A Bird-Free Thanksgiving Feast

I love birds. I love to see them flying by, perching on branches, trotting across a meadow. Seeing one in a roasting pan or splayed out on a Thanksgiving platter? Not as much.

But the thing about a holiday turkey is that it is the iconic symbol which screams “festive!” “tradition!” “abundance!” It’s the centerpiece of the table, the flashy dish for which all sides revolve around. Can you have a Thanksgiving feast without a big bird in the midst of it all?

Yes, yes you can. And the scheme doesn’t have to involve a tofu turkey. (Although I am truly charmed by the concept of faux fowl, I’ve just never taken the leap from amusement to tofu turkey on the table.) A meal providing a parade of pretty side dishes will hardly miss a turkey–but you can also make a stately non-avian main course to take center stage. We’ve featured a few feast-worthy vegetarian main dishes over the years, each of them gratitude-inducing in their own ways:

Pumpkin Tamales with Cherry Mole
Acorn Squash with Jeweled Wild Rice
Spicy Sweet Potato Patties with White Bean Stew

I have made all of these, and can attest to their crowd-pleasing capacity; ooohs will happen. But I have to say I have little power to resist a recipe from Gourmet magazine, Roasted Pumpkin Cheese Fondue. As is, it’s on the gooey heavy side, but I have played around with it a bit making it a little lighter, click on for the recipe.

Since this recipe really kind of relies on milk and cheese, I am at a loss as how to adapt it to a vegan recipe. So here is an equally delicious vegan stuffed pumpkin recipe–Cornbread-Stuffed Pumpkin with Greens and Walnuts–if that is something that might interest you instead.

Roasted Pumpkin Cheese Fondue
1 15-inch whole grain baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 medium orange pumpkin (in the 7-pound range)
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Gruyere
2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Emmental
1 tablespoon olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425F with rack in lower third.

2. Lightly toast baguette slices on a baking sheet in oven until tops are crisp but not golden, about 7 minutes. Remove and let cool.

3. Remove top of pumpkin by cutting a 3-inch circle in the top. Scrape out seeds and any loose fibers from inside pumpkin and pumpkin top with a spoon (save seeds to roast–yum!). Sprinkle inside of pumpkin with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

4. Whisk together milk, broth, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Mix together cheeses in another bowl.

5. Put a layer of toasted bread in bottom of pumpkin, then cover with about 1 cup cheese and about 1/2 cup milk mixture. Continue layering bread, cheese, and milk mixture until pumpkin is filled to about 1/2 inch from top, using all of milk mixture. (You may have some bread and cheese left over.)

6. Cover pumpkin with top and put in an small roasting pan. Brush outside of pumpkin all over with olive oil. Bake until pumpkin is tender and filling is puffed, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.

7. Serve the whole pumpkin at the table–scoop out “fondue” while scraping the pumpkin flesh out as well.

8. Enjoy the (live) birds outside.

What are your favorite vegetarian holiday entrees?

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Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

This sounds very strange but I'd try some.

Elisabeth T.
Elisabeth T.4 years ago

Thanks for the great recipe. Agree with Sheri, it's easy & fun to have a "bird free" Thanksgiving..

Chana Lievens
Chana Lievens4 years ago

wings are for flying not frying

Yvette T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Awesome! If only I was one of those vegetarians who love to cook! But, I haven't the patience....I need a vegetarian cook..I really do. I do make a delicious veg sage dressing with veg boullion and great mashed garlic potatoes, and traditional fruit salad...otherwise, it's Tofurkey or VEGECYBER for this year.

Lindsey Williams
Lindsey Williams4 years ago

thanks for sharing

Danuta W.
Danuta Watola4 years ago


Danuta W.
Danuta Watola4 years ago

This is great article

Danuta W.
Danuta Watola4 years ago

This is great article

jane richmond
jane richmond4 years ago

Great idea! Don't like turkey anyway!

Sheri P.
Sheri P.4 years ago

It is TOTALLY easy to have a "bird free" Thanksgiving. In place of turkey, I love to make a casserole from stuffing mix and mock turkey slices. I don't think I have ever had turkey for Thanksgiving in all my 40 years...and I've never missed it.