Hetty Lui McKinnon’s Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

Hetty Lui McKinnon’s Vegetarian Thanksgiving Menu

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There are few traditions more ingrained within American gastronomic culture than Thanksgiving. The canons of this holiday—turkey, stuffing, sides, pies—feel untouchable. To challenge the bird as the main event feels risky. But for my family, it was liberating.

As I wrote years back, it can feel alienating to celebrate a holiday in an adopted home, with traditional foods that have no personal context. For our first few Thanksgivings, after my family moved to America from Australia in 2015, we attempted culinary assimilation. My husband cooked a dry turkey, which was only enjoyed when I turned it into a pot pie the next day. And I threw myself into the sides, which honestly, as a former salad maker, was a role I relished.

I tried versions of green bean casseroles but landed on a dish that is more like salad, swirled with tahini. I attempted stuffing but ended up with an Australian-leaning, cheesy bread-and-butter pudding. I did succeed at a very good sweet potato pie with a walnut crust, though it’s since made way for a dessert we universally prefer: pavlova.

We eat what we eat for different reasons, not just for deliciousness, but also for nostalgia and sentimentality. And I get it. Eating to satiate a memory is completely within my wheelhouse. But what we came to realize as a family is that we need to find traditions and rituals which feel true to who we are. My loved ones are not all vegetarian—just me—but we eat vegetable-centric, globally inspired food every day of the week. So it feels natural to bring this ethos to our Thanksgiving.

Nowadays, I like to cook a vegetarian feast paying tribute to the holiday, but without any strict adherence to tradition. Around my table, there is no reason for green beans to be covered in cream of mushroom, brussels sprouts to be dotted with bacon, or sweet potatoes to be topped with marshmallows. I can make them my own.

The menu below offers big comforting moments, alongside lighter fresh bites. This sets vegetables free. No longer dubbed sides, they can gather in the center of the table, and shine all on their own.

Playing on the holiday classic of fried alliums, this recipe offers thick rings of onions and delicate shards of sweet potato coated in a light tempura batter, served with a lively lemon-chive mayo. A great dish to graze on with guests while the rest of the meal comes together.

Platter of Sweet Potato and Onion Tempura With a bowl of Chive Mayo
Sweet Potato and Onion Tempura With Chive Mayo

This recipe produces shatteringly crisp tempura each and every time.

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For a bright, textural dish, green beans are charred until smoky and sweet, then finished with a silky brown butter vinaigrette, and topped with crispy hazelnut-sage crumbs. Mop up the brown butter vinaigrette with soft dinner rolls.

Platter of Charred Green Beans With Brown Butter Vinaigrette
Charred Green Beans With Brown Butter Vinaigrette

This green bean stir-fry is a punchy holiday side dish, featuring a crunchy hazelnut-sage topping and a lush brown butter vinaigrette.

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Brussels sprouts get the royal treatment thanks to an oozy, deeply umami maple and soy caramel. The big-flavored sauce both tempers and amplifies the earthy, mustardy undertones of the sprouts. Make double—it will go in a flash.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With MapleSoy Caramel in a decorative plate.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Maple-Soy Caramel

Adorn simply roasted brussels sprouts with a soy caramel sauce that is salty, sweet, and wonderfully easy to pull off at home.

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As with all feasts, a prep-ahead dish is key, and this cheesy strata meets that requirement. But this is not just any bread pudding. Inspired by the warming notes of pumpkin pie, bread gets soaked and then baked in a cheesy, herbaceous pumpkin custard. It’s a comforting dish, reminiscent of stuffing, but more complex. If you have leftovers, fry it up the next day and serve with an egg.

Pumpkin and Cheddar Strata in a casserole dish
Pumpkin and Cheddar Strata

A make-ahead casserole, like this pumpkin-infused strata with all the cheese, is just what your busy holiday schedule needs.

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We round out this meal with a not-your-everyday leafy salad. The bitter tones of radicchio are tempered with lots of sweetness from crisp apple and aromatic leeks, while the mustardy croutons add texture and crunch. This is a salad that pops.

A bowl of Radicchio and Apple Salad With Mustardy Croutons
Radicchio and Apple Salad With Mustardy Croutons

A bright and tangy salad featuring attention-grabbing radicchio that adds drama and balance to any holiday meal.

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