Food for breaking bread and giving thanks
November 11, 2016 8:03 AM   Subscribe

We're hosting a very small Thanksgiving! Help me figure out what to make-- special breadcrumbs inside.

Looking for interesting or intricate small plate ideas and salads, bonus if they're vegetable-heavy. I've been thinking of a risotto as a vegetarian main (absolutely no nut loaf of any kind, please) but are there other showstoppers? Good main dishes for one or two carnivores who dislike turkey anyway? There are plans for a massive cheese plate but I'm always open to additional ideas on that front! Thanks, all.

1: Southern California; lots of options for getting produce and specialty things
2: Mostly-vegetarian; no soy; no seafood
3: bonus points for things that can be prepped entirely or partially over a few days and things that will keep well as leftovers
posted by jetlagaddict to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
We've had incredible results with a roasted root medley for delicious, hearty, vegetarian holiday dishes. We buy sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and an onion or a fennel bulb (or both), and garlic. We chop everything into 1/2" cubes, toss it in olive oil, sea salt and a spice mix (I like cumin, paprika, rosemary and thyme, and maybe a little cinnamon) and then spread it in a glass baking dish (veggies not more an 1" deep) and roast in the oven at 400 until stuff looks pretty good ("pretty good" here means smashable with a fork and maybe just a little crispy, it's 20+ minutes for us but it's hard to gauge because our oven sucks).

It's got a good balance of sweet and savory and seems to go really well with a lot of holiday dishes.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:12 AM on November 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

Yotam Ottolenghi's salads tend to hit me right in the fancy/interesting/delicious zone.
posted by terretu at 8:20 AM on November 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

This salad is a total smash hit every time I make it, and it keeps very well in the fridge for a night or two.
posted by cakelite at 8:21 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am making a mushroom tart for my vegan daughter. I'll class it up with some fancy mushrooms.
posted by vespabelle at 8:24 AM on November 11, 2016

I am planning to make something like these vegetarian sausage rolls, but with Pepperidge Farm puff pastry, which is vegan. Obviously there are many filling swaps you can make there if you've got other squashy-sagey items hitting the table. You can be pretty fancy in your slashes and decorative pastry adornments too.

I make versions of these all the time just for snackies, and they reheat fine even in the microwave. They are also good room temp to be honest.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:24 AM on November 11, 2016

Olives for Dinner is my go-to for interesting and intricate vegetable small plates. Their roasted brussels with shiitake bacon is OMG.

This beluga lentil ragout recipe from James Beard is freaky delicious for being so simple. Instead of bacon, use 1/2 to 1 tsp of smoked paprika.

Another delicious fall holiday side is roasted butternut squash alfredo. The miso gives it a super-savory je ne sais quoi. You can prep the sauce ahead of time and serve it with pasta or vegetables (kale, broccoli, brussels). It will keep for 3-5 days in the fridge.

For a vegetarian main, I must recommend this specific lentil shepherd's pie, which is very simple as-is but easy to fancy up - saute some wild mushrooms for the filling, use 2 or 3 different kinds of lentils, add some farro or barley, and blend a baked sweet potato in with the Yukon Gold topping. It's mega-filling, it has tons of protein, and it can also be made ahead of time - just layer it up, cover it with foil, throw it in the fridge, and put it in the oven for ~30 minutes at 425F (15" covered, 15" uncovered) when your guests arrive.

Make a baked cashew spread to add to your cheese plate! This one is very easy and phenomenally tasty.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 8:26 AM on November 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

I love this killer butternut squash farro salad with pepitas and it's very "fall." You can sub any old winter squash for butternut squash; any old hearty grain for farro; any old crunchy nut for pepitas; and any old crumbly white cheese for ricotta. (I particularly like chevre for the cheese and quinoa for the grain.) But you need the quick-pickled onion in there. It makes it.

This salad tastes even better after a day or two in the fridge, and is also great a bit warm.
posted by a sourceless light at 8:26 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This recipe (Butternut squash gratin with goat cheese and hazelnuts) is my go-to "fancy" fall side dish. It just never fails, people usually polish it off and it's very easy-going in the sense that it can be assembled earlier and baked just before folks arrive but can also be served at room temperature with no ill-effects.
posted by peacheater at 8:29 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

This leek and bean cassoulet (originally from Veganomicon) is so good. If you don't care about it being vegan you can use real dairy in the biscuits, obviously.
posted by something something at 8:30 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ottolenghi, in addition to fancy salads, also has a lot of elegant, interesting vegetarian mains that are a cut above standard vegetarian fare. I made this tart the other day (it's from Plenty) and it was worth the prep. I think it could be easily made into mini-tarts that would be just beautiful as small plates.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:36 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This vegetables wellington recipe has crossed my radar before, but I've never actually made it.
posted by DJWeezy at 8:49 AM on November 11, 2016

Browned butter maple Brussels sprouts

Mushroom lasagna

Spanakopita (pastebin link to my mom's recipe) - to make it even more intricate, you can make triangles; here are some instructions. To make ahead, freeze uncooked triangles (layer with sheets of wax paper so they don't stick together) and bake frozen triangles in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
posted by capricorn at 8:50 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If we're talking Ottolenghi tarts then I am obliged to mention this Stilton and Membrillo one which my husband has made twice, both times made me want to weep with delight, and it'd pretty much be a dealbreaker if he ever goes a full year without making it for me.
posted by greenish at 8:52 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

I get wanting to do risotto as a main dish. It's delicious, and a little fancy. However, it's basically a big ball of carbs, and if you're open to working a little more (and it sounds like you are), then more protein will keep the conversation going longer. Carbs = almost a sugar high, followed by a nap. Protein = more slowly digested, so people can stay awake.

Also, vegetarians are _always_ getting stuck in situations where the only thing they can eat is a big ball of carbs. Rolls, risotto, pasta, fried rice, etc. Looking for a non-carby main dish will be a real kindness, might introduce them to something new and delightful, and is a little more of a challenge for you. Which you seem up for, because here you are.

The mushroom dishes - stuffed, roasted, etc. - are a good place to start.

Then you've got fancy bean dishes, bean salads, etc.

Soy stuff: veggie burger patties with fancy sauces; tofu dishes; edamame salads; soy chicken and soy beef; chili with TVP. These all sound very non-Thanksgivingy, but can be dressed up as fancy as you like, especially soy chicken.

Seitan: this is basically protein from wheat (not good for people with serious gluten allergies). This is great for substituting in place of chicken

Quorn: a meat substitute made from mushroom protein. It is delicious. Most of it is not vegan (uses eggs), but there's a new vegan version out there.

Stuffed pasta: if your guest isn't vegan, then cheese-stuffed pasta can be glorious. Yes, there's pasta, but if you use a lot of protein-rich cheese like mozzarella, you can make a really satisfying stuffed shells or stuffed ziti. Lots of people do lasagna, but that has more pasta per unit cheese; stuffed shells are fancy and can have a lot of cheese. We also put a lot of mushrooms in the sauce for stuffed shells. Homemade baked pasta dish, with homemade sauce (buy a bunch of tomatoes and make sauce out of them type homemade) can be just as glorious as presentation-quality risotto.

Finally, Tofurkey and it's colleagues can be really nice. There are also other vegetarian and vegan "roasts" you can buy that are great. Put them in a big glass baking dish with some veggies and a nice marinade -- carrots, brussels sprouts, etc. -- and you can get some great results.
posted by amtho at 9:36 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I never miss a chance to plug my favorite Disney movie recipe for layered ratatouille. The use of vibrant zucchini, squash and eggplant make for a very festive dish, and the addition of a polenta base makes it quite hearty. You can also modulate the spices in the tomato sauce to make it spicy/ mild/ sweet(er) than usual, depending on the tastes of your guest.

My Thanksgiving dinners tend to be of the less traditional variety, and this is a hit every time I make it. Pro-tip: even though the recipe says goat cheese/ ricotta is optional, I'd be generous with it. Goat cheese makes a lovely complement to the baked veggies.
posted by Everydayville at 9:47 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

The most impressive vegetarian Thanksgiving main dish ever is Serious Eats' vegetables wellington. I made it last year, and it's a fair amount of work. But, all of the steps are easy and can be done in advance. Plus, it's incredibly delicious and really goes well with the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving sides.

The Vedge and V Street cookbooks are both great sources for impressive, vegetable-based small plates dishes.
posted by snaw at 10:06 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

So many wonderful things! Just to clarify: I am one of the vegetarians, I do love carbs, dairy/eggs are both fine but soy is not, due to allergies. Please keep them coming-- I'm very excited!
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:14 AM on November 11, 2016

Stuffind/Dressing is a absolute mandatory component of Thanksgiving dinner in my book. You can easily assemble it the day before or early day of and bake it later.
posted by mmascolino at 11:08 AM on November 11, 2016

Glamorgan sausages.

I like a pretty traditional Thanksgiving plate even though I've never eaten meat -- I was both fascinated (it was everywhere!) and repelled (it's full of canned soup!) by that green bean bake while living in the US, then found the Cook's Illustrated version of it which uses fresh beans and no soup, and, made with good ingredients, it's really delicious. (Their recipe is a bit fussier than necessary -- you can get a good outcome from simmering mushrooms in cream until it reduces into a sauce, cooking up frozen green beans, swizzing the fried onions in a food processor with some bread crumbs, and bunging all that in the oven.)

+1 on stuffing being mandatory.

I agree about the protein problem, but a lot of vegetarians just don't eat things that are "great for substituting in place of chicken" or Tofurkey or other meat-esque substitutes.

Squash with farro sounds great and very seasonal, and as far as ratatouille with goat cheese goes: yes, and yes to lots of it; it really changed the dish for me, to start eating it with gobs of goat cheese.

Re. cheese plate: look at ploughman's lunch spreads and use that for inspiration; I love cheese plates that come with a big variety of pickles, some bread, egg, apple, etc.
posted by kmennie at 11:31 AM on November 11, 2016

I am one of the vegetarians, I do love carbs

My post was really about the fact that your vegetarian friends get carbs as a main dish _all_ _the_ _time_, so you might want to try something else...

It sounds like you are, just pointing that out in case it wasn't clear.

Lentils are one of the most proteiny legumes. Having a really excellent cheese plate is fun and easy, too.

Seitan-based or mushroom-based entrees are your friend.
posted by amtho at 12:16 PM on November 11, 2016

Parmigiana is a wonderful hearty and tasty main at all times, and since you are in California, you can perhaps make it with fresh ripe tomatoes. Once in a restaurant, I had a very elegant serving, a lot like this one from Batali, though without the breadcrumbs and with fresh tomatoes in season as well as some tomato sauce. It was as lovely as any parmigiana, but also fresh in a way one doesn't often see and more festive. You can prep ahead, and just assemble and bake, but don't bake ahead, the cheese will turn rubbery.
Alternatively a lasagna, with grilled, diced eggplant replacing the meat, but otherwise completely traditional. Even committed carnivores love this.
Vegan "shepherds pie" with lentils can be amazing depending on the filling - maybe made in small cocottes for a pretty presentation? And perfect for preparing ahead to just pop in the oven while having drinks and snacks.
For carnivores maybe just grilled duck breasts. I sometimes serve them on a salad of lettuce, orange, apple and balsamico (with pan juices for fat - I do them on a grill pan). Or just buy a charcuterie chicken! It is always delicious and with lovely sides, it is a party.
A side could be a cauliflower salad: cut a medium onion into very fine dice (1mm). In a bowl mix the onion with 1/2 cup of greek yogurt and 1/2 cup of mayo, season with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 head of cauliflower cut into small flowers - not using the stems. This is as a side for 2-4 people. Decorate with tiny tomatoes, halved.
Once we often had a salad of raw mushrooms sliced with a dressing of finely chopped parsley, lemon, olive oil and seasoning to taste. I think I'm going to start making it again.
Lightly steamed broccoli, roasted on the pan in olive oil and almonds, seasoned with salt and lemon juice.

Membrillo is really nice with the cheese, even if you don't make the delicious-looking tart greenish posted, but it is a pain to make it - maybe you can buy it ready made?

After a really hearty meal, I like a very fresh traditional Moroccan desert: thin slices of orange sprinkled with cinnamon and a little suger.
posted by mumimor at 12:52 PM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're open to baking, you could do an olive loaf, maybe with herbs and seeds on the crust. Good to make the day ahead, just warm it in the oven, and easy to make extra special with some soft compound butter (pumpkin seed butter!) next to your cheeses. Great to dip into gravy, too.

My favorite vegetarian gravy starts with slow roasted tomatoes, carrots, mushrooms and onions. Deglaze the vessel a couple times with broth or wine, scrape up the bits and roast again until there are new bits. Scoop this all into a blender and puree. You can do this ahead and freeze this flavor paste until you're ready for gravy. Then make a roux, half and half butter and flour (or oil and flour if vegan) and cook, stirring until it's nice and softly brown. Add your roasted vegetable puree, and then thin with veggie broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a good long while. For thanksgiving I think sage is great, you can add a bundle of sage or other herbs while it simmers and thickens. Oh, and of course salt and pepper to taste! This freezes pretty well so you can do the whole thing a week ahead of time, but who wouldn't want to visit a house that smells like gravy?

Oh, consider braising thick pieces of pumpkin or squash with Moroccan spices (ginger, cumin, cinnamon, coriander... there are lots of blend suggestions) and studding it with pomegranate arils. You could make little "sandwiches" of this, or set them on a bed of roasted chickpeas and robust greens and treat it more like a warm salad. Again, you can do the braising ahead of time.
posted by Mizu at 1:41 PM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Roasted brussels sprouts are really good;we like them with bacon. I've made curried butternut squash soup (roux, chicken broth, cooked squash, curry spices, blend, top with sour cream or thick yogurt) and corn pudding with happy results.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Take a look at this link on some New Mexico flavored recipes:

NM style thanksgiving dinner

For the carnivores: the red chile sage dressing is made with chorizo and it is fantastic. You may be able to make it with a vegetarian alternative to chorizo, but the chorizo fat really helps make this dish. There are some other vegetarian friendly dishes on the page. Now I'm hungry...
posted by azpenguin at 8:15 PM on November 11, 2016

I Thanksgiving with a number of vegetarians and enchiladas are our traditional dish. Many people also do tamales, which can certainly be made vegetarian, for holiday meals in November and December. Mushroom gravy, a fruit based stuffing, mashed yams, mashed red potatoes, cranberry sauce.

For a small Thanksgiving, particularly since the meat eaters don't even like turkey and it sounds like they don't have any particular preferences beyond "not turkey", I'd just go all vegetarian so everyone can eat all the food there. I eat meat but it's not like I have to have it for every meal, I'd prefer to have things all my friends can eat than having them go to the trouble of making a special dish just for me. But if there really must be meat, some sort of a meat side that they can put on top of their enchiladas or tamales would work just fine.
posted by yohko at 8:35 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

On the small plates front, this cranberry and pomegranate relish is really tasty & Thanksgiving-y, and since you're in southern California you should be able to get nice pomegranates. The recipe makes a lot; halving or even quartering it should be fine.
posted by yarntheory at 8:53 PM on November 11, 2016

Thanksgiving was delicious, thanks for all the suggestions! Some mechanical difficulties prevented me from making All the Things, so I'm bookmarking lots of things for future reference. Alas, it turned out I was the only person willing to consider mushrooms, but I'll try to find a reason to make that wellington in the future. We did a roasted carrot and parsnip medley, an Ottolenghi salad and tart (the stilton/membrillo) along with a host of more traditional things. Thanks for sharing all of these delicious recipes!
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:48 PM on December 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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