Meat-Free Dishes for a Holiday Table That Welcomes Everyone

Joe Yonan, The Washington Post  |  Updated: July 13, 2017 10:33 IST

Meat-Free Dishes for a Holiday Table That Welcomes Everyone
Photo by: Scott Suchman — For The Washington Post

Sometimes I think we make too big a deal out of the vegetarian's plight at the Thanksgiving table. The fact is, such a big meal, with so many dishes, is probably the easiest of all to plan in a way that helps all types of eaters feel welcome. As Anna Thomas writes in her upcoming "Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore," the planning process is a simple adustment of priorities: "Start with the foods that everyone eats, design a meal that works, then expand it, make it flexible - add butter or eggs or cheese in ways that pair well. Add fish or meat, perhaps as supporting players."

To that end, rather than announce she'd make an exclusively vegetarian Thanksgiving meal, potentially alienating the traditionalists who couldn't do without turkey, Thomas decided to mix it up. Her meal included tapenade, hummus, persimmon slices with walnut pesto, a polenta torta, a variety of vegetable dishes - and a turkey that her husband spit-roasted.

"It was Thanksgiving for everyone," she writes. "Wine flowed, we ate what we liked and gave thanks, the grandparents were happy, the vegetarians were happy, and we were all sharing the same meal."

Over the past few holidays, I've written about how refreshing the meal planning and cooking can be when a turkey is taken out of the equation, and about my ongoing quest to find interesting vegan and vegetarian dishes that are centerpiece-worthy. And I stand by every sentiment. But Thomas's philosophy serves to remind me and all other hosts that the overriding goal of any and all hospitality - particularly at a generous holiday such as this one - should be inclusiveness.With that in mind, I looked for recipes this year that could not only stand on their own on the holiday table but also work just as well as side dishes for those putting turkey on their plates.

The first is a Wellington from a London vegetarian restaurant, Mildreds, that features roasted portobello mushrooms and a stuffing of pecans, chestnuts and herbs, wrapped in store-bought puff pastry dough (all-butter if you'd like, or vegan if not). You serve it in thick slices, adding a gravy if desired. It's rich and decadent and special - just the thing for a celebration.

The second is a riff on tamales that I developed with my friend Pati Jinich, author of "Pati's Mexican Table" and host of the public-television series of the same name. Rather than form tamales in corn husks and steaming them, Pati showed me how she sometimes likes to layer the masa dough and filling ingredients in ramekins for baking. My contribution: the idea to turn them out and serve them on individual plates, topped with salsa, cilantro and (optional) feta.

Between the layers of masa, I combined roasted squash cubes and seasoned red kidney beans, a nod to the "three sisters" philosophy of gardening practiced by Native Americans. In a three sisters garden, squash, corn and bean plants nourish, support and shade one another - a lesson in harmony and togetherness that seems particularly suited to an inclusive Thanksgiving table.

Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Pecan and Chestnut Wellington

8 to 10 servings

If you want to make it vegan, choose a vegan puff pastry, such as Pepperidge Farm, and use soy cream to seal the pastry.

MAKE AHEAD: The roasted mushrooms and the prepared stuffing can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. The assembled Wellington can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking.

Adapted from "Mildreds: The Cookbook" (Hachette UK, 2015).

Ingredients -

For the mushrooms:

3 to 4 large portobello mushrooms (1 1/2 pounds), stemmed

2 cloves garlic, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the filling:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 teaspoon dark brown sugar

1 cup pecans

7 ounces cooked, peeled chestnuts

1 1/3 cups fresh white bread crumbs

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, plus more as needed

1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed

For assembly

14 ounces store-bought puff pastry dough (all-butter unless you are vegan), defrosted

2 tablespoons heavy cream (may substitute soy cream)

Steps -

For the mushrooms: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Use a teaspoon to gently scrape off the dark gills from the underside of the portobello caps. Arrange the caps, gill side up, on the baking sheet; scatter with the garlic, thyme and rosemary; then drizzle with the extra-virgin olive oil. Season with the salt and pepper. Roast until the mushrooms are browned and tender but still holding their shape, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool, then transfer the mushrooms to a plate.

Once the baking sheet itself cools, wipe it off and replace the parchment with a fresh piece of parchment paper.

For the filling: Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, garlic, rosemary and thyme; cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is very soft and starting to brown, 15 minutes. Pour in the wine, and stir in the brown sugar until it has dissolved. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

Combine the pecans and chestnuts in a food processor; pulse until reduced to small pieces. Transfer to the bowl with the onion mixture, along with the bread crumbs, toasted sesame oil and salt.

Cut the mushrooms in half, and reserve all but one of the halves to form the center of your Wellington. Cut the remaining half into small chunks and add those to the bowl for the filling. Use your hands to thoroughly mix the filling. Taste, and add toasted sesame oil and/or salt as needed.

When ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly flour a large piece of parchment paper. Roll out the puff pastry dough on it to form a 10-by-14-inch rectangle that's about 1/8 inch thick. Trim the edges of the dough to make it tidy; reserve the excess for decorating the top of the Wellington.

Spoon half of the filling mixture lengthwise down the center of the dough and spread it out evenly, leaving a border of 2 to 3 inches all around. Arrange the portobello halves evenly over the mixture down the middle of the dough, then cover with the remaining filling.

Brush the borders of the dough with a little cream. Fold over the ends and sides to wrap the dough around the filling. (Use the parchment paper to help if needed.) The dough should overlap in the middle. If there is a gap, use your excess dough to cover it, using cream to hold it in place. Use the parchment paper to lift the Wellington onto the prepared baking sheet, turning it over so the seam is on the bottom. Brush the dough with more cream and use the trimmings to make stars, leaves or other decorative shapes, and place them on the top, brushing them with cream.

Bake the Wellington until puffed, golden brown and heated through, 60 to 75 minutes. Cut into thick slices and serve.

Nutrition | Per serving (based on 10): 400 calories, 7 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 28 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 580 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Three Sisters Mini Tamal Pies

8 servings

These husk-free tamales are filled with roasted squash and beans, giving them a hearty fall flavor. Baking them in ramekins gives them a look worthy of special occasions.

The filling combination was inspired by the Native American gardening philosophy called "three sisters": the co-planting of squash, beans and corn. Use your favorite winter squash variety: delicata, butternut, acorn or another (except spaghetti, whose texture won't work here).

You'll need eight 6-ounce ramekins.

MAKE AHEAD: The roasted squash and spiced beans can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. The assembled pies can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking. The baked pies can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; let them come to room temperature, and reheat in a 200-degree oven.

From Joe Yonan and Pati Jinich, author of "Pati's Mexican Table" and star of the public-television show of that name.

Ingredients -

For the filling:

8 ounces peeled and seeded winter squash (see headnote), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cooked or no-salt-added canned red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)

For the masa dough:

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegan shortening, such as Earth Balance

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

3/4 teaspoon cold water

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

12 ounces (a scant 21/2 cups) instant corn masa flour for tortillas or tamales, such as Maseca brand

2 2/3 cups homemade or no-salt-added vegetable broth (see Scrappy Vegetable Broth at

For assembly and serving

1 cup homemade or store-bought salsa verde (see Cooked Salsa Verde at

8 tablespoons feta cheese, crumbled, plus more for garnish (optional)

Cilantro leaves, for garnish

Steps -

For the filling: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss together the squash, oil, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until the squash is fork-tender, 15 to 20 minutes; leave the oven on.

Combine the beans, cumin, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the smoked paprika in a bowl. Taste, and add more salt as needed.

For the masa dough: Spoon the shortening into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat on medium-high speed until lightened, about 1 minute. Add the salt and water; continue to beat until the mixture is white and spongy, 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, sprinkle in the baking powder and add about 1/2 cup of the instant masa, then gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the masa is incorporated.

Again reduce the speed to low, then add about 1/2 cup of the broth; gradually increase the speed to medium-high and beat until well incorporated. Repeat, alternating between the masa and the broth, until both are incorporated, then increase the speed to high and continue beating until the dough is very fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Test to see if it's ready by dropping 1/2 teaspoon of the dough into a cup of cold water; if it floats, the masa is ready. If not, continue beating until it is.

When ready to assemble, grease the eight 6-ounce ramekins with cooking oil spray.

Use a spoon to drop 1/4 cup of masa dough into the bottom of each ramekin, then spread it evenly. Top with a few tablespoons of squash, 1/4 cup of beans and 1 tablespoon of feta. Spoon 1/4 cup of masa dough onto the top of each ramekin and spread it evenly, smoothing the top.

Spray the shiny side of 8 pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and use the pieces to tightly cover the ramekins, shiny side down. Transfer the ramekins to a large rimmed baking sheet and bake (at 375 degrees) until the tops are slightly puffed, firm and dry to the touch, about 1 hour. Leave covered and let cool slightly, then uncover. Run a knife around the edges to loosen, then invert onto small plates to unmold.

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To serve, spoon about 2 tablespoons of salsa verde around and on top of each tamale pie. Top each portion with a little feta, if desired, and some cilantro leaves; serve warm.

Nutrition | Per serving: 400 calories, 10 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar

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