Save the world by scaling down your Thanksgiving turkey

Save the world by scaling down your Thanksgiving turkey

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, and odds are, you already have a menu in mind, whether it is family traditions, potluck plans or maybe even some new recipes. Mark Bittman, author of "How To Cook Everything" and, most recently, the new edition of "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian," hopes it won't be meat. 

Bittman's new book, and his lifestyle in recent years, is focused on more healthy and sustainable eating. That means, in his own words: "Eat less meat, eat better meat, eat more expensive and better raised meat." That might mean saving meat for one meal a day and eating a plant-based diet most of the time. Or it might mean ditching the 25-pound turkey (and all the leftovers that come with it) for a smaller, more sustainably-raised and more expensive bird, and bolstering the Thanksgiving table with veggie sides and mains. "The centerpiece is still the turkey," Bittman said, "but it's not like the table is dominated by the turkey, and then you make awesome side dishes that everyone is really happy with." Or he said, you can make a vegetarian main alongside the turkey, or even instead of the turkey. 

And it doesn't have to be a nut loaf or Tofurky. Bittman recommends stuffed squash, or even tofu braised in ketchup. You can get the details for both dishes by clicking on the audio player above, and get more veggie Thanksgiving inspiration in the photos and recipes below.  

White Beans, Tuscan Style

Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: 1 to 2 hours, largely unattended

An indispensable bean dish that can be enjoyed hot, cold, or at room temperature — one of my kids used to love it as an after-school snack. Serve it with a salad and crusty bread or toss it with a bit of cooked small pasta (like orecchiette) or greens (like cabbage), and you have a fantastic lunch or dinner. It reheats perfectly; just add a bit of water if the beans are too dry.

Other beans you can use: dried gigantes, fava, pinto, cranberry, kidney, appaloosa, anasazi, black-eyed peas, green or brown lentils, soybeans.

  • 1 pound dried white beans (cannellini, navy, Great Northern, or lima), rinsed and picked over
  • 20 fresh sage leaves or 1 tablespoon dried
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (or more to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or more to taste)

1. Put the beans in a large saucepan with water to cover. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the sage, turn the heat down so the liquid bubbles steadily but not violently, and partially cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very tender, 1 to 2 hours; add water if the beans dry out.

2. Drain the cooking liquid if necessary, then sprinkle the beans with salt and pepper and stir in the garlic. Taste and adjust the seasoning, stir in the oil, and serve.

Favas with scallions: Use fava instead of white beans and omit the sage. Use ¹/₄ cup chopped scallions instead of or in addition to the garlic.

Chickpeas with jalapeños: Substitute chickpeas for the white beans and 1 onion, chopped, for the sage. Add 2 tablespoons minced jalapeño chile with the garlic.Pinto beans with red bell pepper: Cilantro stems, loaded with flavor, can withstand longer cooking than the more fragile leaves: Use pinto beans instead of white beans and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro stems instead of the sage. Sauté 1 cup sliced red bell pepper in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat until soft and add with the garlic in Step 2. Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro.

Paella with Tomatoes and Eggs 

(see pic at the top of article)

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 35 to 45 minutes, plus resting time

My vegetarian paella starts with sofrito, a mixture of aromatics, herbs, and tomatoes, sautéed in olive oil until it becomes a thick paste. Saffron is traditional in paella but I also like to add smoked paprika. It’s also traditional to serve it with garlic mayonnaise  but try Chimichurri for a deliciously unorthodox alternative. What is not traditional is my addition of eggs, which bake into the savory rice mixture. It’s also delicious without, so I have made them optional.

No need for a paellera (a two-handled paella pan), but your pan should be wide enough to hold the grains of rice in a thin layer. This will help develop the crusty bits of rice on the bottom of the pan (called socarrat) that are the best part of the dish. Since most home cooks don’t own such a big pan, I prefer starting paella on the stove in a roasting pan or my largest skillet and moving it to the oven. To properly develop the socarrat, put the pan back on the stove for a couple of minutes before serving.

  • 3¹/₂  cups vegetable stock or water, plus more if needed
  • Large pinch saffron threads (optional)
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, cored, cut into thick wedges, and seeded
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4   tablespoons olive oil
  • 1   onion, chopped
  • 1   tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1   tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2   teaspoons smoked or other  paprika
  • 2   cups Spanish or other short-grain white rice or parcooked short-grain brown rice
  • 4–6  eggs (optional)
  • Chopped fresh parsley for  garnish
1.  Heat the oven to 450°F. Warm the stock in a medium saucepan with the saffron if you’re using it. Put the tomatoes in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss gently to coat.

2.   Put the remaining oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and paprika and cook for a minute more. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s shiny, another minute or 2. Carefully add the stock and stir until just combined.

3.  Put the tomato wedges on top of the rice and drizzle with the juices that accumulated in the bottom of the bowl. Use a large spoon to make 4 to 6 indentations in the rice and carefully crack an egg into each. Put the pan in the oven and roast, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Check to see if the rice is dry and just tender. If not, return the pan to the oven for another 5 minutes. If the rice looks too dry at this point and still isn’t quite done, add a small amount of stock, wine, or water. When the rice is ready, turn off the oven and let it sit for at least 5 and up to 15 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with parsley. If you like, put the pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving.

Paella with eggplant: Instead of tomatoes and eggs, use 1 pound eggplant, peeled if you like, and cubed. In Step 1, increase the oil to 2 tablespoons. 

Paella with mushroom caps:  Instead  of  tomatoes and eggs, use 1 pound fresh mushrooms like cremini (sometimes called “baby bellas”) or shiitake. Trim the stems and save them for another use, but leave the caps whole. Proceed with the recipe, putting the caps on top of the rice, smooth side up. 

Paella with spinach and lemon zest:  You’ll have to pile the spinach up on top of the rice, but it will cook down and form a lovely green topping: Instead of tomatoes and eggs, use 1 pound fresh spinach, rinsed, trimmed of thick stems, and chopped. When you put it in the bowl with the olive oil, add 1 tablespoon minced lemon zest. 

Paella with fava beans:  You  could also make this with limas or edamame: Instead of the tomatoes and eggs, use 1 cup shelled and peeled fava beans (frozen are fine). 

7 Other toppings for paella

You can experiment a lot with this dish, and anything that tastes good crunchy and roasted (which is most things) will be great on top of the paella. Just remember to toss the ingredients in olive oil before adding them. Try:

  • Cooked white beans like cannellini, gigantes, or navy beans
  • Thinly  sliced potatoes
  • Thinly sliced lemon
  • Crumbled tempeh tossed with smoked paprika and cumin
  • 1 head roasted garlic cloves, squeezed from the skin
  • Sliced roasted red peppers
  • Whole scallions

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