Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Vegetarian Thanksgiving

What do you do when your grad student stepdaughter calls to announce that she’s bringing a friend home for Thanksgiving dinner and by the way, he’s vegetarian and doesn’t eat meat?

First, don’t panic. Then, take a breath and ask: does he eat dairy products? (yes) and eggs? (also yes). Okay, this is good news. After all, this is only one meal, right? You can easily incorporate vegetarian dishes into a traditional Thanksgiving meal, even with roast turkey on the table.

Vegetarian diets can be quite varied, but most center on plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, legumes (dried beans), pulses (dried split peas), along with whole grains and nuts and seeds. According to the USDA, vegetarian diets typically fall into three primary categories of eating patterns: “vegan: excludes all meat and animal products; lacto-vegetarian: includes plant foods plus dairy products, and lacto-ovo vegetarian: includes both dairy products and eggs” 

It is possible to follow a vegetarian diet and obtain the basic necessary nutrients. “The key,” says the USDA,” is to consume a variety of foods and the right amount of foods to meet your calorie and nutrient needs.” Take a look at USDA’s “10 Tips Healthy Eating for Vegetarians”
For anyone considering a vegetarian diet, a wise option is to consult your physician, healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the eating plan that best meets your individual needs.

Now, on to our Thanksgiving vegetarian menu. Baked halved acorn or sweet dumpling squash, filled with a mixture of brown rice or other whole grain such as cooked wheat berries, quinoa or whole barley,that has been simmered in vegetable broth with diced onion, carrot and celery, seasoned with your favorite herbs such as thyme, dill or marjoram and a handful of dried, sweetened cranberries makes a colorful presentation for any autumn table.

Here is a recipe for Brown Rice Pilaf with Sage, Walnuts and Dried Fruit, from the American Institute for Cancer Research.  I had some pistachios in the cupboard, which I substituted for the walnuts.

Canola cooking spray
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium stalk celery, ends trimmed and chopped
2 cups uncooked brown rice
2  1/2 cups water
2 cups reduced sodium, fat-free vegetable broth
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 teaspoon dried sage
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Spray large skillet with canola oil cooking spray.  Heat skillet over medium heat.  Sauté onion and celery until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add brown rice, and sauté for 5 minutes.  Add water, broth, raisins and apricots; heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 50 minutes. Stir in walnuts if desired, sage, salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish. Garnish with fresh sage and serve immediately. Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 213 calories, 1 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 45 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 4 g dietary fiber, 150 mg sodium.
Turkey gravy aside, most traditional Thanksgiving side dishes are vegetarian-friendly.  There are exceptions of course, for dishes such as stuffing or dressing which often call for chicken broth in the recipe; vegetable broth or stock is a quick and easy substitute. Be sure to read the list of recipe ingredients before heading to the grocery store.

Along with the stuffed squash entrée, you might serve mashed potatoes with turnips or rutabaga, some pan-fried Brussels sprouts doused with a splash of apple cider or balsamic vinegar and perhaps a tossed green salad sprinkled with shredded cheese. And don’t forget the whole grain dinner rolls or cornbread.

For a refreshing cranberry relish that requires no cooking, in a food processor, combine one package of rinsed fresh cranberries, one peeled orange cut into sections and one cored, firm Anjou or Bosc pear or Granny Smith apple. Pulse lightly just until ingredients are finely minced. Sweeten to taste with maple syrup or agave syrup. Cover and refrigerate before serving.

As for dessert, share some pumpkin pie and fresh fruit such as grapes and sliced local apples.

So, relax and enjoy a delicious holiday meal. Pass those vegetarian dishes around the Thanksgiving table for everyone to sample. It will make your special guest feel right at home.

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