Nothing screams 1950s like a typical Thanksgiving table. From turkey at the center stage to marshmallows atop sweet potatoes, most Thanksgiving gatherings appear straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
But what if you added a plant-based dish? That could satiate the vegans at your party — or the veggie-loving eaters — without taking too much time from a day filled with basting, tasting and taking the temperature of the meat dishes.
To get ideas on how to veganize your holidays, Eugene Weekly spoke with Corey Prunier, chef and co-owner of one of the area’s most popular vegan spots: Acorn Community Cafe.
The restaurant has already sold out for its Thanksgiving Day Giving Dinner event, which is raising money for the recently opened 86 Hunger nonprofit that is working toward providing free food for people in need. Prunier is on 86 Hunger’s board. But he has some tips for the home cook on how to add vegan dishes to your Thanksgiving repertoire — or to any of the upcoming holiday-oriented meals.
When dishing up vegan food, he says one of his rules is to stay away from plant-based meats. “I like leaning into things like stuffed squash,” he says. “You can just roast the squash filler with whatever you want. Ideally, you take some extra time and sprinkle something extra on there, like some pomegranate seeds, or some gravy.”
Although turkey and ham might take the center stage of a holiday table, it’s the plethora of side dishes that make these gatherings a vegan’s paradise. The opportunity of side dishes is what Prunier says he likes to take advantage of, pointing to stuffing as an example. Rather than just going with plain old stuffing, Acorn’s is cornbread-based, adding pecans and heirloom cornmeal, which makes the dish more exciting.
If it’s a heartier meal you’re after, Prunier raves about a dish that Acorn calls the “forager’s pie,” a plant-based twist on the shepherd’s pie. It’s not too difficult and it’s likely a stocked kitchen already has the ingredients.
The dish starts by cooking onions, celery and carrots in a pan in an oil or vegan butter until they become sort of translucent. Then you add rosemary, thyme and tomato paste. Next, you add dry chopped lentils and walnuts along with a proportional amount of water or vegetable broth (usually the ratio is one cup of dry lentils for two cups of water/broth).
The secret to the forager’s pie is the mix of walnuts and lentils, Prunier says. “It ends up taking on a ground beef sort-of texture,” he adds. “It’s got a lot of protein.”
While the lentils cook, prepare the mashed potatoes. You’ll need enough mashed potatoes to cover the lentil mix in whatever baking dish you’re using. When the lentil mix is fully cooked, pour it in a pan and cover it with mashed potatoes. And you’ll put it in the oven until cooked golden brown.
However you add plant-based meals to your holiday routine, Prunier says not to lose your cool as you embark on this journey.
“Never apologize for your food,” he says. “When you’re cooking for people, if it doesn’t turn out quite right, be proud of what you did for them. Just be proud that you provided for people.”