The elephant on the table

When you have a vegan Thanksgiving with people who aren’t all vegan or vegetarian, or even with current non-meat-eaters who weren’t raised in meat-free households, there’s going to be an elephant in the room. Or, should I say, on the table. Yes, our friend Tom. The big, shiny bird. The great source of all giblets. The turkey.


For some reason I found myself feeling a little righteous about not having a turkey this year as I prepared to host Thanksgiving for the first time. Not condemning of other people’s Thanksgiving turkeys, but definitely taking on the kind of non-apologetic attitude that can swerve easily into aggression without provocation. Although, bless our families’ hearts, certainly no one was being provoking. A vague idea was floated that someone might bring some turkey for the meat-eaters in order to carry on that tradition, but I could feel in my belly that this was something I wasn’t interested in being flexible about. This was a rare opportunity for Duck and me to respectfully ask others to join in our family’s food traditions, and also a chance to knock their socks off with such astounding food that by the end of the night Thanksgiving turkey would seem like one more “optional” item, like candied yams or pecan pie.

Read on for the rest of the story, and for two great vegan, gluten-free Thanksgiving main dishes, with recipes!…

The grand presentation of Pheonix, the rescued turkey we sponsored through the Farm Sanctuary

We sent out a little email explaining why we were having a vegetarian Thanksgiving (and making a solemn promise of “No Tofurky!”), and letting our guests know that, while we were trying to prepare all our dishes to be vegan and gluten-free so that Duck and I could both taste everything on the table, if they wanted to bring a contribution we asked only that it be vegetarian. We didn’t want people getting too nervous and there’s nothing like saying,”Oh, just whip something up with no wheat, oats, milk, eggs, cream, butter, or trace amounts of gluten or animal products” to turn a fun traditional holiday into a scary culinary minefield. Our family members in turn offered up terrific contributions, with my mom’s boyfriend even transforming his traditional cream-laden pumpkin soup into an amazing coconut-milk based creation.

And then we set to work on our menu with all the diligence of generals planning out a campaign. I knew we needed one or two items to really hold down the middle of the table – dishes that would be filling, would supply the chewiness and the solidity that meat usually brings to a meal. I also thought about shapes and colors – the eye-catching golden-brown of a perfectly cooked turkey, and the comforting bulk of it, larger than anything else on the table, that says, “Here is a feast of plenty.”

We ultimately decided on two dishes, Tempeh Marbella and Celery Root and Squash Gratin with Walnut-Thyme Streusel. Tempeh Marbella is the transformation of one of Duck’s family’s traditional celebratory meals, Chicken Marbella. Chewy, toasted cubes of tempeh are marinated overnight in a flavorful sauce and then baked with olives, capers, and prunes. Endless gratitude to Duck’s mom for providing this essential element of our feast, and when I look at the pictures of the tempeh, piled high on my great-grandmother’s china platter, it has that perfect “center of the table” look and the best kind of harvest colors.

Tempeh Marbella

Celery Root and Squash Gratin with Walnut-Thyme Streusel was a recipe from that I had bookmarked last Thanksgiving as something that sounded delicious. But of course it was neither vegan nor gluten-free. I had some GF bread crumbs in my freezer to take care of the wheaty part of the recipe, and I wondered if the vegan cream I concocted for my Summer Bounty Gratin might substitute for the cream here.

Two weeks before the big day I made a small test run of the gratin in a loaf pan. I was disappointed to see that the vegan cream (which I’d made with hemp milk instead of soy milk this time) did not stay “cream colored” as it had before, but rather melted invisibly into the squash. But once I took a bite… It was phenomenal! Duck confirmed my assessment and we confirmed it for our menu. The gratin is very rich, something to be consumed in small bites, and the flavor is incredible. The thyme and parsley in the streusel really stand out, and the butternut squash and celery root are divine in both flavor and smooth, melting texture. On Thanksgiving, the gratin was one of the toppers on everyone’s list of favorites from the meal

Celery Root and Squash Gratin with Walnut Thyme Streusal (image from

NONE of the photos of the gratin came out! This image is straight from, and shows the dairy version of the gratin. In the vegan version I prepared, there was no white cream. The gratin is just orange and creamy white from the celery root, with a browned streusel topping.

Celery Root and Squash Gratin with Walnut-Thyme Streusel (adapted from

Total: 1 hr 15 mins
Active: 35 mins
Makes: 8 to 12 servings
You can make this up to 1 day ahead and rewarm it, covered, at 350°F for about 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Just be sure to keep an eye on the streusel when you rewarm so it doesn’t burn!

For the streusel:

* 1 cup GF, vegan bread crumbs
* 4 tablespoons Earth Balance or other vegan margarine, softened
* 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
* 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
* 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the gratin:

* 1 1/4 cups vegan cream (see recipe below)
* 1 medium butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled, cut in half, and seeded
* 1 medium celery root, also known as celeriac (about 1 pound), peeled and cut in half
* 2 tablespoons Earth Balance
* 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced

For the vegan cream:

* 1/2 C. unsweetened soy milk or hemp milk
* 2 t. lemon juice
* 2/3 C. olive oil


For the vegan cream:

In a blender, combine 1/2 C. unsweetened soy milk with 2 t. lemon juice and blend for a minute on high. While still running the blender, add 2/3 C. olive oil through the pouring hole in the blender cap, very slowly, in a one continuous stream. Keep blending until it gets thick. (If you have leftover cream you can refrigerate it. It will keep in the fridge for about a week.)

For the streusel:

1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until Earth Balance is incorporated. Cover and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the gratin:

1. Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with Earth Balance and set aside.

2. Slice squash and celery root into 1/4-inch-thick pieces with a mandoline or sharp knife, dribbling pieces with the vegan cream as they are cut. Toss until well coated.

3. Melt Earth Balance in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When it foams, add onion and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes; set aside.

4. Construct gratin by ladling 1/3 of the squash and celery root mixture into the baking dish, then seasoning well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with 1/2 of the onions, then another layer of squash and celery root. Season the second layer with salt and pepper and cover with the remaining onions. Place the last of the squash and celery root on top and press down to create an even surface. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the remaining cream over top.

5. Sprinkle streusel evenly over gratin. Bake until vegetables are soft and streusel is golden brown, about 40 to 50 minutes. Let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.

Tempeh Marbella (from Duck’s mom!)

6 packets of tempeh, cut into cubes or thick strips

So, bake the tempeh in a 350 oven for twenty minutes. (I think you could also try toasting the tempeh in a pan with a little oil until golden. That would work better for smaller quantities, of course.)

Then put it in a marinade of:

1 whole bulb of garlic
1/2 cup dried or a big handful fresh oregano
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup red wine vinager
1 cup brown sugar
cup of green olives
small bottle of capers with juice
cup of prunes
(prunes, olives and capers are arbitrary how much)

Original recipe calls for 1/2 cup oil but I don’t use it. I put the garlic cloves (peeled, duh..)oregano and all the liquids in the blender with the sugar and then pour it over. Marinate overnight, turn a bunch of times, then cover and cook for 20 minutes or so in the oven and sprinkle with parsley or (I used) cilantro. You may want to make some extra marinade to pour over the tempeh at the end since the tempeh is very absorbent and will soak up all the sauce while baking.

3 comments on “The elephant on the table

  1. scrumptious says:

    Note from Thanksgiving 2009: For Gratin, used these amounts for all ingredients, but doubled streusel recipe, which was made using homemade bread crumbs from vegan quinoa bread from Rainbow.

    In an accurate oven, streusel burned on top before squash softened. Took gratin out at 50 minutes, with streusel a bit burnt, and let sit. Squash could now be described as “tender” but not soft. Hoping that rewarming tomorrow will make squash sufficiently soft.

  2. Ginny says:

    Hi there, I just wanted to let you know that I made both the Gratin and the Tempeh recipes today for our Canadian Thanksgiving dinner. Both were delicious, the Gratin was incredibly rich as you mentioned in your description. The tempeh was a completely unexpected flavor that everyone loved!

    I was the only one at the table that was both vegan and gluten-free, although there were 2 other lacto-ovo vegetarians present. But everyone loved the recipes, thank you.

    • scrumptious says:

      Ginny, that’s excellent to hear! Thanks so much for reporting back on your success. I’m so glad I was able to help your holiday have more vegan gluten-free awesomeness!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s