A Vegetarian Thanksgiving

Enjoy the holiday without talking turkey

From the WebMD Archives

Guess who's coming to Thanksgiving dinner? It could be a vegetarian or two.

For many hosts and hostesses this Thanksgiving, the odds are good that someone is coming to dinner who doesn't eat turkey or other animal meats. Over the years, I've been both the visiting vegetarian and the hostess welcoming vegetarian guests.

Interest in vegetarianism is on the rise, with about 6% of the American population saying they never eat meat (the figure goes up to 10% among those aged 18-34), according to a recent Vegetarian Resource Group Harris Interactive Survey.

Whether people become committed to vegetarianism due to religious, ethical, or health considerations, or out of concern for the environment or animal rights, they are all most likely receiving health benefits.

In a recent position statement, the American Dietetic Association says that the nutritional benefits of vegetarian diets include lower levels of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, as well as higher levels of fiber, folate, phytochemicals, and antioxidants such as vitamin C and E.

Vegetarians may also have lower body mass indexes (compared to non-vegetarians) and lower rates of death from heart disease. They're also likely to have lower blood cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, as well as lower rates of type 2 diabetes and prostate and colon cancers.

If you're expecting vegetarians to dinner (who may or may not include yourself), there are two ways to look at it. You can either make sure you have so many vegetarian side dishes that your non-meat-eating guests can make a meal of them, or you can include vegetarian main dishes out of respect for their meatless mandate.

I'll tackle both in this article. Below, you'll find a recipe for savory vegetable gravy so your vegetarian guests can enjoy the classic Thanksgiving comfort food of mashed potatoes and gravy. There's also a recipe for a main dish, Yuletide Manicotti, and a festive dinner roll.

All of the recipes will be acceptable for lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat eggs and milk products). If you're expecting a vegan for dinner, experiment with vegan substitutes, such as soy milk, soy cheese, and soy-based margarines.

Savory Vegetable Gravy

Journal as: 1/3 cup cream-based soup OR 1/2 cup broth-based soup

1/4 pound (about 2 cups) fresh crimini mushroom slices
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons no-trans-fat margarine (with 8 grams fat per tablespoon)
1 cup strong low-sodium vegetable broth
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon parsley flakes)
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour
1 cup fat-free half-and-half or low-fat milk (or substitute plain soymilk), divided

  • In a medium, nonstick saucepan, brown mushroom slices and onion in margarine over medium-high heat (about 5 minutes). Add broth, parsley, celery salt, and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.
  • In a 4-cup measure, blend flour with 4 tablespoons fat-free half-and-half with small whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk, and pour into the vegetable mixture. Bring mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Continue to cook and stir just until thickened.

Yield: 2 cups of gravy

Per 1/4 cup of gravy: 52 calories, 3 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 1.6 g fat, 0.2 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0.4 g fiber, 178 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

Herb Pinwheel Rolls

Journal as: 1 1/2 slices bread OR 1/2 piece small muffin or croissant

1 1/2 cups warm water from tap (110-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk or low-fat milk
2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 package (2 tablespoons) yeast (bread machine, rapid rise, or active dry)

1/2 cup no-trans-fat margarine with 8 grams of fat per tablespoon (or substitute soy butter)
2 teaspoons Italian herb seasoning (or other desired herb blend)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)

  • Add the dough ingredients to a bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer, making a well in center of flour at the end and pouring in the yeast. Set machine to DOUGH cycle (about 1 hour, 40 minutes) and press START.
  • Meanwhile, make the pinwheel filling: Blend margarine with herbs, garlic, and Parmesan cheese (if desired); set aside. Coat two (nonstick) 9-inch round cake pans with canola cooking spray.
  • When dough cycle is complete, divide dough in half. Form each half into a rectangle about 12 inches at the long end and 10 inches at the short end. Spread half of the margarine mixture evenly over the top of each rectangle. Roll up each rectangle from the 12-inch side to make a roll.
  • Cut each roll into about 10 pinwheels each using a serrated knife. Place the rolls into the prepared pans and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
  • About 30 minutes into the rolls' rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the rolls are nicely browned. Serve warm or cold.

Yield: 20 servings

Per serving: 128 calories, 3 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat, 0.7 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 113 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 28%

Yule Manicotti With Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

ournal as: 1 portion "light frozen dinner or vegetarian with light sauce" OR 1/4 cup starch without added fat + 1 ounce low-fat cheese + 1/2 vegetables with 1 teaspoon fat.

If you're feeding a crowd, double the recipe. Set each manicotti on top of a small pool of red pepper sauce on the dinner plate, or serve them with an ample drizzle of the red pepper sauce on top. If you want to skip the roasting-the-peppers step, substitute 1 cup of bottled roasted red peppers for the 2 sweet red peppers.

8 large dried manicotti pasta shells (or similar)
2 sweet red peppers
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup 1% milk
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste (optional)
1 1/2 cups low-fat or part-skim ricotta cheese
3/4 cup firmly packed, frozen chopped spinach (thawed, with excess water gently squeezed out)
6 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup prepared pesto sauce (like Armanino, found in the frozen pasta section)
4 green onions, white and part of green, chopped
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with canola cooking spray.
  • Boil manicotti shells according to directions on package until tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and carefully set aside.
  • While manicotti is boiling, turn on the broiler. Cut each red pepper into quarters and remove inside flesh and seeds. Cut each quarter in half to make eight strips total. Lay strips, skin side down, on a nonstick baking sheet (line with foil for easy cleanup, if desired). Brush the tops of pepper strips with olive oil. Broil until the top sides are nicely brown, watching carefully. Flip and broil until brown. Let peppers cool slightly. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a food processor, puree pepper strips with milk, garlic, and pepper to taste. Add salt to taste if desired. Keep sauce at a low simmer in a small, covered, nonstick saucepan while you bake the manicotti.
  • Mix filling ingredients (ricotta, spinach, Parmesan cheese, pesto, green onions, and Italian seasonings) in a bowl with spoon or fork. Stuff shells with the cheese mixture. Arrange in a baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then uncover and bake 10 minutes more.
  • Serve one or two manicotti shells per person; decorate each shell with ample red pepper sauce.

Yield: 8 manicotti

Per manicotti: 218 calories, 10 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 8 g fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 1.5 g fiber, 164 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 2000, 2003 Vegetarian Resource Group Harris Interactive Survey. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2003; 103.

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