For vegans, a big bird isn't the big deal at Thanksgiving
A slice of Tofurky roast (at right) is bigger and meatier-tasting than a slice of Celebration Roast.
Tofurky's Vegetarian Roast ready for the oven.
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When we asked readers what must-have dishes traditionally appear on their Thanksgiving tables along with the turkey, several of you wrote to remind us that for some, turkey is not the main event.
"Since we are vegans or vegetarians we do not have any meat, fish or fowl on our dinner table," wrote Penny Morse of Monroeville. "We do like to have a Three Sisters Stew of corn, squash and beans in honor of the American Indians who taught the Pilgrims so much and enabled us to celebrate a day of thanksgiving."
Niki Penberg wrote that the "orphan Thanksgiving" she hosts at her Lawrenceville home for friends away from their families is a turkey-free feast.
"However, since one of our friends runs a garden at Chatham University and most of us participate in CSAs [community-supported agriculture programs], we have lots of local, seasonal produce on our table. We have used it in the past to make roasted Brussels sprouts, maple-glazed carrots, salads, apple pies -- just depending on what we can get a good crop of. We use the produce we get from the area to create our entire meal. Even the two meat-eaters in our group go veg for the occasion."
While there are plenty of recipe options for hearty vegetarian entrees on Thanksgiving, some of you mentioned the vegetarian roasts made by Tofurky of Hood River, Ore., and Field Roast Grain Meat Co. in Seattle, both available in the frozen food case.
"I am a vegetarian and my family has eaten Tofurky for close to 20 years now," wrote Christine Johnston of New Stanton. "If you are not familiar with this product, it is a soy 'meat' analog that mimics turkey. It's quite good." Because her mother was adopted by a Lebanese family, the Tofurky roast shares the table with Middle Eastern dishes, including mjadra (rice and lentils) and potato kibbee.
"Our Thanksgivings are an interesting mix of carnivores, vegans and self-labeled 'flexitarians' who are increasing plant-based food intake for health improvement," wrote Dave Wheitner of Squirrel Hill. So main dishes can include turkey, Caribbean mango-pineapple pasta with black beans and Field Roast's Celebration Roast with mushroom gravy.
"We just picked up this year's at Whole Foods the other day," he wrote. "Not cheap, but very filling. I personally like them much better than Tofurky brand products."
At our house, we've eaten Tofurky sausages for years but had never tried its Vegetarian Roast, or Field Roast's Celebration Roast. It was time for a veggie roast showdown.
I bought a 1-pound, 10-ounce Tofurky Vegetarian Roast at Whole Foods for $12.99 ($10.99 through Nov. 30), and my daughter picked up a 1-pound Celebration Roast at the East End Food Co-op for $7.29.
Both vegan roasts are wheat or soy protein with stuffing in the center and both are encased in plastic that's removed before cooking. But the similarities end there.
The Tofurky roast's protein is wheat and soy, in the form of wheat gluten (the protein part of the wheat grain) and organic tofu. The stuffing consists of organic brown rice, wild rice, whole wheat bread cubes, oils, vegetables, herbs and spices. The Celebration Roast is wheat gluten stuffed with vegetables, herbs and spices.
The Tofurky roast must be cooked; the Celebration Roast is fully cooked and just needs reheating. Each company's website offers recipe suggestions.
For Tofurky there's Beer Can Tofurky, Ginger Garlic Tofurky, slow cooker Tofurky and 16 others, but on our maiden voyage I decided to keep it simple and go with the recipe on the box, roasting the Tofurky with potatoes, carrots and an onion.
Package directions on the Celebration Roast call for either roasting it whole in the oven or slicing and heating it on the stovetop or in the microwave. The three online recipe options are rough, with missing ingredient amounts and rudimentary instructions. I decided to use the label's basic instructions for oven roasting.
Because they cook at different temperatures, we cooked the Tofurky roast for Saturday's dinner and the Celebration Roast on Sunday, when we reheated the Tofurky and had friends over for a vegetarian dinner. Accompaniments were maple sweet potatoes, butternut squash, cranberry relish and mushroom gravy.
The Tofurky, which looks a little like a softball without the stitches, has a meatier flavor and texture than the Celebration Roast. It doesn't taste exactly like turkey but, as one friend put it, "They're going after the Thanksgiving experience."
While the package photograph shows slices of about 3/8 inch, it's accompanied by this note: "While many people enjoy slicing the Tofurky roast like it is pictured on the box, we've found the best flavor and texture is obtained by mimicking turkey carvers. Our favorite method is to use a serrated bread knife to shave off 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick pieces of the roast."
In other words, less is more. We sliced thinly with a serrated bread knife and soon discovered the Tofurky, which serves five, had a tendency to fall apart, so one of us sliced while another used a spatula to carefully guide the slices to the platter.
The Celebration Roast, which serves four, held together well on slicing. Although it has the appearance and texture of a meatloaf, it has none of the taste of meat; its nutty flavor is reminiscent of roasted grains.
If you're hosting, either would make a good protein option for the vegans and vegetarians at your table. We gave the edge to the Celebration Roast, both for flavor and ease of preparation.
Field Roast offers several other versions of its product, including a Stuffed Hazelnut Cranberry Roast in a puff pastry crust that serves eight. Tofurky this year is partnering with Amy's Kitchen on a package that includes a 32-ounce Stuffed Tofu Roast and Amy's Vegan Organic Chocolate Cake for $19.99.
Neither the Tofurky nor the Celebration Roast we tried had enough stuffing to satisfy stuffing lovers, who are likely to want more than the tablespoon or two in the center of a slice. So before you toss those oysters or sausage bits into your homemade stuffing, hold out a little for your vegetarian guests -- one more thing they'll be thankful for.
First Published November 18, 2010 12:00 am