Once upon a Thanksgiving, vegetarians might not have felt very welcome at the dinner table. With customary sides like giblet gravy-soaked mashed potatoes and bacon-dotted green bean casserole, avoiding the bird was the least of their troubles. Not anymore. Turkey now comes in an easy second to beautifully composed, meat-free side dishes — especially these from talented local chefs, each sure to steal the spotlight from the main course. Or prepare them all and skip the turkey altogether, and you’re set for a vibrant, mouth-watering vegetarian Thanksgiving that will rival any traditional spread.
Executive chef, Café Modern
Meatless is never mundane for Dena Peterson, who goes vegetarian for much of her Modern Art Museum cafe menu and hosted a sold-out vegetarian wine dinner this summer. She gave us a slew of sumptuous sides to choose from, but her Maple-glazed Acorn Squash and Pears stood out as a sweet and savory dish that’s as easy to prepare as it is appetizing and attractive.
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Executive chef and owner, Next Wood Fired Bistro
Tenured chef and caterer Ying Aikens adds Asian influences to these roasted root vegetable-stuffed mini pumpkins by using fresh ginger and sesame leaves. Aikens stresses that the seasonings and vegetable quantities can be adjusted to taste and to what’s available at local markets. Find the kohlrabi, a member of the turnip family with a bulblike stem, chayote squash, which resembles a pale green gourd, and purple sweet potatoes at farmers markets when in season, or at local Asian markets.
Executive chef, Grace
Blaine Staniford, too, hosted a vegetarian wine dinner this summer, preparing eight courses of meat-free wonders. Staniford uses labneh, or strained yogurt, infused with toasted sesame seeds as a thick and creamy accompaniment to crispy, glazed baby carrots.Watch for Staniford to appear Nov. 19 on Food Network’s new cooking competition show, Kitchen Inferno, hosted by celebrity chef Curtis Stone.
Chef de cuisine, Tillman’s Roadhouse
Kalen Morgenstern gained fame this fall as a contestant on the Fox food competition Hell’s Kitchen, enduring her fair share of screams from hellacious host Gordon Ramsay. But Thanksgiving dinner guests will sing nothing but praises for her quinoa-based, fall vegetable-filled side that can easily serve as a hearty main course. Morgenstern says the sage butter, which adds a savory creaminess, can be made days or even weeks in advance, as any herb butter freezes well.