Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Thriftiest Thanksgiving Feast

The Topic: Vegan Thanksgiving on the cheap with Editorial Assistant Hilary Pollack

The Dish: In all of its decadent, feast-filled glory, Thanksgiving brings us together with our loved ones every year for a tasty celebration of everything deserving of our gratitude. Unfortunately, our wallets are sometimes less giving than we’d like. Whether you’re celebrating with your family, pals, or just reruns of your favorite TV show, the holiday would not be complete without at least a few of its memorable culinary traditions. Here are a few of the top ways to stuff your belly without unstuffing your bank account.

Seitan-ic Rituals
The centerpiece of a vegan Thanksgiving meal is the savory entrée that serves as a cruelty-free stand-in for our friend, the turkey. While any number of substitutes will suffice and satisfy, the most traditional option is a roast. Store-bought roasts (from brands like Tofurky and Field Roast) may seem like the easiest and most convenient choice, but they can actually be expensive and difficult to acquire in certain areas, and may require an hour or more of cooking time. We’re here to talk thrifty, quick, and easy. Fear thee not—making your own seitan is far easier than you think, and on the plus, super-cheap. All you need is vital wheat gluten, vegetable broth or water, and whatever seasoning or spices you desire. No joke. Check out Selfish Vegan’s ridiculously simple guide to doing it yourself. Key phrase: “pennies per serving.” Once you’ve made your own seitan, you can use it in any number of ways. Seitan Pot Roast and Where’s the Beef Stew? Both sound centerpiece-worthy to me.

Studly Stuffing and Groovy Gravy
Whether to top your DIY seitan, smash into your mashed potatoes, or to scarf solo, stuffing and gravy are crucial elements of your frugal feast.  You can amp up your recipes as much as you wish and your budget permits, but quick stuffing and gravy can be just as flavorful and enjoyable as their gourmet counterparts. Take VegWeb’s Thanksgiving Dressing, for example—a few sliced veggies, some cubed bread, and a few other inexpensive components make a worthy companion for your roast. Still sound too complicated? Quick Stuffing is as trouble-free as it gets—just mix premade stuffing bread cubes with dry vegetable soup mix and water or oil, and you’re good to go … almost. It still needs to be doused in delicious gravy. Mushroom Gravy uses our favorite fungi to bring heartiness and depth to your holiday mix, and is just a boil, sauté, and stir away. If you’re not one for ‘shrooms, try Super Easy Gravy and improvise on additions. Veggie ground beef? Red wine? Balsamic vinegar? Add a dash of any savories you desire to customize your creation. While it has a few more components than the aforementioned, I make Awesome Mushroom Gravy every year for my family’s spread—well, sort of. I follow the recipe as closely as possible, but experiment with replacements for anything that I don’t have on hand. Out of onion? I use garlic or shallots. When I don’t have Bragg’s Amino Acids, I sub in soy sauce. A little bit of improvisation can save a lot of time and money.

The Best of the Rest
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the two most highly anticipated dishes of Thanksgiving: potatoes and pie (mashed and pumpkin, respectively). As for mashed potatoes, they’re pretty much a wallet-friendly no-brainer, and I would suggest reading Mashed Potato Remix and whipping up whatever version you are drooling over the most avidly. Potatoes are cheap, and therefore rule. In the dessert category, I truly believe I have found the easiest-to-make, hardest-to-resist vegan pumpkin dessert everEasy Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake. Premade vegan cream cheese, premade graham-cracker crust, pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice, canned pumpkin, sugar—bam, pow, and wow. I made this last year, and it is the best thing in the world and took roughly zero kilowatts of brainpower. 

With one bag of groceries, you can prepare a Thanksgiving feast fit for a king. Don’t relinquish your holiday spirit just because you’re broke and lazy—march onward into the realm of royal roasts, magnificent mashed potatoes, and proper pies. 

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