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A Guide to the Ultimate Vegan & Gluten-Free Thanksgiving

November 15, 2016

When I asked my two roommates, both of whom are varying degrees of vegetarian (one eats fish sometimes; one eats bacon only when in Myrtle Beach), what it's like to be a non-meat eater on Thanksgiving, one said, "Vegetarians should plan a trip to Europe during the last week of November," and the other said, "It's the best holiday for vegetarians. Two words: mashed potatoes."

Photo by James Ransom

Oh, to be a vegetarian (or a vegan) on Thanksgiving! Both a blessing and a curse, a boon and a burden. It's easy to be forlorn (I've been there, with my head so low the three green beans on my plate are practically up my nostrils), but there's hope yet.

Photo by Alpha Smoot

From restriction erupts creativity! As a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-freer, you're liberated from the girdle of turkey-mashed potato-cranberry sauce. You can have lentil loaf instead of dry turkey, salt-crusted potatoes instead of sticky mashed ones, candied cranberries instead of jellied sauce.

More: Nervous about hosting your vegan friends? We have tips to make it as easy as possible.

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Top Comment:
“In our family it's not only veg and gluten-free. We also have nut free, non-dairy, a family history of diabetes, and one or 2 more I can't think of now. Every holiday meal is delicious, beautiful and satisfying. You have to let go of the blinders that say you have to have this or that on the table. (One year one son insisted on egg rolls. When the meal was over, he went into the kitchen and made his egg rolls, enjoyed by everyone. Another year, the main course was a Southeast Asian lettuce wrap.)”
— susan G.

Whether you're having an entirely vegan and gluten-free Thanksgiving, or you're picking and choosing a couple of these dishes just because they look so good (or to guarantee there's something for everyone), your guests will welcome the change at your table. Make enough for everyone to try; otherwise, those turkey-eaters are going to be jealous.

Already feeling overwhelmed? We have help!

Note: Some of these recipes are made with soy sauce and miso, which are not necessarily gluten-free. You'll want to seek out bottles and jars that are specifically labeled "gluten-free."

The Crowd Warmers

Do your guests want something subtle and seasonal and only optionally alcoholic? Or do they want something strong and citrusy, with gin and Cappelletti, lemon juice and grapefruit juice?

It probably depends on the other guests at the table (and where they're seated).

Either way, make a big batch each of Apple Peel Tea and Bowery Punch. Both are vegan (again, look for organic sugar) and gluten-free. So all of your guests can enjoy them before, during, and after the meal.

The Opening Act

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

Snacks and appetizers are your chance to make sure your guests don't bolt out the door after the cocktails. Serve something savory—like this sharp and earthy Fig and Olive Tapenade—with something sweet, like these tart Orange Blossom-Candied Cranberries. Be sure to use organic sugar to make the cranberries 100% vegan.

Both can be prepared several days ahead of time, which you'll be grateful for when the big day comes.

The Duet: Soup & Salad

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

Guests with special diets are often pigeonholed as soup and salad eaters exclusively. But with recipes like Roasted Carrot Soup and Carrot and Radicchio Salad with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette, this stereotype isn't such a bad thing.

The soup is puzzlingly flavorful (only 7 ingredients!) and creamy, while the salad is less leaf and more substance (pistachios, figs, sweet carrots). Roasted carrots make up the bulk of both of these dishes, so consider this a 2-for-1, soup and salad special.

More vegan and gluten-free soups & salads:

The Front Liner

Photo by James Ransom

Vegetarians and vegans are often dealt a hodge-podge of sides rather than a main (period) dish (period). And while that's fine (and most of the time, welcome!), it's not always as fun on a holiday that is centered around meat eaters devouring a giant bird.

This year, herbivores get a head-turning, plate-dominating main of their own: Lentil Walnut Loaf. It's much easier to make than a turkey (all you have to do is cook lentils, sauté vegetables, and turn on the oven); there's no risk of it being dry; and the leftovers are just as good.

For a gluten-free loaf, make your own breadcrumbs from gluten-free bread.

Or, try these stewed cranberry beans with kale, served over polenta:

The Back-Up Dancers

Greens and Starches:

The recipe for Fried Oniony, Garlicky Green Beans (thankfully) does not call for a can of cream of mushroom soup. Instead, the beans are browned on the stove with onions and garlic, then brightened with lemon, soy sauce, and cilantro. Your oven space—and your guests—will be spared from a cream of mushroom soup-flavored casserole.

And unlike mashed potatoes, which are sometimes gluey and most of the time bland, these Salt-Crusted Potatoes are effortlessly creamy and perfectly-seasoned every time. All you'll need is new potatoes and sea salt, but the process is so simple that you'll have time to mix together the accompanying cilantro mojo, too. It's garlicky, herby, and sure to get slathered on the cornbread.

But if you simply can't call it Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes:

Grains and Bread:

Take any ingredient or flavor you've missed in the meal so far and pack it into a grain salad. Customize your own, or make this Quinoa Salad with Hazelnuts, Apples, and Dried Cranberries. Set some aside for yourself before you serve it—it makes for great leftovers.

Photo by James Ransom
Photo by James Ransom

And for your bread basket, there's My New Roots' Life-Changing Loaf of Bread. Made entirely with seeds, nuts, and rolled oats, it's gluten-free and requires no specialty flours (though you will have to go to the store for psyllium seed husks). Since it freezes well, you could make the loaf ahead of time and keep slices in the freezer. Warm them in the oven before serving.

If you need cornbread and are looking for a recipe that's either vegan or gluten-free:

The Encore

Yes, you will have dessert and no, it will not be fruit salad (though it can be, if that's your thing!).

This pecan pie—vegan, gluten-free, and raw, too—is way more forgiving than a traditional pie. The crust is press-in and no-bake, made from pecans, walnuts, shredded coconut, and Medjool dates. It's filled with a rich, gooey mixture of coconut oil, pecans, and more caramel-y dates.

For something more traditional, try your hand at a gluten-free pie with Honeycrisp apples and a crumble topping.

But the dessert table doesn't have to end:

This article originally appeared on November 5, 2015. We're re-running it because Thanksgiving's just about 1 week (!) away.

What's your favorite vegan and gluten-free holiday dish? Share it with us in the comments!

52 Days of Thanksgiving
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52 Days of Thanksgiving

Top-notch recipes, expert tips, and all the tools to pull off the year’s most memorable feast.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Joyce Howe
    Joyce Howe
  • susan g
    susan g
  • MAC
  • Carmen
  • Cary Walker
    Cary Walker
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Joyce H. November 14, 2017
Several of us have a question......this is in regard to the cranberry comment near the end of the article...about using a particular sugar, to be sure it is truely vegan.....our question is what differance does it make....other than beet sugar being almost surely GMO...we don't understand this. Someone please set us straight.
susan G. November 19, 2016
Really, it's easy. Once you take away the turkey/ham/etc, even the flours you're used to, the food world opens up to delightful choices. In our family it's not only veg and gluten-free. We also have nut free, non-dairy, a family history of diabetes, and one or 2 more I can't think of now. Every holiday meal is delicious, beautiful and satisfying. You have to let go of the blinders that say you have to have this or that on the table. (One year one son insisted on egg rolls. When the meal was over, he went into the kitchen and made his egg rolls, enjoyed by everyone. Another year, the main course was a Southeast Asian lettuce wrap.)
MAC November 8, 2015
Great suggestions, but if your friends eat bacon or fish they aren't vegetarians. Vegetarianism required commitment and sacrifice; it isn't a label that you can use at will, shifting its definition about to fit what you want to eat.
Carmen November 7, 2015
Also for all NYers who don't want to cook their vegan Thanksgiving meal, The Cinnamon Snail does a pretty delicious one every year!
Cary W. November 7, 2015
Link to the lentil loaf please!
Cary W. November 7, 2015
Never mind, found it myself:)
xxx November 7, 2015
Any suggestions for those of us with soy allergies?
kelly November 7, 2015
Try olive brine, ume plum vinegar, or balsamic vinegar for a soy sauce substitute. There are also a few coconut-based alternatives out there. Hope that helps!
Kathrin G. November 7, 2015
The link to the Lentil Walnut Loaf appears to be broken.
Anna D. November 6, 2015
Gen, I have also used Braggs Liquid Amimos in place of soy sauce in peanut sauce and I could nt tell the difference.
Gen November 6, 2015
Could I just mention that proper Japanese Tamari sauce has a flavour equal to soya sauce - but it's made only with soya beans and no wheat (typical soy sauce contains both). So when you want gluten free, just buy traditonal Japanese Tamari sauce and use it in place of "soy sauce" in recipes.