10 Thanksgiving Mains That Make Vegetables the Star

by Katherine Sacks

Published: 11/14/18, Last updated: 11/02/20

What can you expect on nearly every Thanksgiving table, from Maine to Florida to Oregon? A gorgeous roast turkey sitting front and center. Many a vegetarian has suffered indignation and sideways glances when they requested a tofurky instead.

But TBH, there’s no definitive proof that turkey was even part of the original Thanksgiving feast. It’s more likely those early settlers were eating a venison and seafood feast. And even if turkey feels traditional, whether you are vegetarian, a Meatless Monday devotee or looking to cut back on meat (which is a good idea for many reasons including that, as the new UN Climate Report suggests, eating less meat is necessary to reduce the effects of climate change), swapping out the turkey or other main meat for a vegetarian feast is easy and delicious. But forget about Tofurky; here are 10 vegetarian Thanksgiving main dishes that are just as stunning as the roast bird.

Serve it Whole

What vegetable is as stunning as a turkey? The mighty cauliflower. Whole roasted cauliflower is becoming more popular as a main dish, and this version from Dana of Minimalist Baker is a tried a true favorite — she went through 7 cauliflowers to perfect this recipe! It’s a simple one, but the marinade mixture of maple syrup, spices, oil and salt packs a flavorful punch and gives the cauliflower a brilliant presentation. We love Dana’s suggestion to serve it with chimichurri and couscous, but you can also make it more classicly “Thanksgiving” by serving it with an apple-and-pecan rice stuffing.

Stuff It

Spaghetti squash is the perfect vegetable to make beautiful individual servings. Simply cut the squash in half, roast until tender, then fill with a stuffing mixture and bake again. This version from Laney from Life is But a Dish is perfect for a vegetarian Thanksgiving: stuffed with mushrooms, kale and lots of cheese. And it’s easy; the squash can roast in the oven while you work on other more pressing things, like, ahem, dessert.

Triple Stuff It

The infamous turducken stuffs a whole lot of meat together for the ultimate, way-overkill, meaty meal. Vegetarians and veg-friendly eaters can get in on the item-stuffed-in-another-item action, with a triple-stuffed dish that’s much more environmentally friendly: the vegducken, as imagined by Lauren from hot for food. The dish swaps out the turkey for a squash, stuffing it with sweet potato, parsnip, zucchini, and/or eggplant. It’s easily adaptable: use mushrooms, lentils and cranberries to give it autumnal flavor. The great thing about this dish is that it uses the vegetable scraps to create a waste-free stuffing. *Full disclosure, the author developed a Vegducken recipe for Epicurious and isn’t ashamed to point you to it.

Jazz Up the Veggies

Roasted carrots don’t have to be relegated to side dish status. With this gorgeous main from Cookie and Kate, they turn into the star dish. A mix of farro and chickpeas makes a hearty bed for the carrots, which are then drizzled with an herby crème fraîche dressing. It’s like the stuffing, main and gravy all in one dish.

Swap It

Make like blogger Chocolate for Basil and swap the beef for beans, or ahem, lentils. This lovely baked ziti with lentil bolognese is a perfect dish for a crowd. Make one serving for a few (with leftovers!), or double it for a larger group. Or try this nut loaf, which swaps mushrooms and nuts for ground beef, and makes for a much more appetizing “meatloaf,” than the ones we remember from the school cafeteria.

Layer It

Lasagna is a go-to dinner party recipe for a reason: it’s easy to assemble ahead of time and the bubbling cheese topping makes for the “ohh” moment. And the great thing about lasagna is that there are so many ways to make it. Stuff it with a ton of butternut squash for a pretty fall version; use a mix of roasted vegetables and marinara sauce for a more classic approach; or add a striking finishing touch with a zucchini lattice like Baked Ambrosia does.

Make the Most of Mushrooms

Mushrooms are often described as having meaty, umami-packed flavor. So cut out the meat by adding in tons of mushrooms. The Delightful Vegans do it in a gorgeous way with their Pecan and Mushroom Wellington. Instead of the traditional beef tenderloin, they’ve created a meatloaf-like mixture of mushrooms and pecans, then topped it with crisp pastry. The presentation and flavor are so impressive no one will ask where the meat is.

Spiral It

This pretty spiral tart from The Colorful Kitchen might look hard, but with a mandoline in hand, it’s easy to slice the vegetables thin enough to spiral into the pie shell. This version adds pumpkin puree to the filling; you can also add pesto or cheese for even more flavor. Want to make it even simpler? Use prepared pie crust.

Think Savory Pie

Who says pie is only for dessert? For a pretty presentation, serve a vegetable-packed shepherd’s pie a the vegetarian Thanksgiving main course. This shepherd’s pie from Lindsey’s Pinch of Yum combines the mashed potato side with the main course, topping a mix of gravy, mushrooms, carrots and peas with creamy potatoes. This is a super versatile dish; use your favorite vegetables for the filling and top it with whatever creamed mash you like (try adding in sweet potato and/or celery root with the potatoes). Make it in a beautiful Dutch oven and you can take the dish from oven to table.

Think Small

Instead of opting for a big, gorgeous main, think about impressive individual portions. Serving your main in individual ramekins or mini-pots is a pretty way to serve a smaller dinner party, and it’s fun to mix-and-match the dishes for a more eclectic presentation. Fill them with your favorite pot pies or shepherd’s pie recipes, or try these sweet potato-topped stout pies from The First Mess. The rich savory mushroom-and-stout stew is spooned into individual serving dishes and then topped with thinly sliced sweet potatoes for a vegan topping.

More Reading

The Best Veggie Burger for Anybody and Everybody

June 3, 2022

When Did Vegan Cheese Get So Good?

April 4, 2022

2 Podcast Episodes Examine The New Wave of Fake Meat Products

March 2, 2022

The True Cost of Cheap Chicken

February 16, 2022

Food is Complicated — FoodPrint's New Podcast is Here to Help

February 8, 2022

Eat Healthier and Better for the Planet With These Whole Grains Cookbooks

February 2, 2022

Lean on Friends For Help Completing the Reduce Your Foodprint Challenge

January 12, 2022

8 Apple Varieties You Should Be Baking with This Holiday Season

November 24, 2021

From Kimchi to Sauerkraut, Fermented Vegetables Have Gone from Taboo to Wellness Darling

November 11, 2021

5 Things You Should Know Before Buying A Chocolate Bar

October 26, 2021