Spare the Turkey Keep the Flavor

Enjoying a tasty T-Day meal without ruffling feathers

For many a new vegan or vegetarian, the hardest part about the lifestyle isn’t denying the 3 a.m. cravings or searching for foods to replace meat.

No, the hardest part is handling social settings—having to say no to a friend who prepared a homemade pork roast and invited you to dinner, turning down outings to certain eateries or sitting awkwardly while your friends chew on ribs at the local barbecue joint.

Even harder is passing on family-made dishes around the holidays. What’s Thanksgiving without turkey? Or Christmas without ham? At least, that’s what members of your family might ask.

But the truth is—and stick with me here, meat-friendly readers—you can have a flavorful, authentic home-cooked meal without even the slightest bit of meat. How, you ask? Sage’s Café and Vertical Diner’s founder and chef Ian Brandt talks me through it, step by step.

Brandt has spent years perfecting not only vegan cooking, but also diner food: seemingly easy comfort food. The chef also cooks for his own family in a cruelty-free way. Three years ago, he started his own vegan take on Thanksgiving at Vertical Diner. He plans to do so again this year on Thanksgiving from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. if you want to try out his meat-free approach.

Seek the Seitan
For the centerpiece of a vegan T-day spread, Brandt suggests using seitan (a vegan meat analogue made from wheat gluten), served with gravy and stuffing. “Over the years, we’ve made corn pudding, risotto, green bean casserole and other side dishes,” he says.

It should be noted Brandt isn’t looking to imitate a turkey dinner. He aspires for something aesthetically pleasing, unique and flavorful for his patrons.

Brandt’s Tender Tigers is another take on seitan and a staple of the local vegetarian/vegan diet. The breaded seitan is a chicken substitute that has caught on like wildfire and is now available at many restaurants along the Wasatch Front. “We’ve won two awards with PETA for our chicken with the Tender Tiger product,” Brandt says.

The company is in the Top 10 for its vegan chicken wings and chicken sandwich. “We even had a customer the other day who said this was the best meal he’d had in Utah,” Brandt continues, “and he didn’t even know he was in a vegan restaurant.”

Brandt often speaks in terms of recipes. Flavors and textures constantly swim through his mind. “I look at everything from all my senses,” he says, “what it tastes like, the texture, the crunch.”

Risotto is fun, he says, because you can add so many of the senses into one dish. “Risotto with a creamy mushroom stock, rice, and on top of some toasted pine nuts or walnuts with asparagus—that would be a great dish,” he says.

As far as flavor goes, Brandt has a few favored ingredients he swears by, mushrooms and nutritional yeast, in particular—both of which can create a strong umami flavor.

But for something more out of the box, he travels to local Asian markets since many foods sold there are vegan and vegetarian. “Sesame, tamari and soy sauce all create a dense flavor that can substitute for meat,” he says. He uses them sparingly, however, as many have preservatives.

Another necessity is a good-quality salt, he notes. Spending more in the salt department can really pay off in a dish, he says. And the French mirepoix made of onion, celery and carrot cannot be forgotten.

Whether you’re trying to create meatless holiday staples or a new, veggie-centered dish, or just trying to convince your family to cook with more healthy ingredients this holiday season, there’s limitless ways to create a savory, delicious dish sans meat.

Should you need more convincing, try Brandt’s vegan stuffing recipe that follows.

Vertical Diner
234 W. 900 South, SLC
Open Thanksgiving, Nov. 22
11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Vegan Holiday
Stuffing Recipe
Chef/owner Ian Brandt

Vegan Holiday Stuffing

Sage’s Café, Vertical Diner and
Cali’s Natural Foods
Makes a 9-by-13 pan

1 full loaf baguette (Brandt prefers Vosen’s seven-grain)
3 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 cups walnuts, chopped
½ cup dried fruit, small
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1 cup celery, diced
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup white wine
2 tablespoons sage, fresh,
2 tablespoons garlic,
2 teaspoons Real salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups water

• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cube the baguette into ½-inch cubes and then toast on a cookie sheet until light brown.
• In a medium sauce pan,
sauté mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic with the olive oil and sea salt.
• Half of the way through the sauté, add the walnuts.
• When these ingredients are cooked thoroughly, and the walnuts are brown, deglaze with white wine.
• Add dried fruit, fresh sage, water and fresh ground black pepper.
• Note: Green apple and or Anjou pear can also be used instead of the dried fruit. If you wish to use fresh fruit, then use 1 to 1½ cups of fruit and decrease water to 1½ cups.
• When the dried fruit has plumped up, add the toasted bread pieces and stir well.
• Place the stuffing into a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish and bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the stuffing is hot all of the way through.
• Serve with gravy.

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