Howard County chefs offer Thanksgiving alternatives for guests with special diets

Your sister is a vegetarian, your brother-in-law is on the paleo diet, your daughter is vegan and your husband is gluten-free.

And you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Sound familiar?

With more Americans observing special diets, preparing what is possibly the most anticipated and elaborate holiday meal of the year has never been a greater challenge.

A 2016 Harris Poll survey estimated that some 4.3 million American adults are vegetarian and 3.7 million were vegan, which means they eat no animal products at all.

Meanwhile, an estimated 3.1 million Americans are now on gluten-free diets, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic, and do not eat grains such as wheat, barley and rye. And anywhere from 1 million to 3 million Americans, according to various sources, follow the paleo diet, whose adherents shun processed foods, sugar, dairy and grains.

And those are just the trendier diets.

It all adds up to headaches for amateur Thanksgiving Day cooks. But the professionals have a solution: tasty and festive recipes for guests who follow dietary restrictions that make the traditional holiday meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie a no-no.

Chefs at local restaurants that cater to people with dietary restrictions suggested three of those recipes.

This easy, tasty, vegan and gluten-free recipe from Tino’s Italian Bistro owner Lance Cook and his kitchen staff puts a twist on a turkey substitute.

Serves 6

4.5 pounds mushrooms
1 garlic clove
1 cup onion
1 tablespoon paprika
8 teaspoons oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
½ teaspoon soy yogurt
1 ¼ pounds silken tofu
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped parsley
3 ounces soy cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 whole par-cooked, gluten-free pizza crusts


Clean and peel, if necessary, all fresh herbs and vegetables.

Use a food processor or hand-chop all ingredients into small pieces, except for the parsley, soy cream, cornstarch and pizza crusts.

Cook in a pan with olive oil over medium heat for about 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add the parsley, soy cream and cornstarch. If there is still a lot of liquid, add a touch more cornstarch and continue cooking on low until gone. Stir and set aside.

Brush the crusts with soy yogurt and turmeric and cook at 350°C for about 6 minutes until the crust is crispy.

Slice crusts into quarters and add toppings. Cook at same temperature for an additional 4-5 minutes. Cool and serve.

Loaded with fresh herbs and clean flavors, this vegetable dish from Roots Market chef Amanda Desaulniers makes a great side for any holiday meal. It is appealing to vegans and non-vegans alike because of its use of whole foods and simple ingredients.

Serves 4

1 pound golden beets
1 pound butternut squash
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary (minced)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme (minced)
3 tablespoons fresh sage (minced)
2.5 teaspoons salt (divided)
½ teaspoon pepper
¾ cup olive oil (divided)
2 tablespoons fresh garlic (minced)
1 pound button mushrooms


Peel and small dice the beets and squash (remove seeds).

Quarter the mushrooms (or half them if small).

Mince rosemary, thyme and sage, and combine the herbs.

Toss beets and squash together in a bowl with 2 teaspoons salt, pepper, garlic, ½ cup olive oil and 2/3 of herb mix.

Spread vegetables on sheet tray in a single layer with space between them.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes until tender.

Toss mushrooms with ½ tsp salt, pinch of pepper, ¼ cup olive oil and remaining 1/3 of herbs.

Lay mushrooms on sheet tray in a single layer with space between them.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until tender.

Toss beets, squash and mushrooms together and serve.

The stuffing recipe from One Dish Cuisine owner and head chef Maureen Burke is free of all top allergens: gluten, oats, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, sesame and milk. And it’s vegan if you make a few substitutions.

Serves 8-10

8 cups of gluten-free, dairy-free bread, cubed and stale (Burke recommends 4 cups of One Dish Cuisine's white and 4 cups of its mock rye)
1 1/2 cups homemade, One Dish Cuisine or Pacific Organic chicken stock or vegan stock
1/4 cup butter, non-dairy butter or vegan spread
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced Vidalia onion
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
½ tablespoon minced fresh thyme
Sea salt and black pepper to taste


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Toss bread cubes in olive oil and toast for 15-20 minutes until crispy. Let cool.

Adjust oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Melt butter or spread in a large skillet over medium heat. Add diced onions, celery and thyme, season with salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes.

Add stock and bring to a simmer.

In a large bowl, combine cubed bread with parsley, then pour in the broth and toss.

Transfer to a greased 3-quart baking dish and dot with more butter or spread on top.

Cover and bake 30 minutes, then uncover and bake until golden brown, about 20 more minutes.

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