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Turkey? Stuff It!

If you've ever seen the looks of horror when you serve up a beautiful, glistening dish of homemade cranberry-orange relish with walnuts to a tableful of die-hard Ocean Spray fans, you know it can be tough to try something new on Thanksgiving.There are many folks who don't give a figgy pudding about turkey on T-Day (or any other day). Maybe it's for ethical or health reasons. Maybe they aren't into the long prep and cleanup. Or maybe they're just rebels without applause for the same old feast.If you're one of them, or would like to be, there are ways to get over your guilt of robbing your guests of their traditional fare. You may even be doing them a favor."There is increased awareness from population studies that chronic degenerative diseases are more prevalent with meat-based rather than plant-based diets," says Miven Donato, a Medford physician who specializes in Gerson Therapy, a regime that centers on an organic, vegetarian diet, raw juices, coffee enemas and natural supplements. "And you can decrease your risk of contracting bacterial diseases by avoiding meat-based foods. Remember that your health is more important than keeping a tradition that has far greater risk now than in the past."That's all well and good, of course, but what about, you know, tradition? Not to worry. Donato says to remind guests that Thanksgiving is about a lot more than food."The ambient music, the conversations, being with family and friends, and even inviting or sharing with others who are not fortunate enough to enjoy the season, the attitude of thanksgiving and the celebration of the blessings from God are what makes the Thanksgiving occasion special," Donato stresses.No matter what you serve, it's important to keep the atmosphere festive, and choose foods that call attention to nature's bounty."Look for what's in season for the best flavor and quality>" says Laurie Gadbois, a certified instructor in the plant-based Food for Life program designed by the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine. "It's a holiday, so don't skimp on ingredients. Splurge and buy those fancy gourmet items. And be sure to use traditional herbs and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, sage, rosemary and thyme — and don't forget the garlic!"A variety of seasonal colors and textures — orange sweet potatoes, red cranberry sauce, brown mushrooms, vibrant greens — goes a long way toward creating a traditional holiday vibe.Gadbois, who maintains the plantwisecooking.com website, also advises to plan on a "knock-out main dish" accompanied by a number of side dishes. If it's your first time trying something like the Savory Tofu Nut Loaf recipe she provides here, be sure to cook it at least once before the big day to work out any potential kinks.You can also try your hand at making "mock turkey" from ingredients like lentils. If you aren't ready to go it on your own, there's always Tofurkey — long the butt of sitcom and movie jokes, but in reality a viable option for a turkey-free feast."The taste of a plant-based, mock turkey entrée depends on the creativity of the person or chef selecting the ingredients to satisfy the palates of anyone who is willing to try a healthier option," Donato says. "More experienced chefs can produce wonderful-tasting foods when they are willing to use their skills with whatever meat-free menus are called for. So be creative!"Gadbois emphasizes that offering a bountiful feast will prove to friends and family that it's possible to eat a plant-based diet and leave the table nourished and satisfied.And there's yet another advantage of keeping the feast lighter this year: "One of the side benefits to a healthy, plant-based Thanksgiving is you'll be able to enjoy your day and not slip into a 'food coma' after eating the typical high-fat turkey meal," Gadbois says. "You can skip the nap and go for a walk or just spend more quality time with friends and family."

Turkey? Stuff It!