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Holiday favorites: Vegetarian entrees

Mushroom Lasagna Bolognese takes some time, but it's worth it. (Photo by Renee Comet/styled by Lisa Cherkasky for the Washington Post/)

The challenge of cooking vegetarian at Thanksgiving isn’t usually a lack of vegetable recipes. For this harvest-themed meal, it’s plenty easy to find dishes that feature seasonal produce. And if you’re able to stay clear of the everything-is-better-with-bacon philosophy, exemplified in the Best Brussels Sprouts Ever we featured in last week’s Food section, it’s not too hard to adapt anything to vegetarian (if not vegan) status. Vegetable broths can replace meat ones; nuts or other crunchy garnishes can replace those bacon bits, and so on.

The challenge is the main course, so that you avoid the collection-of-sides approach. Vegetarians deserve a centerpiece, too. I’m not serving a vegetarian repast this year, but for a few hours I pretended that I am, and scoured our Recipe Finder database and other sources for dishes that I would be proud to not just serve, but build a feast around.

Our favorite special-occasion vegetarian main course in recent years is David Hagedorn's Mushroom Lasagna Bolognese. He aimed it at Easter, which is why you see all those spring colors in the photograph at the top of this blog entry. But mushrooms have such autumnal appeal this would be a crowd-pleaser at Thanksgiving as well. Not only can this be baked ahead, it should be.

This Vegetarian Roasted Mushroom Lasagna is of the same ilk, but with fewer ingredients and at about half the size of David's, it serves 4 to 6 rather than 12. So if your party's smaller (or you don't want to be tempted by all the leftovers), this could be the way to go.

Mushrooms are a favorite meaty-without-being-meat ingredient, obviously. They also take center stage (or plate, I suppose) in these Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms With Cashew "Cream" Sauce. They're stuffed with roasted onions and chard, but spice-rubbed tofu, roasted eggplant or even buttermilk mashed potatoes could fill them instead.

For non-lasagna casseroles, there's this Baked Polenta With Cheese and Swiss Chard. Rich-tasting but much more healthful than the lasagnas, it's deliciously comforting.

Pumpkin Stuffed With Vegetable Stew. (Romulo Yanes)

Want pie for a main course rather than (or in addition to) dessert? This savory Cheddar Cheese and Onion Pie from Tamasin Day-Lewis gets a little sweet-tartness from thinly sliced Granny Smith apples.

I know what you're thinking. You want something even more showstopping, don't you? Well, for that I had to think outside the box (or, more accurately, outside our Recipe Finder). The most beautiful vegetarian entree I can think of is this Pumpkin Stuffed With Vegetable Stew from the late, great Gourmet. It combines root vegetables, mushrooms and seitan (wheat protein) inside the positively sculptural centerpiece.

Baked Pumpkin With Root Vegetable Stew. (Nicole Spiridakis for NPR)

Nicole Spiridakis, who writes the Cucina Nicolina blog out of San Francisco, included the same idea in her 2008 piece on veggie Thanksgiving main dishes for, which features recipes for Baked Pumpkin With Root Vegetable Stew, Mushroom and Spinach Galette and Stuffed Acorn Squash.

I'll leave you with one more thought. Besides the main course, there is one other thing that's hard to come by at a vegetarian T-day feast, and that's decent gravy. After all, when you're not roasting a bird, how do you get all that delicious drippings-based flavor? Our Mushroom-Miso-Mustard Gravy from the fabulously named Crescent Dragonwagon does it by packing in the umami in multiple ways. Pour this on your potatoes (or whatever), and you'll think, who needs meat?

-- Joe Yonan

By Joe Yonan  |  November 23, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Recipes , Thanksgiving  | Tags: Joe Yonan, Thanksgiving, holiday favorites, vegetarian  
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Thanks for the great idea. I already have my vegetarian feast already worked out, but always love inspiration. I couldn't decide between two "main" entrees, so I am doing both -- crepes stuffed with mcushrooms/arugola and individual buttercup squashes stuffed with a chestnut/"sausage" bread stuffing. (Not usually a "fake meat" person, but discovered Tofurky's italian sausages a few years ago and really like them.)

Posted by: DC311 | November 23, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Joe, this is amazing. I've only been a vegetarian for a few years now, and I've relied too much on meat substitutes like veggie burgers.

Posted by: JohninMpls | November 25, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

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