Vegetarian Thanksgiving

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No one will miss the bird with this hearty spread.

People often imagine that Thanksgiving dinner must pose an insurmountable problem for me as a vegetarian. But because my favorite part of Thanksgiving has always been all the "fixin's"--the vegetables, mashed potatoes, biscuits, stuffing, relishes, and dessert--I'm just as joyful at the feast as anyone else.

I do like to create a centerpiece dish to stand in for the turkey, however, because side dishes are best appreciated when they are just that--companions to the main event. This year, I'll present an alluring Mushroom and Caramelized-Shallot Strudel as the main course with the accompanying dishes that harmonize beautifully.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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When I plan a large spread, organization is essential to its success. The challenge of a well-orchestrated dinner hinges upon oven space: If dishes cook at different oven temperatures and everything must bake at the same time, then all the advance preparation in the world won't prevent a last-minute panic. For this reason, I have planned a menu with items that can bake at the same temperature while others cook on the stovetop.

You can also include a green salad, another side vegetable (such as steamed green beans with fresh dill), and your favorite stuffing. Dessert is up to you as well, but a traditional Thanksgiving dessert like Gingered Pumpkin Pie suits this meal to a capital T.

This menu balances flavors, colors, textures, and time challenges. Invite nonvegetarians to your spread without apology--they'll hardly notice the turkey's absent.

Thanksgiving Menu Marinated Lentil Salad
Mushroom and Caramelized-Shallot Strudel
Creamy Mashed Potatoes with Chives or Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin
Cranberry, Pear, and Ginger Relish
Herb and Onion Wheat Biscuits

Game Plan Two days ahead:
Make relish; cover and refrigerate.

One day ahead:
Cook the mushroom and shallot filling for the strudel; cover and refrigerate.
Make the lentil salad; cover and refrigerate.

One hour before cooking:
Remove the relish and the lentil salad from refrigerator; bring to room temperature.
Peel and cut potatoes for mashed potatoes; let sit in cold water.
Make breadcrumbs for sweet potato gratin.
Assemble the strudels, and chill.

Time to cook: Bake biscuits; decrease oven temperature to 400 degrees.
Put gratin in oven.
Twenty-five minutes later, start mashed potatoes.
Put strudels in oven when it's time to add breadcrumbs to gratin.