Celebrations often revolve around food and Thanksgiving is certainly no exception. Fortunately, there’s no reason for the holiday to be any less spectacular with special diet needs. I’ve got tips for keeping that festive feeling while recapturing your favorite dishes this dairy-free Thanksgiving.
Preparation is key for any major holiday, but for a fabulous dairy-free Thanksgiving, I have some additional ideas to help you create marvelous memories year after year. These involve not only the feast, but the mood and perhaps a more relaxed attitude.
Dazzle with Décor – Imagine the smiles as everyone enters your home and sees a cornucopia of festivity. The atmosphere will bring more joy to your event than just the eats, so have fun with it. Strategically stash mini pumpkins and squash, use rich harvest colors for candles, tablecloths and floral arrangements, place sprigs and whole spices about (for scent, too!), and give each person a special spot at the table with Thanksgiving place cards.
You Have Permission to Cheat – These days you can buy certified gluten-free dinner rolls that are dairy-free, plus stuffing mixes and pie crust. There are even some prepared dairy-free pies available and a surprising amount of vegan nogs. If you hit a wall, head to the natural food store (where most of these products are found) or even your local conventional grocer (many now have special diet sections) and fill in the blanks. There’s no need to feel that everything has to be made completely from scratch when there are some great allergen-safe helpers at hand.
Unload the Burden – Your guests may not be prepared to venture dairy-free recipes, so offer a list of safe store-bought items and ask each person to pick up one. They will typically be happy to contribute and relieved that they don’t have to cook! If you’re hosting additional special diet needs, release some of the responsibility by asking if your food allergic company can bring a dish or two. See if they have a specialty that everyone can enjoy, or pick the item that is overwhelming you most (perhaps that gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free pumpkin pie?) and ask them if they can tackle it.
Create New Classics – Sure there are some typical traditions, but nothing is written in stone about what you serve at Thanksgiving. If you typically make pecan pie but eggs and dairy are out, consider an apple pie with sustainable shortening crust or dazzle with a Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake (pictured above; recipe in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook)! If gluten is a concern, and store-bought crusts aren’t available, skip the fuss and make an Apple Crisp! A crumbly gluten-free topping is much more forgiving than a delicate crust, but no less tasty with a scoop of dairy-free ice cream.
Give Thanks – Remember what this holiday is really about. It’s easy to focus too much on the food when so much of the population calls it “Turkey Day,” but the essence of Thanksgiving is family and appreciation. Be grateful for the time and loved ones, plan fun activities and games, and don’t fret if your dairy-free mashed potatoes aren’t whipped to perfection.
The main dishes, turkey or Tofurky and ham or Celebration Roast, can seem fairly straight forward for vegan diets, milk allergies or lactose intolerance (just beware of butter and additives with the meats!), but the side dishes are often a stumbling point. The following includes a few easy dairy-free Thanksgiving fixes to help these accompaniments shine.
Mashed Potatoes – Butter, milk, and sour cream are synonymous with mashed potatoes, but even dairy-loving family members devour my dairy-free Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. For simple spuds, use a non-hydrogenated dairy-free margarine, olive oil or coconut oil in place of the butter and your favorite unsweetened milk beverage (we use coconut or cashew) for the milk. Season to taste with salt (you may need a touch more if using oil) and pepper. If that hint of tang is a must in your mix, then dairy-free sour cream can be purchased at the store (most are nut- or soy-based).
Casseroles – This can get a little more complicated since most casseroles are heavy on the dairy, but don’t worry, I have a solution. For the infamous green bean casserole, you MUST use my easy Condensed Crème of Mushroom Soup recipe (pictured above) from Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook (In a last minute panic? The instant eBook is available for all devices, too, and the recipe uses everyday ingredients). We formulated it to be almost EXACTLY like the canned version and it works miracles in Dairy-Free Green Bean Casserole (pictured below). If your guests are gluten-free, skip the chow mein crumble and use sliced almonds (if nuts are okay) or pan-fried shallots as your topping.
Stuffing – This is probably the most forgiving dairy-free Thanksgiving side dish. For the butter, use a non-hydrogenated dairy-free margarine or olive oil with a pinch of salt. If you have need for a top eight-free stuffing, start with a recipe that is naturally egg-free and nut-free – many are – and don’t shy away from gluten-free bread. In this case, that dry loaf lends itself well to the stale cubes needed to make a magnificent dressing.
… and Oh Those Rolls – As a child, I was happy to forgo a few traditional dishes for extra warm rolls. Many bread recipes are dairy-free, but those tender pull-apart rolls are typically dairy-full. To solve the dilemma, I make my own (it’s fun!). My favorite recipe is the Tender Squash Dinner Rolls (pictured below made with brilliant pumpkin puree – butternut produces a more subdued hue) from Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook, but you might also like the loving tradition of this Rustic Rolls recipe.
I know you want even more options for a delicious dairy-free Thanksgiving, and I aim to please! Of course there are more everyday recipes in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook (which you can also get instantly via Kindle, iTunes, Nook, PDF, and others!), and I think you will also like my online collections: The Biggest Gathering of Dairy-Free Thanksgiving Recipes and Dairy-Free Pies: Over 75 Recipes for the Holidays.
Photos by food photographer Marika Collins.