Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and while we were once fans of ceremonial overeating followed by slipping into a tryptophan-induced nap, we now wonder if we can approach the holiday with a mind for health and sustainability. Turns out: We totally can!
Our carts, baskets and bags will soon be full of provisions for our feasts, and while we are still in the planning phases there are a few things to consider:
Buy Local, Organic and In-Season Produce
The tradition of our great American feast relates to the fall harvest, so in most places traditional Thanksgiving dishes are made from in-season produce. Score one for a sustainable Thanksgiving (if you are buying locally, of course). If you are curious about what is in season in your neck of the woods, check out Sustainable Table’s Seasonal Food Guide, and search through Field to Plate’s database. You can also look for a local seasonal guide like this one for the Bay Area and another for North Carolina.
Buy a Local, Heritage Breed Turkey
Turkeys are native to the Americas, and the genetic lines of those bread for food were once fairly diverse. However, due to industrial processes, 99% of the turkeys we eat in the U.S. now are the Broadbreasted White variety. Buying a heritage breed from a local farmer not only separates you from fossil-fuel-based industrial farming, but it often results in a tastier bird. National Resource Defense Council offers a great primer on heritage breed turkeys, and if you are curious about places in your area that might sell these types of birds, check out Local Harvest or the Eat Well Guide to aid in your search.
Go vegan! (Or Vegetarian)
Take Meatless Monday one step further and try a Turkeyless Thursday. There’s plenty of research out there telling us the health and climate benefits of plant-based diets and if you’re up for breaking tradition for a worthy cause, consider some of the following recipes to help.
Mouths may gape, but it is entirely possible to have a satisfying feast without a bird. Consider a Vegan Nut Roast recipe by Emma Goss-Custard (featured on JamieOliver.com) that combines pine nuts, chestnuts and mushrooms to give a savory taste and meaty feel. If you are a fan of lentils, take a look at Oh She Glows’ Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf recipe—a great receptacle for gravy. If you love tofu, this Porcini Crusted Tofu recipe from Post Punk Kitchen could make for an amazing addition. From the same author, for a 4th-of-July-meets-26th-of-November kind of vibe, the Stuffed Thanksgiving Burgers may be up your alley.
Vegetarian Turkey Alternative
On a personal note, my wife was born and raised vegetarian, so we always have multiple sources of savory protein at our feast. One of the most coveted dishes for veggie and meat eaters alike is the cheese and nut loaf recipe below. It is stupendously tasty and well worth the prep and cook time. We’ve also tried it with substitutions of hard goat cheese (usually gouda) and soft chevre style goat cheese for for the cottage cheese—good ways to accommodate cow dairy allergies. Although this dish doesn’t fall into the vegan category, we get around any eco-guilt by buying the eggs and cheese from our local farmer friends. Also, the mushrooms really make a difference. Button mushrooms can do fine, but if you can find some fresh oyster mushrooms, or better yet, maitake, you’ll boost the flavor to the upper ends of umami.
Linda Gordon’s Thanksgiving Cheese and Nut Loaf
(Gluten Free. Adapted from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison)
1.5 cup cooked brown rice
1.5 cups walnuts
0.5 cups cashews
1 med. yellow onion finely chopped
2 tbsp butter, olive oil, or some other relatively neutral oil
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
0.5 cups mushroom, finely chopped
0.25-1 oz dried shiitake or porcini mushrooms soaked in hot water for 20 minutes then finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped, or 0.5 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoran
0.5 tsp dried sage
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese (vegan cream cheese and vegan sour cream can also work)
9-12 oz grated cheese (use different kinds: gouda, swiss, and sharp cheddar is a great combo)
salt to taste
Preheat over to 350° F
Roast nuts in oven for 5-7 minutes then chop finely
Cook onion in butter or oil on medium heat until translucent, season with salt, then add both types of mushrooms (fresh and reconstituted), garlic and herbs.
Cook mixture until the liquid release by the mushrooms has been reduced and mixture is a little sticky.
Combine mixture with rice, nuts, eggs, cottage cheese and grated cheese
Season to taste with salt and black pepper
Lightly butter a loaf pan then line it with parchment or buttered wax paper
Fill pan with mixture
Cook at 350° until top is golden and rounded: 1 to 1.25 hr (or longer depending on the oven)
The loaf should be firm when you give the pan a shake. Let sit for 10 minutes before putting on a serving plate.
PHOTO: Vegan Nut Roast by Emma Goss-Custard via JamieOliver.com