Tofurkey Day

I’m back after a Thanksgiving trip. What do vegetarians like myself eat for Thanksgiving? All sorts of things, actually. That said, for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, we need a big centerpiece food item. Ideally it will both look festive and taste good. I find this combination to be harder for vegetarians.

Lasagna or macaroni and cheese is a good filling centerpiece, but doesn’t look like much of anything.

There are various vegetarian turkey substitutes available. Tofurkey attempts the look-and-taste-good combination, and top that by trying to look like a turkey and even having stuffing. Unfortunately, they fail. Tofurkey slices (which can be bought separately) taste good in a sandwich, but the Tofurkey centerpiece doesn’t really taste very good.

Quorn sells a nice-tasting vegetarian roast, made out of myco-protein, whatever that is. This tastes good and filling, and even has a turkey flavor. Unfortunately, it looks more or less like a roll of marzipan.

The most successful vegetarian centerpiece I know is a stuffed pumpkin. It’s not absurdly hard to make–only slightly harder than stuffing an actual turkey. You use a roasting pumpkin, of course, not the usual jack-o-lantern pumpkin which is much larger. The main problem is that you need a pumpkin at just the right level of ripeness, but as far as I know there is no way to tell how ripe a pumpkin is without cutting into it. The pumpkin can be roasted whole, and then sliced at the table. When it works, it’s quite tasty.


  1. ncm said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

    I haven’t smelled Quorn’s myco-roast, but the odor of their other products absolutely turns this vegetarian’s stomach. The point of these things is lost on me. If I wanted something a lot like meat, I’d just eat meat.

    At my parents’ house, I somehow ended up responsible for carving the turkey, in the kitchen. (I asked if I shouldn’t be doing that at the table, and was told that that was only done on TV, not IRL.) I ate lots of sweet potato and mashed potatoes, and went to bed well satisfied.

    The story of the words “sweet potato” and “potato” is badly confused. The Amazon basin “patata” and the Andean “papas” came to England in reverse order, and somehow the papas got called “potatoes”; then, when the patatas got there, they had to be called something else.

    Yams confuse matters further: true yams are neither sweet nor carotene-colored. Somehow Americans took to calling patatas “yams”. The confusion also occurs in Japan, and elsewhere. Maybe it’s that “roots is just roots”, and confusion is unavoidable.

    How the Amazonian patatas got to Polynesia before the Europeans did was long considered a big mystery. When chicken bones found in Chile were carbon-dated to c. 1450, that mystery was considered solved: the Polynesians had visited, and evidently swapped moa-moa (chickens) for what the Quechua call “cumal”, and Polynesians call “kumara”. (That the nautical vocabulary of native Catalina Islanders was Polynesian was not considered persuasive.) The mystery, of course, was only in the minds of Europeans who couldn’t believe in savages reaching the Americas before their own ancestors did.

    “Turkey” is similarly confused. According to McGee, at the time turkey was introduced to England, an American fowl would have attracted little attention, but being ostensibly oriental made it exotic, thus interesting.

    I have nothing to note about cranberries except that eating them gives me blisters on the neck and hands.

  2. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 6:56 pm

    I used to feel as you do: if I wanted something like meat, I should eat meat. But, after all, I didn’t become a vegetarian because I don’t like meat. I do like it. And after 15 years or so of not eating meat (i.e., about 10 years ago), I realized that there was nothing wrong with eating something vegetarian that tastes good to me, even if the reason it tastes good is that it tastes like meat (or at least that it tastes like what I remember meat to taste like).

    I have really nothing to say about potatoes, except that I’ve always enjoyed to potato displays at country fairs, demonstrating 50 different types of potato.

  3. ncm said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 8:33 pm

    The Incas maintained 240 different varieties of potato. I have seen an argument that Machu Picchu was, principally, an agricultural experiment station, with a terrace for each microclimate in the empire, and a potato variety that would grow in it. The mysterious circular structures, then, would have been silos.

    When somebody says, “If we weren’t meant to meant eat animals, why are they made out of meat?”, I say “If we weren’t meant to eat other people, why do they taste like pork?”

  4. ncm said,

    November 27, 2007 @ 8:52 pm

    Further research reveals the Incas had over 2000 (some say 3000) potato varieties, of which 1200 remain, managed by the Quechua-Aymara Association for Sustainable Livelihoods. In the Sacred Valley of the Incas today, “…a typical farm plot may contain 250 – 300 varieties”.

  5. tromey said,

    November 28, 2007 @ 7:32 am

    “If we weren’t meant to eat other people, why do they taste like pork?”


    In the end, though, I stopped responding to statements like the one that inspired this. Being around a vegetarian seems to make some people very nervous, as if they assume I am going to judge them.

    BTW I’m loving the potato history.

    For Thanksgiving we usually make something much more complicated than our normal fare. This year it was a winter vegetable pie. But then, I’m not very concerned about the visual appeal.

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