Plant-based dishes are typically thought of as light and healthy—not words most people associate with Thanksgiving dinner. But there’s no reason a main dish can’t cater to vegans and vegetarians while being decadent at the same time. These meat-free mains balance striking looks with bold flavors, and won’t make you miss the turkey (or Tofurky) this holiday season.
It’s hard to make soups and stews look pretty in a holiday spread. This recipe from Healthy World Cuisine magazine solves that issue by serving vegetarian Thai curry in a hollowed-out pumpkin. The festive presentation is a perfect fit for the big event, while ingredients like peanut butter, pumpkin, and chickpeas make it filling and flavorful. If you don’t have time to carve out a pumpkin at home, you can also make the dish with pre-chopped squash and serve it in a regular bowl.
Stuffed squash makes a hearty alternative to turkey on Thanksgiving. Seasonal squashes like butternut, acorn, and delicata are already associated with the holiday, and stuffing them with veggies and grains upgrades them from a light side to a show-stopping entrée. The Kitchn has a general recipe for stuffed and roasted acorn squash that at-home cooks can modify with their preferred winter squash, vegetables, grains, and protein. If you’re looking for something more specific, the BBC has a recipe for butternut squash stuffed with nuts, barley, and dried cranberries that would be appropriate for a festive spread.
This vegetarian spin on beef Wellington from New York Times Cooking skips the meat without sacrificing the stunning presentation. It takes an ingredient that’s integral to the classic dish—mushrooms—and elevates it to a starring role. The port reduction adds an extra element of savoriness.
Cauliflower steaks are a great option for plant-based eaters who like to use a knife and fork on Thanksgiving. Gordon Ramsey’s version of the dish from MasterClass smothers the charred vegetable with flavor in the form of harissa, porcini mushrooms, and olive pistou. Meanwhile, Valerie Bertinelli’s recipe on FoodNetwork.com has a more classic holiday feel, with a garnish of parsley, pine nuts, and golden raisins.
Lasagna is a popular dish for special occasions, and it’s easy to make it vegetarian. Instead of ground beef, Epicurious’s version calls for spinach and mushrooms layered between pasta sheets, all cooked in a roasted tomato sauce. On the other hand, Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom lasagna recipe skips the tomato all together in favor of béchamel sauce. Lasagna can be prepared days ahead, so it’s an excellent option for the holidays—whether you’re hosting or traveling with the dish.
The same qualities that make tamales a classic Christmas dish also make them a great main for Thanksgiving. Assembling them is a team effort, so you can recruit whatever family you have home for dinner to help you beforehand. Instead of stewed meats, fill your masa with cheese, beans, or veggies to keep the recipe vegetarian. This recipe from the Spruce Eats features a filling of fresh corn, tomatoes, green onions, cilantro, and cheese.
Eggplants are meaty enough to hold their own against traditional Thanksgiving mains. Like squash, you can stuff eggplants with grains, nuts, vegetables, and plant-based protein before popping them in the oven and roasting them at high heat. The filling in Taste of Home’s recipe consists of chopped mushrooms, zucchini, tomatoes, sweet red peppers, and wheat germ. Though it calls for a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, you can easily skip it to make the dish vegan (or serve grated cheese on the side and leave the choice to your guests).
Though it’s not traditionally served on Thanksgiving, shepherd’s pie fits the stick-to-your-ribs theme. Vegetarian versions keep the best part—the crispy mashed potato topping—and replace the ground lamb with a hearty, plant-based alternative. Martha Stewart’s recipe uses a combination of carrots, peas, cremini mushrooms, and French lentils. The addition of tomato paste and vegetarian Worcestershire sauce ups the umami factor.
Cheesy vegetable gratins are a staple when it comes to Thanksgiving side dishes, but there’s no reason they shouldn’t enjoy the spotlight. Alison Roman’s root vegetable gratin recipe from Bon Appétit is layered with slices of celery root, rutabaga, turnips, and Yukon gold potatoes. Baked with butter, parmesan, bread crumbs, and heavy cream, this is about as decadent as vegetarian mains get.
Paella is a celebratory meal—even without the meat or seafood. Food52 developed a vegetarian version of the Spanish dish that features peas, green beans, artichokes, roasted red peppers, and zucchini. Saffron gives the dish a luxurious flair that’s appropriate for the holidays; serve it straight from the pan for an even more dramatic presentation.
For a larger vegetarian main you can carve up like a turkey, consider roasting a whole cabbage. Delish’s recipe calls for seasoning the cabbage and basting it in butter (or oil to make it vegan-friendly), then roasting it in a skillet with chopped vegetables. Serving it with mushroom gravy makes it feel even closer to a holiday roast, but unlike turkey, this dish is ready to come out of the oven in 90 minutes.