for diabetics, various religions, and many diseases; low fat, high fat, Atkins, ketogenic, low-carb, and allergy related taboos. But this was an entirely new twist in my family.

The truth is: I was completely intimidated by the idea of preparing a vegan Thanksgiving dinner. I was out of my familiar culinary comfort zone.

I began to fret — how can I ‘wow’ my family with a whole new vegan approach to Thanksgiving dinner? How can I bake anything without eggs and butter? What do I use to replace the buttermilk in the mashed potatoes? No cheeses on the appetizer plate? No feather-light dinner rolls made with milk? This was serious!

Thank goodness we live in an area where there are plenty of vegans and incredible fresh produce available all year round at our farmers markets. I reached out to a Santa Cruz local and frequent farmers market shopper, Ellie Lavender, who teaches many culinary classes as a Mediterranean vegan chef. (And, she’s an amazing pastry chef, too.) It was all I could do to repress the urge to cry out, “Help” when I explained my plight to her.

Ellie exclaimed enthusiastically in her delightful French accent, “Oh how wonderful it is that your daughter is dating a vegan man!”

Already I was feeling more hopeful.

She continued, “I assure you that a vegan-vegetarian Thanksgiving can be even more exquisite than the traditional one. Thanksgiving holiday is a time to share heavenly foods, divine desserts, fabulous wine, but more importantly love, joy and laughter with family and friends.”

Yes, yes, we were on the same page!

“A vegan Thanksgiving dinner made with root vegetables, lemon-saffron pilaf and a lovely fruit galette such as persimmon are simply divine, everyone would enjoy them. I will send you links to some of the dishes I prepare for my family, friends, and clients!”

After we hung up and a little more thought, I realized my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal are the side dishes made with fall ingredients like winter squash, figs, apples, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, onions, persimmons, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, herbs, and nuts— yup, I was back on track.

I thought to myself, ‘Who needs a turkey, anyway?’ I won’t have to put up with the cooking smell that lingers in the house for a couple of days. I won’t have to worry about juggling the timing of the various side dishes with my oven completely free of a big turkey dominating the cooking space nor have to worry about how to store the carcass leftovers in my crowded fridge. And, there are so many fabulous vegan recipes to try!

Although I had not ever considered adapting veganism ‘full time’— during my research, it did impress me that plant-based vegan diets are proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and hypertension. In fact, Kaiser Permanente (the largest HMO in the US) recommends that people follow a plant-based diet.



If you will have vegan guests at your table this year, or simply want to make a super-healthy, non-traditional Thanksgiving meal, here are some helpful tips to get you on your way!

  • Vegans eat plant-based foods such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Vegans do not eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, honey, or any foods containing them. Find out more here: List of Foods Vegans Eat
  • Very useful: 21 Foolproof Vegan Recipe Substitutions
  • It’s best to use tried-and-true recipes from vegan cookbooks or sites — don’t try to adapt a traditional recipe. Unless you have time to experiment prior to the big day, stick to the tested vegan recipes.
  • Here are a few vegan egg alternatives— again, be sure to test your recipe if you’re adapting a personal recipe.

– Finely grind 1 tablespoon golden flax seed and mix in 3 tablespoons water – allow to sit 30 minutes before using
1/4 cup silken tofu blended until completely smooth
1/4 cup mashed banana
1/4 soy or coconut yogurt



Chef Ellie’s Lemon Saffron Pilaf

Persimmon Lavender Galette

Pear Lavender Tartlet

Moroccan Roasted Rainbow Carrots, Golden Beets and Parsnips

Wild Mushroom Croustades

Apple Tarts

Coconut Crust Tofu with Green Curry Dipping Sauce

Fig and Olive Tapenade

Vegan Spinach Dip

Vegan Biscuits

Vegan Cornbread

Sundried Tomato and Butternut Squash Bisque

Broccoli-Spinach and Quinoa Soup

Candied Lime Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Spicy Dressing

Crowd Pleasing Vegan Thanksgiving Stuffing

Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Vegan Gravy

Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice

Maple Glazed Tempeh with Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts

Potato and Portobello Mushroom Gratin

Maple Pecan Pie

Chocolate Avocado Mousse with Fresh Raspberries

Pumpkin Spice Rice Pudding

Quick Vegan Peanut Butter Pie


Many thanks to Chef Ellie Lavender for her inspiration, magnificent recipes, and joyous vegan spirit to guide me. And Jeff — thank you for being ‘the spark’ for this story. I look forward to cooking for you soon!












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