By Rachel Cooke
November and December usher in a multitude of articles and sites about how to make your holiday meals great, but Sam Sifton, national editor of The New York Times, boiled it down to 6 simple rules for a perfect Thanksgiving dinner.
His rules make sense (and can easily be translated to other holidays). Thanksgiving should be a no nonsense day. The menu is essentially predetermined and the recipes are usually handed down through the family. But sometimes, new traditions have to be made. Here are six simple rules to make your vegan holiday meal great.
Absolutely, under no circumstances, should you buy a Tofurkey. Just about every time I mention eating Thanksgiving dinner around my friends, one always jumps in with, “Are you going to eat a Tofurkey!” No. I am not going to eat Tofurkey and neither should anyone.
The processed nature of Tofurkey defeats the purpose of Thanksgiving. I’m not suggesting that its wrong to want a center plate at your table, decked with food that replicates the idea of turkey. I’m urging against buying a packaged loaf of tofu stuffed with a breaded substance that comes with cold congealed “gravy” on the side. Who really knows what is in that round mess?
If you want to convince your guests and family that vegan food is good too, don’t serve Tofurkey. Instead, try your hand at a homemade seitan loaf, stuffed with chopped leeks, onions, and wild mushrooms. The party will be impressed with your culinary adeptness and surprised that there really is no meat in that loaf.
Don’t try to modify old family recipes.
One of the best parts about holidays is how dependable they are: there are no surprises on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day (as far as meals go). Your family eats the same food it has been for generations, with recipes handed down from your grandmothers’ kitchens.
But this is the year for change. New diets require new tradition, and unfortunately some of those time-perfected recipes don’t stand up well to change. The buttery, flakey, sweet crust that serves as the base for the pecan and pumpkin pies will not taste the same without real butter. From a cow.
Don’t take this as a reason to resist vegan piecrust recipes. Take the initiative to find that perfect plant-based crust instead of forcing butter, egg, and milk substitutes into traditional ingredient lists. Recipes meant to use animal products taste good with animal products; vegan recipes taste good with plant-based ingredients. The research will leave you satisfied instead of disappointed.
Understand that some people will be hesitant about the food.
The holidays are a time for family, and chances are the entire group is not going to be on board with your new diet. Place your food on the table, but don’t force everyone to eat it. When they see how much you’re enjoying it, they’ll want to try it also.
Sometimes it even works best to not even mention that its vegan. Often, people are so overwhelmed by the amount of food that they just take a little bit of everything. When they compliment your vegan stuffing or pumpkin pie, be gracious and say thank you!
Don’t use the holidays as a time to force your beliefs on other people.
Again, members of your family are not making the same lifestyle choices that you are. This does not mean that dinnertime is the chance to convert your uncle who enjoys his steak still mooing and likes his venison freshly shot and skinned to adopt a cruelty-free diet.
The holidays are already filled with tense family conversations. The surge of alcohol consumption and too many people in a small space lend well to fighting, bickering, and general grumpiness. Do not add fuel to the fire by trying to change what people eat. Eating is what gets people through the holidays. The promise of delicious warm dishes is comforting and reliable. Save your preaching for another day.
This year is not going to be like previous years. New recipes require practice and testing. You don’t want to depend on the “Pecan Meatless Vegan Packed Meatloaf Stuffed with Cranberry Sauce” recipe that looked so good on the Internet without testing it first. What if it turns out you really don’t like the idea of cranberry sauce stuffed inside of faux meatloaf.
Make sure your cabinet is stocked with the right ingredients. Vegan recipes call for different things than most traditional recipes, ranging from vital wheat gluten to soft tofu to coconut oil. Pick out your menu in advance, buy the necessary ingredients, and practice a few of the dishes.
Take Sifton’s last rule to heart.
Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, or any other holiday gathering, be thankful for the opportunity you have to spend time with family and craft delicious food. Relish not only in the meal but also in the relationships you have with your loved ones.