By Zel Allen

A wonderful Thanksgiving meal requires no alchemy in the kitchen – just a bushel of nature’s divine seasonal treasures and a pinch of love to give them flavor. Unbounded by a lack of past tradition, all vegans can fill that blank canvas with luscious Thanksgiving dishes that may create lasting memories at the family table.

If you’re one of those curiously creative cooks who finds the kitchen a wondrous banquet of food exploration, you’ll enjoy the dazzling array of autumn and winter fruits and vegetables in the following recipes. And Thanksgiving is vegan paradise for all home chefs who take up the challenge of inventing truly memorable dishes and unique appetizers like Yin-Yang Thanksgiving Pâté and luscious desserts such as Easy Pumpkin Tofu Cheesecake.

You may want to set the Thanksgiving table with linens, cloth napkins, and candles. A few pie pumpkins, dried corn, and colorful gourds make perfect and inexpensive table decorations. Or perhaps you prefer something a little splashier like fresh flowers in autumn shades of gold and burgundy.

Sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and baked potatoes are all welcome visitors as you vary the Thanksgiving offerings from year to year. And one of the very special treats of this season is fresh chestnuts, with their magnificent sweet flavor and creamy, potato-like texture. A long standing annual ritual in my house begins in October when I order a few pounds of fresh chestnuts directly from the grower. The night before Thanksgiving, all of us gather at the family-room table sporting our chestnut knives. Amid grumbles and complaints, the group dutifully peels the freshly cooked chestnuts to be later found in our Thanksgiving dinner.

Take pleasure in your holiday adventure from the kitchen to the table by bringing beautiful foods to the feast, and dining with gusto. And in old-fashioned Thanksgiving tradition, don’t forget to give thanks for your many blessings and for the abundance you were able to share with family and friends.

Roasted Butternut Sunset

(Serves 8)

Butternut is a delicious squash on its own, but interwoven with carrots, beets, fresh cranberries, and a little kitchen magic, it becomes an extraordinary fusion of rich flavors and flaming colors, reminiscent of a fiery sunset. This dish is even better prepared ahead and reheated at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.

  • 1 large butternut squash (2½ to 3 pounds), peeled and cut into ¾-inch pieces
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
  • 2 small beets, peeled and diced
  • ¾ cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup orange or tangerine juice
  • ¼ cup plus 3 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • ¼ cup white miso
  • 1 teaspoon orange or tangerine zest
  • 1 green onion, diagonally sliced, or 1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the squash, carrots, beets, cranberries, olive oil, and salt in a large bowl and toss well to coat the vegetables. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a 17½ x 12½-inch rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the orange juice, maple syrup, miso, and orange zest in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Remove the vegetables from the oven and pour the orange juice mixture over them. Bake another 15 to 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Spoon the vegetables into a serving bowl or platter and garnish with the green onion slices, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 176 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 39 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 653 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Harvest Succotash

(Serves 6-8)

This is an old-fashioned dish that originated with the Narragansett Indians in Rhode Island. Originally made with corn and lima beans, this dish has evolved into a lovely Thanksgiving standard.

  • 1 pound frozen lima beans
  • 1 pound frozen edamame (shelled)
  • One 15-ounce can corn kernels, drained
  • One 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup sweetened dried cranberries


  • 2 cups soy or nut milk
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1-2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1-2 Tablespoons water

Prepare the lima beans and edamame according to package directions, drain off any excess liquid, and put them in a 3-quart casserole.

Add the corn, kidney beans, bell peppers, and cranberries and mix well. Set aside casserole and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

To make the sauce, combine the soy or nut milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, nutmeg, and pepper in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then immediately decrease the heat.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and stir to form a smooth, runny paste. Whisk the paste into the simmering milk a little at a time, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, or until the sauce is slightly thickened. For thicker sauce, combine another Tablespoon each of cornstarch and water, add to the simmering liquid, and whisk for about 1 minute.

Pour the sauce over the succotash, mix well, and bake at 325 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until heated through.

Total calories per serving: 392 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 60 grams Protein: 25 grams
Sodium: 568 milligrams Fiber: 14 grams

Yin-Yang Pâté

(Makes 3 cups; 10-12 servings)

With a touch of playful sculpture, two tasty appetizer pâtés become one very striking yin-yang presentation. Accompany with whole-grain crackers or toasted pita wedges, or spoon into leaves of Belgian endive.

Carrot Pâté

(Makes about 1½ cups)

  • 1¼ cups chopped carrots
  • 1¼ cups chopped red bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
  • 1 cup raw or roasted cashews or macadamias
  • 2 Tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  • Pinch cayenne

To make the carrot paté, put the carrots, bell pepper, cashews, lemon juice, ginger, salt, pepper, and cayenne in a food processor and process for 1 minute, or until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Transfer to a small bowl and wash and dry the processor work bowl to use again for the Mushroom Walnut Pâté.

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

(Makes about 1½ cups)

  • 1 pound cremini or button mushrooms, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup raw walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt

To prepare the mushroom pâté, cook and stir the mushrooms, onions, garlic, and water in a large skillet over high heat for 3-4 minutes, or until the onion is transparent and the mushrooms are softened. Add 1 or more Tablespoons of water as needed to prevent burning. There should be at least 1 Tablespoon of liquid remaining in the pan.

Transfer the mushroom mixture and the remaining liquid to a food processor and add the walnuts, yeast flakes, lemon juice, and salt. Process the mixture until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl.

To assemble, remove 1 Tablespoon of each pâté and set aside. Spoon the remaining mushroom pâté onto one half of a dinner plate. Using the back of a spoon, form one half of the yin-yang symbol. Spoon the remaining carrot pâté onto the plate and form the other half of the symbol. Complete the presentation by placing the reserved tablespoon of each pâté into the widest portion of the opposite color. Smooth the edges to form a complete circle. See next page for photo.

Total calories per serving: 136 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 11 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 429 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Pistachio and Sweet Pea Torte with Roasted Tomato Aioli

(Serves 10-12)

Vegan Thanksgiving yearns for a classic signature dish that becomes a cherished must-have for the Thanksgiving main course. Deliciously seasoned with flamboyant flavors, captivatingly aromatic, and visually appealing, this unique torte is a first-rate holiday entrée that delivers plenty of pizzazz. If you favor sauces to dress up the presentation, include the irresistible Roasted Tomato Aioli, an elegant complement to the torte. Both the torte and the aioli can be prepared a day ahead.


  • 1½ cups water
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • 1 Tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon white vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 2½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1¾ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup plus 3 Tablespoons coarsely ground roasted pistachios
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle
  • ½ teaspoon each dried oregano and marjoram
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Pinch cayenne
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups cooked short-grain brown rice
  • 1 pound frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 carrot, shredded, for garnish
  • 3 Tablespoons minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Cover the base of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of parchment paper 2 inches larger than the pan. Snap the collar back onto the base, and cut away the excess paper with scissors. Lightly oil the sides of the pan, place it on a baking sheet, and set aside.

To make the torte, pour 1 cup of the water and the cashews into a blender and process on high speed until smooth and milky. Transfer to a small bowl, stir in the vinegar, and set aside to sour.

Combine the oats, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and mix well. Stir in ½ cup of the ground pistachios.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the remaining ½ cup of water, onions, carrots, celery, red bell pepper, garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, poultry seasoning, fennel seeds, oregano, marjoram, turmeric, cayenne, and pepper in a large skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for 10-12 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Add 1 or more Tablespoons of water as needed to prevent burning.

Add the cooked vegetables and the rice to the oat mixture and combine well.

Put the peas in a food processor and process until creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Add the peas and the soured cashew milk to the vegetable mixture and mix well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared springform pan and spread to the edges, packing the mixture firmly. Smooth the top and sprinkle with the remaining 3 Tablespoons of pistachios. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the torte is firm when gently pressed. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.


  • 1 pound Roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup raw cashews
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground smoked paprika or liquid smoke

To make the aioli, place the tomatoes on a baking sheet, cut side up, and broil about 3 inches from the heat for 15-20 minutes, turning twice while broiling, until completely soft. Meanwhile, put the water, cashews, and garlic in a blender. Process until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the blender jar. Add the broiled tomatoes, lemon juice, salt, and paprika to the cashew mixture. Process until smooth and creamy, stopping occasionally to scrape down the blender jar. Transfer the sauce to a 1-quart saucepan and simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

To serve, place the springform pan on a large serving platter. To unmold, run a knife around the edge to loosen the torte. Carefully lift off the collar. Garnish the edge of the platter with the shredded carrot and minced parsley, if desired. Cut the torte into serving-size wedges and serve with aioli on the side.

Variation: Substitute vegan sour cream for the Roasted Tomato Aioli.

Total calories per serving: 469 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 77 grams Protein: 15 grams
Sodium: 793 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Chestnut-Smothered Brussels Sprouts

(Serves 12)

Brussels sprouts and chestnuts may seem like the ultimate cliché of trendy holiday foods, but not so; this tasty version turns Brussels sprouts haters into devoted converts. The host who likes to plan ahead may want to blanch the Brussels sprouts the day before for convenience.

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut into quarters lengthwise
  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced red bell peppers
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 24 cooked and peeled chestnuts, diced (see page 25 for cooking and peeling instructions) or 1 cup chopped nuts of your choice
  • ½ teaspoon each garlic powder and onion powder
  • 6 pimento-stuffed green olives, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 green onion, sliced, for garnish

Combine the Brussels sprouts, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Cook and stir for 4-5 minutes over high heat, or until the onions are very soft and the tomatoes begin to break down. Add 1 or more Tablespoons of water as needed to prevent burning.

Add the chestnuts, garlic powder, onion powder, and olives. Season with salt and pepper. Cook another 1-2 minutes to heat through. Serve in a bowl or platter and garnish with the green onion, if desired.

Total calories per serving: 100 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 17 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 39 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Easy Pumpkin Tofu Cheesecake

(Serves 10-12)

Pumpkin and Thanksgiving are so synonymous it’s hard to imagine a Thanksgiving meal without a pumpkin dessert. The cheesecake needs several hours to cool and firm in the refrigerator and works best when prepared a day in advance.

  • 1 Flaxseed Pie Crust (recipe on page 25)
  • One 15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 14 ounces firm tofu, drained
  • 1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons vegan sugar
  • ¼ cup arrowroot starch
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1-2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the pie crust with the recipe on the next page.

Put the pumpkin, tofu, sugar, arrowroot, cinnamon, lemon juice, vanilla extract, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and salt in a food processor. Process mixture until thoroughly blended (thick and creamy), stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl. Spoon the filling into the prepared crust and smooth the top and edges.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until the top is firm when lightly pressed. Let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours.

To serve, place the springform pan on a serving platter or footed cake plate. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cheesecake. Carefully lift off the collar. Cut into wedges and serve.

Total calories per serving: 337 Fat: 15 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: 8 grams
Sodium: 140 milligrams Fiber: 5 grams

Flaxseed Pie Crust

(Makes one 9-inch crust serving 10)

You’ll welcome this no-fail pie crust into your dessert recipe repertoire because it does not requires high-tech culinary skills.

  • 1/2 cup whole raw almonds
  • 1½ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • ½ cup ground flaxseeds
  • 1 Tablespoon organic brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup canola oil

Cover the base of a 9-inch springform pan with a piece of parchment paper 2 inches larger. Snap the collar back onto the base and cut away the excess paper with scissors. Lightly oil the sides of the pan, place it on a baking sheet, and set aide.

Put the almonds in a food processor. Process until they form a coarse meal. Add the flour, ground flaxseeds, brown sugar, and salt; process until thoroughly mixed. Add the water and canola oil and process until the mixture becomes a moist soft dough, stopping occasionally to scrape down the work bowl.

Spoon the crust mixture into the prepared pan and use your fingers to press it firmly into the bottom and 1-inch up the side of the pan.

Total calories per serving: 190 Fat: 13 grams
Carbohydrates: 15 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 119 milligrams Fiber: 4 grams

Cooking and Peeling Fresh Chestnuts

I’m aware that many home chefs are unfamiliar with chestnut preparation, so here’s a brief primer on cooking and peeling them. Once you’ve tasted their sweet and creamy rewards, you’ll become a dedicated fan and will want to make them part of your Thanksgiving tradition. For convenience, chestnuts can be cooked and peeled up to two days ahead and kept refrigerated. Even more convenient, buy them already cooked and peeled. While there are several ways to cook chestnuts, I found boiling them works best. Because peeling chestnuts is a patient process, find a comfortable chair. Here’s the method:

  1. Using a firm, sharp, short-bladed paring knife, make a crisscross cut on one or both sides of each chestnut. Put the chestnuts into a large saucepan, and cover them with about 3 inches of water.
  2. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and boil the chestnuts gently for about 25-35 minutes.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer about 8 chestnuts to a small bowl and place it in front of you. Have a medium bowl handy for the peeled chestnuts and another for the discarded shells. Cool the chestnuts only briefly, about 1 minute – they peel more easily when they’re quite hot.
  4. Using your paring knife, take hold of the shell close to a crisscross cut and remove it with a pulling motion. You will also need to remove the brown inner skin as well. Be prepared for a little tug-of-war. Sometimes the inner skin is a bit stubborn. If it is too resistant, the chestnut may need to be cooked for a few more minutes.
  5. As the chestnuts cool, they become more challenging to peel. It’s best not to fight with them. Just put the pot back on the burner and heat them up for a few minutes so you can finish the task with ease. Be sure there is enough water in the pot to cover the chestnuts.

The recipes appearing in this article are from Zel’s newest book Vegan for the Holidays, which is available from The Vegetarian Resource Group. Order online at