Vegetarians don't need your sympathy on Thanksgiving, says Dan Pashman, host of a food podcast and blog called The Sporkful. Pashman is an omnivore, but he spoke to vegetarians and found "it actually makes them feel uncomfortable when a host goes to extreme lengths to make something special just for them."
Pashman joins NPR's Rachel Martin to talk about how to keep both meat eaters and vegetarians happy at Thanksgiving — and shares some tips for making a vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving meal (including a very special meatless centerpiece.)
On how vegetarians feel about Thanksgiving
"They don't feel like they're missing out. I spoke to Laura Anderson — she's the food and drinks editor at Slate, she's a vegetarian, and also happens to be my friend ... She told me that, 'The essence of Thanksgiving is not in the turkey itself, it's in having ... a ton of dishes all together, way more food than you can eat, the promise of leftovers, a plate on which you have probably six or seven dishes all sharing room on the same plate.' ...
"Many vegetarians I interviewed echoed her sentiments that they are quite content with a side dish smorgasbord, assuming the sides are hearty and plentiful enough for them to end up, you know, as full as the rest of us."
On his recipe for the Veggieducken
"Now I'm an avowed omnivore, and I understand that vegetarians don't want or need my sympathy, but I happen to be an especially empathetic person, so they still have it. But to be clear, it's not because you need to eat meat to enjoy Thanksgiving. It's just because, to me, the turkey is such an event. You don't cook a whole turkey very often — it takes a long time; it is a happening in and of itself.
"And while vegetarians can make a very nice meal with all the side dishes, you can eat those sides all the time. They don't have that big centerpiece dish that makes it a special day ... They don't have that, they haven't had that — until now: I give you the Veggieducken. It's inspired by the turducken — that's a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. And instead of the meat, it's yams inside leeks inside a banana squash, with vegetarian stuffing between each layer. And a banana squash is about 2 feet long; it's one of the largest squashes money can buy. So this thing is big. It takes a couple hours to cook — it is an event."
On vegetarians' reaction to the Veggieducken
"They are very impressed. Absolutely. You know, it's funny, because vegetarians do get a little defensive when you suggest they're missing out, but when I explain it to them this way, it's like, yes, I get it, you don't have to eat turkey to have a great Thanksgiving meal, but you guys are missing out on this event."
On other tips for making the Thanksgiving meal vegetarian-friendly
"Watch out for including things like chicken stock in your stuffing. Gelatin is in marshmallows, which ends up in candied yams — that will make that not vegetarian. Gelatin is also in Jell-O, so watch out for that. And those vegetarians out there, if you're going to an omnivore's house, you know, just like they should respect their food choices, you should respect theirs — you know, maybe don't start a fight over the food at Thanksgiving. Bring a Veggieducken — you'll win them over!"
Dan Pashman's Recipe for Veggieducken
6 cloves garlic
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
3 red bell pepper, stems and seeds removed, roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley, loosely packed
1 cup fresh sage, loosely packed
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
4 cups breadcrumbs
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 yams, peeled and ends cut off to make it 6-inches long
3 medium leeks, rinsed and halved lengthwise
1 banana squash, about 2-feet long or as big as will fit in your oven
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Pulse the garlic and onions in a food processor 6 to 8 times. Push everything down from the sides of work bowl using a rubber spatula and pulse 6 to 8 more times. Scrape into a large bowl and set aside.
Pulse the bell pepper in the food processor until finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add to the bowl with the onion mixture.
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion mixture (including any liquid in the bottom of the bowl) and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the parsley, sage and thyme to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. (Can use the same large bowl as before, no cleaning necessary.)
Add the breadcrumbs, broth, onion mixture, salt, black pepper and remaining olive oil, stirring to combine.
Wrap the yams in several layers of damp paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Let set until cool enough to handle.
Trim the ends from the squash, and then slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and any loose fibers using a large metal spoon. Make a stable bottom by slicing about 1/2 inch from one of the halves.
Press about 2 cups of the onion stuffing into the cavity of the bottom squash, making a hollow space in the center.
Line the hollow with 3 leek halves, cut-side up, pressing firmly into the stuffing. Cover the leeks with a thin layer of stuffing, pressing to create a hollow for the yams. Lay the yams into the hollow and cover with a thin layer of stuffing. Arrange the remaining leeks, cut-side down, over the stuffing. Cover the leeks with another layer of stuffing, pressing into a mound about the size to fit into the remaining squash cavity.
Cover the stuffing with the remaining squash half, pressing firmly to set in place. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, covering loosely with foil if it browns too quickly. It's done when a wooden skewer slides easily into the center. Let sit for 10 minutes before transferring to a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice in half into a semicircle and serve.
Cook's Note: The ends of the squash won't be very pretty when sliced since the stuffing doesn't go all the way to the end, so we didn't count the ends in the number of portions. Slice the ends off and discard.