Prepare a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast that doesn't dispense with tradition

Thanksgiving without the bird? You betcha. Cooking a vegetarian Thanksgiving can be healthful, more varied and a way to take care of guests who have special diets -- but that doesn't mean it's bland. With a few key recipes and interesting combinations, you'll have a feast that has the same structure and traditional harvest tastes as a meat-based one, without any animals.

"I've been vegetarian for 35 years, and my whole family are vegans," says Portland, Ore.-based cooking teacher David Gabbe, fresh from a round of vegetarian cooking classes in the South Sound. "For Thanksgiving, we would cook all plant-based dishes, but it would look traditional -- the emphasis being on nuts, apples, beans and grains."

Oh, and a big old stuffed squash. Gabbe doesn't do fake meat.

"One of my motivations for teaching is to promote good health via plant-based, unrefined foods," he says, explaining that Tofurkey and similar fake meats are made from "unwholesome soy proteins or gluten-based seitan."

Worried about protein? Corn, black beans, quinoa, cheese, nuts and soy milk all provide adequate protein, especially when combined with grains.

Sweet potato pudding

3 medium sweet potatoes or yams

1 cup nondairy milk

1/4 cup dates (chopped)

2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Peel sweet potatoes and slice into 1-inch-thick rounds.

2. Steam sweet potatoes 15 minutes or until tender when pierced with fork.

3. Place sweet potatoes in blender with all remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.

Note: Serve immediately. Refrigerate leftovers and use within 3 to 4 days.

Stuffed squash

4 small delicata (or other) squash

1 1/2 cups onions (chopped)

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup each (chopped): celery, mushrooms and carrots

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil or olive oil

2 teaspoons each (dried) basil, chives and parsley

1 teaspoon each: liquid smoke, garlic powder, onion powder and dried thyme

2 cups cooked Chewy Buckwheat (recipe below)

1 cup cooked black beans

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (chopped)

3 tablespoons red miso dissolved in 3 tablespoons water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce squash and bake 60 minutes, or until tender.

2. Place onions and next 13 ingredients in large skillet and simmer, covered, 10 minutes.

3. Add next four ingredients to skillet mixture and combine thoroughly. Set aside.

4. As soon as the squash is cool to handle, cut each in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds and stringy material. Fill squash halves with stuffing and place squash in oiled baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 15 minutes or until stuffing is thoroughly heated.

Note: Refrigerate leftovers and use within 3 to 4 days.

Corn chowder

4 cups unsweetened, plain soy milk

2 cups onions (chopped)

1 cup potatoes (chopped)

1/2 cup celery (chopped)

1/2 cup green onions (sliced)

2 tablespoons olive oil or toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon each: paprika and thyme

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups corn kernels (fresh or frozen and thawed)

2 tablespoons red miso dissolved in 2 tablespoons water

1. Combine all ingredients, except corn and miso, in large pot. Bring to slow boil over medium heat, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir occasionally.

2. Add corn and simmer an additional 2 minutes to heat corn thoroughly.

3. Remove chowder from heat. Stir in miso and serve.

Note: Refrigerate leftovers and use within 5 to 7 days, or freeze for longer period.

Chewy buckwheat

1 cup uncooked raw buckwheat

1 cup water

1. Pick through buckwheat and remove any stones or other foreign matter. Rinse buckwheat.

2. In pot, combine buckwheat and water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.

3. Remove from heat and leave covered 5-10 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve.

Note: Refrigerate leftovers and use within 5 to 7 days