Flavors: Vegan Thanksgiving

Nov 21, 2016

Instead of the traditional Thanksgiving feast brimming with animal-based products, a plant-based option could become the norm this season. The traditional meal of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans with cream of mushroom soup can be re-created with flavorful plant-based choices. Even pumpkin pie can be made without milk, butter, and eggs.

Jeff Blatnick and Lisa Kemmerer


Lisa Kemmerer and Jeff Blatnick are vegans and in the November episode of “Flavors Under the Big Sky: Celebrating the Bounty of the Region,” they share how the holidays can be celebrated without the traditional foods.  Mike Howard, General Manager of the Good Earth Market in Billings, talks about how the store supplies a variety of products for alternative diets. For the traditionalist, fear not, as the market also purveys foods for traditional meal along with spirits to wash each swallow down.

Strict vegans define themselves as eating foods that contain no animal products, while those who eat a plant-based diet may include allow animal protein or fat, in small amounts.

Kemmerer and Blatnick say, for them, eating a plant-based diet has made them feel better. Kemmerer, a 30-year vegan says, “Absolutely nothing is lost and much is gained.” She celebrates Thanksgiving by fasting saying it gives her more insight into life’s blessings. Blatnick, a vegan newbie, seeks new dishes to enjoy. On his holiday table this year he is thinking about cooking vegan tamales. On the Sunday following Thanksgiving, he participates in a potluck dinner at the Good Earth Market.

Cooking a vegan meal requires a bit more effort. Blatnick says, “You share more time in the kitchen, but you are a more active participant in your own health.” These days he is having his kids help him out in the kitchen.  “It’s not about the food, but about how we care about each other and our health and our family’s health,” he says. “Being a vegan is a lifestyle, a practice that has benefits.”

“There is a huge market of grain based meat,” Blatnick says of meat alternatives. “Tons of products, even the meat lover would love.” Kemmerer believes a “true vegan” does not need alternatives, however.  “I eat very simply,” she says. But meat and dairy alternatives do help with the transition, especially for new vegans who often crave familiar dishes. Those embarking on the new lifestyle will find many commercial products at The Good Earth Market, Lucky’s Market, Natural Grocers, and even Albertsons.

With time and practice one’s palate adjusts to the vegan way of eating. Food is flavored with pungent spices. Over time, one’s sense of taste becomes acclimated to more subtle and natural flavors. Moving away from just seasoning with salt and pepper informs the taste buds to embrace other flavors.

To really succeed in the new way of eating and cooking, Blatnick suggests meeting with other vegans will encourage support.  He considers Kemmerer and Bonnie Goodman as mentors, and suggests visiting Bonnie Goodman’s website for recipes and information about the Live and Let Livingston MT Monthly Potluck.

Mike Howard, general manager, stands in front of The Good Earth Market in downtown Billings.

Mike Howard, General Manager of the Good Earth Market says, “There are a lot of people out there looking for alternatives.” The store sells Hutterite raised turkeys and vegan options such as a meatloaf made with grains. Companies like Field Roast make a Celebration Roast made with grain and Tofurky has a vegan roast with wild rice and bread stuffing.

Howard’s goal is to make the holiday shopping experience pleasant by providing a variety of products, including wine and beer, and good customer service.

For this Thanksgiving, there is more to celebration than the Norman Rockwell American feast, so consider alternatives that bring other flavors to the table.


Vegan Pumpkin Pie

Makes one pie


  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoon unsweetened almond or soy milk
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice


  • One 15-ounce pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • ¾ cup full fat coconut milk (shake can well before using)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, combine almond milk, oil, water, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture.
  2. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to an 11-inch circle. Transfer to 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. Crimp edges. Set aside.
  3. Into a blender or a large bowl, add the pureed pumpkin, coconut milk, brown sugar, cornstarch, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Mix well.
  4. Pour the pumpkin mixture into the uncooked piecrust. Spread evenly.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes. When you remove it from the oven, the edges might be slightly cracked and the middle will still look very wobbly. Let cool, and chill in refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours until set, or overnight.

Alternative filling:

  • One 15-ounce pureed pumpkin
  • 8 ounces silken tofu
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Vegan Mushroom Gravy

Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 cup chopped white onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, such as porcini, crimini or shiitake, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tamari sauce
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until translucent. Add 1/4 cup of the broth to the pan to prevent onion from burning. Add mushrooms and cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until they release their liquid and become tender. Stir in garlic, rosemary and thyme and continue to cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add wine and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 2 cups broth and bring to a simmer.
  2.  In a small bowl, whisk together tamari, yeast and cornstarch to form a thick paste. Add mixture to the skillet, whisking constantly to make sure paste dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add pepper and serve gravy hot.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower

Serves 6

  • 3-4 cloves of roasted garlic (see notes)
  • 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 1 pound cauliflower head, broken into a few large pieces
  • 1 tablespoon minced rosemary
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil (or butter/vegan butter)
  • Salt & Ground Pepper
  • reserve some starchy potato water
  1. Drizzle individual cloves with olive oil and salt and bake at 350 until soft (about 15 minutes).
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cauliflower and boil until knife-tender, about 15 minutes for the cauliflower and 20 minutes for the potatoes. Remove the cauliflower and set aside. Continue cooking potatoes.
  3. In a food processor, puree the cauliflower with roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, rosemary and pinches of salt and pepper to taste. When the potatoes are soft, remove them from the pot. Save starchy water. Use a food mill, ricer, or masher, to mash them. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil, then stir the cauliflower puree into the bowl with the potatoes. Add ¼ cup (or so) of hot starchy potato water to thin, if necessary. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more olive oil, salt, pepper, and/or rosemary to taste.
  4. Serve hot. Mine actually reheated great too - store in the fridge, microwave the next day.

Note: Rutabagas peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks can be simmered for 45 minutes, mashed and added to the potatoes. Turnips peeled and then cut into 1-inch chunks can 

For more recipes like this, Goodman and Blatnick recommend visiting here.