Carving Out New Traditons

November 16, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

In today's A La Carte section, incomplete credit was given for the props in the vegetarian Thanksgiving photograph. The tableware was provided courtesy of Gallery 1330.

The Sun regrets the error.

Thanksgiving: a beautiful roast turkey sitting in the center of the table, bowls of giblet stuffing and gravy beside it. . . . More than any other holiday, Thanksgiving puts meat at the center of the celebration.

The powerful tradition certainly takes the guesswork out of what to serve . . . unless, of course, you, someone in your family, or one of your guests, is a vegetarian. If everyone at the table is a vegetarian, it's no problem, skip the bird. But what if your son Joe has returned from college a vegetarian, or Aunt Minnie has a new boyfriend who eats no meat, then what do you do?


Relax. The answer is delicious.

"You know how people say, 'Wow, I ate so much turkey I don't have room for anything else?' We're the people who get to eat everything else," said Charles Stahler, co-coordinator of the Baltimore-based Vegetarian Resource Group.

Vegetarians can make a feast of side dishes based on traditional ingredients but jazzed up a bit; and they would certainly appreciate a more elaborate vegetarian dish that the meat-eaters can appreciate as well.

"One thing people like to do is stuff a squash or a pumpkin as a centerpiece," Mr. Stahler said. Every year since 1982 the Vegetarian Resource Group has been holding a pre-Thanksgiving vegetarian potluck dinner, so people can get idea about what vegetarian dishes they might like to serve.

(In general, vegetarians are people who don't eat meat, fish or fowl. There are also vegans, who don't eat animal products or any animal by-products, such as eggs and dairy foods.)

Ten years ago, Mr. Stahler said, it was more unusual to have a vegetarian at the table. "But today, it's almost expected: There's going to be at least one person who doesn't eat meat."

It's true that the traditional accompaniments to Thanksgiving turkey are mostly vegetables, but it's not enough to simply let vegetarians have the first helping of mashed potatoes or cranberry preserves.

"When you look at what the traditional ingredients are, they really don't add up to a complete meal," Ms. Shaw said. "It's a matter of taking those traditional ingredients and thinking of them in new ways."

For instance, her rice stuffing with pine nuts and dried cherries "is actually a very nourishing rice dish," she said. "What I tell

people is make enough to put some in the turkey and bake some separately as a good grain dish. It works better than bread stuffing, which really isn't very nourishing."

"You want this to be a spread where someone who does eat meat can eat everything, and those who don't won't feel left out," she said; that makes it important to pay attention to the appearance of the food too. "Balance for flavor, balance for texture, balance for color," she said. "If you do a terrine, don't serve cheesecake for dessert. If you have pumpkin-y flavors in the meal, maybe you want to make apple pie instead of pumpkin."

Here are some recipes that would make a vegetarian feel right at home at the Thanksgiving table. The first is from Diana Shaw's "Almost Vegetarian."

Winter Squash Gratin Serves 4 to 6

1 pound winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, or pumpkin

1 pound cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups warm low-fat or nonfat milk

1/2 cup grated imported Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Cut the squash into quarters, scoop out the seeds, and wrap each piece tightly in foil. Bake until tender, about 40 minutes. Let cool, cut off the rind, and cut the squash into small cubes.

Meanwhile, steam the cauliflower until just cooked through.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. When it starts to sizzle, stir in the flour, and cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is bubbling and golden.

Stir in the milk, turn the heat up to medium, and keep whisking until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in half the cheese and all the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Place the cubed squash and the cauliflower in an 8-inch square )) baking pan, and pour the sauce over.

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

The next recipe is from "Fields of Greens," by Annie Somerville (Bantam Books, 1993, $26.95).

Phyllo with Spinach,Mushrooms, Goat Cheese Serves 6

16 frozen phyllo pastry sheets

2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium-size red onion, sliced (about one cup)

salt and pepper

6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3/4 pound white mushrooms, sliced,

about 4 cups

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 bunches of spinach, stems removed and leaves washed,

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs: parsley, marjoram and thyme

1 pound ricotta cheese, about 2 cups

2 eggs, beaten

1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1/3 cup

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or light olive oil

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