Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Thanksgiving is about food; no matter what kind of food you want to enjoy. It's about gathering, giving thanks and then sharing a meal. I love Thanksgiving because it is just a time to be with family and friends. There is no other "main event" to get to, like with so many other holidays. No fireworks, no candy, no presents; just simply enjoying each other's company.
It is also a wonderful time for reflection on everything that you have and all that you can give "Thanks" for in your life. Sometimes (often times) we are caught up in the "more" - more stuff, more thin, more money, more success, more "likes," more followers, more friends, more love, more relaxation...you get it; you live it, right? Thanksgiving though - this holiday is all about being thankful for what you have and reveling in the now.
Sustainability Spotlight: This year, due to inflation, Thanksgiving dinner is set to cost Americans more than the prior year. Even more interesting, the highest increase in goods is for animal products (with the exception of dairy and related products) at almost 12% year over year between 2020 and 2021. This infographic sourced from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gives a striking visual of where the costs are rising: https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/12/inflation-means-thanksgiving-dinner-will-cost-extra-this-year-.html. It is reported in the same CNBC article that costs are rising due to deficits in supply (like turkeys) and rising transportation costs from gasoline prices. A supply chain shortage has forced Americans to grapple with prices and availability of goods throughout the last 18 months. These factors seem to only be increasing their chokehold on food and food supply in the U.S.
With meat prices increasing and our ability to source foods declining, there is no better time to incorporate vegan sides (and even mains if you are willing and able) to our Thanksgiving dinner tables. Moving your menu planning for a produce focused extravaganza will not only help you reduce the costs of this year's dinner, but will aid in the sustainability of the planet. Turkey production (while not as confined or concentrated as chicken farming) does have similar off-gassing, waste, and water usage and contamination characteristics as other concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs). Trying new ways to incorporate less meat (or evening removing meat entirely from this year's Thanksgiving) can be a way to give "thanks" to the planet for what we have been given. If we continue to expend ourselves in the "more" and generate additional wastes by grappling with a mentality of that need for "more," then our positioning for future generations may continue to stunt their capabilities to not only steward this world, but live in it well.
I aim for this and future Thanksgiving dinners to be ripe with promise and pregnant with the weight of gratitude that comes with this holiday. Gratitude that you, our families, our friends, and I have all made even a slight change this "turkey day" to consider the planet, our health and the environment. Adding recipes like this one in lieu of animal-based dressings can be just the right amount of "Thanks" we can give back to the Earth this Thanksgiving.
Note: Any items in italics below represent steps you can take a day or two before Thanksgiving in "prep" work to make the dressing come together super quick and easy on the big day!
1 cup butternut squash (cubed into bite sized pieces) - Roast at 350 degrees F with some avocado oil, salt & pepper spread out on a silpat lined pan for ~40 minutes. Cool before using in recipe.
7-8 bakery style bread slices cut into cubes. - Spread cubes onto a clean and dry baking sheet (lipped) and toast at 400 degrees F for ~18-20 minutes until browned and crisp.
1 large carrot (peeled & chopped)
3-4 celery stalks (sliced)
1 large leek, sliced into quarters lengthwise and then sliced - be sure to clean your leek well. Fill a large bowl with cold water and soak your leek pieces; massage them with your hands in the water and let sit for ~5-10 minutes. All the grit and dirt will sink. Skim your leeks off the top of the water and dry in a clean towel. Don't forget use the "dirt" water remaining for use in indoor plants.
3 tbsp avocado oil
salt & pepper (to taste)
2 tbsp fresh sage (diced)
3-4 garlic cloves (diced)
1 large handful fresh parsley (chopped)
1.5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup dried cherry-berry blend (or just dried cherries, or dried cranberries (unsweetened)
2 tbsp vegan butter
As desired: Make ahead the squash and bread (store in air tight containers until ready to use) using the italics directions above. Prepare leek and store in an airtight container (silicone reusable bags are great!).
The day of or before Thanksgiving:
Heat cast iron pan over medium-high heat, add avocado oil and swirl to coat.
Once the oil shimmers, add leek and a pinch of salt. Sauté for ~3-4 minutes until leek starts to soften and darken in color.
Next, add carrot, celery, garlic and another pinch of salt to the pan. Sauté for ~7-8 minutes to soften the vegetables and they begin to show signs of browning.
Now, add berries and your butternut squash, stir to warm these ingredients.
Add another pinch of salt, a pinch of black pepper and the cherry-berries to your pan.
Stir in butter and mix to incorporate well. Turn off heat.
Now, mix together your warm cast iron pan ingredients, toasted bread, parsley, and vegetable stock in a large bowl. Do not wipe out cast iron pan!
While your cast iron pan is empty of ingredients, add another ~1 tbsp avocado oil into the pan and swirl to coat. It should still be warm enough to ensure that the oil coats the bottom (this helps "toast" the bottom of the dressing in the oven and prevent sticking.
Pour your dressing mixture from the bowl back into your pan and "smooth" the top so that the ingredients are slightly depressed by the back of your spoon and in an even layer to the edges.
If you are making this the day before, let your dressing and pan cool, cover and refrigerate. Take pan out of fridge at least 1 hour before you want to start baking to take the "chill" off the pan and ingredients for browning.
The day of Thanksgiving:
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F and slide pan into oven on the top rack.
Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the dressing is golden on top and your dressing "springs" to the touch vs. "sponges" to the touch (when you depress the dressing and it has no resistance and is still too wet).
Let cool ~10 minutes to solidify the dressing and serve!
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie