A turkey-free Thanksgiving - Tofurky and more

When your Tofurky is done, use a large bread knife to slice it into slices or wedges. Serve the roasted veggies on the side. The Tofurky has stuffing inside (not quite visible here).

FREE THANKSGIVING turkeys! Who wouldn't agree to that? Unfortunately, freeing Thanksgiving turkeys is both difficult and illegal - but you can "free" the one on your table this year with a turkey-free dinner.

I know, turkey-free Thanksgiving is sacrilege to some, but others are snapping up the new products being introduced to fill a compassionate holiday platter.

Of these, Turtle Island Foods' Tofurky has been around for decades - long enough that the misnomer "tofurkey" is often seen referring to any meatless turkey substitute. The company continually tweaks the overall "Feast" package, which this year includes a delicious Amy's chocolate cake.

Tofurky strikes a balance - serving as a turkeylike centerpiece without trying to imitate one. The uncooked item looks like a formless bag of protein but, as with meat, it's how you prepare it that counts. I not only add the recommended potatoes, carrots and onions to "roast" (bake inside foil) with it, but mix and apply a signature marinade that boosts the overall garlic quotient by about 600 percent and that also makes creditable use of Yuengling Premium.

Shopping tip: Any time you want a Tofurky Feast, go to ShopRite, which stocks them year-round. My local Whole Foods had none out yet when I needed one for this column.

But it did a week later, when it also had Gardein's new T-Day product, Turk'y. These come two to a bag and are self-contained single servings with gravy topping. Each was crispy, hearty and flavorful, but the per-person approach fails as a big holiday centerpiece.

That's exactly where the Vegan Whole Turkey from VegeUSA (www.vegeusa.com) excels. This is a nearly turkey-size soy concoction that looks unnervingly like an actual roasted turkey. One wonders about the appeal: A turkey shape won't draw vegetarians, and no meat-eater is going to be fooled into thinking it's a real turkey. So as far as that goes, it's just kind of bizarre.

However, with some rudimentary preparation (it comes with gravy and with stuffing that you prepare and then, yes, stuff into the turkeylike thing) this turned out to be very tasty and satisfying: A little more bready than Tofurky but flavorful - and with a flavor not too far from turkey.

No turkey, no cry

Then again, you can have a intensively prepared centerpiece that completely ignores turkey. Lasagna is a popular Thanksgiving choice for many veggie types. Our family has gone this route a couple of times, and the best lasagna recipe I've found is in Imar Hutchins and Dawn Marie Daniels' Vegetarian Soul Food Cookbook.

Imar is right about the key being the fresh-made sauce, but make sure you buy lasagna noodles, an ingredient he forgets to list.

Of all the nonturkey options, Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, may have the most appropriate meal plan of all: the "three sisters."

For those who know their early American culinary history (Barnard admits his embarrassment at encountering this only a couple of years ago), the "three sisters" known to various American Indian tribes are corn, beans and squash. Planted together, they grow symbiotically, supporting each other in their diversity. Barnard sees this as a more relevant and meaningful metaphor for gathering one's family to give thanks than the traditional big-dead-animal centerpiece.

"It's always seemed peculiar, this idea of giving thanks by being a glutton," he said, noting that there are many possible dishes (some may already be on your menu) based on one or more of these three. To name just a few: bean tacos, squash soup, polenta, baked beans, roasted butternut squash, three-bean salad, corn bread, green beans and pumpkin pie. (Though I might opt for the tofu-based chocolate silk pie - after all, soy is a bean!)

Although turkey loyalists constantly invoke "tradition," Barnard said that "it's useful to remember real traditional foods. The Native Americans turned out a pretty good banquet themselves." There are more tips, including a recipe for Smashing Corn Casserole, whose ingredients include the three sisters, at www.pcrm.org.

A recipe contest

This year, my endlessly patient family and I will be trying the three-sisters route with a bunch of different dishes. What should we have?

Send your corn, beans and/or squash suggestions to VforVeg@phillynews.com, and we'll pick one winning idea to include on our table. The winner will receive a copy of Dynise Balcavage's new cookbook, Celebrate Vegan ($17.95, Lyons Press).

So get cracking with those ideas. And to anyone and everyone involved, whether you free a turkey or not, let me be sure to say: Thanks!

V news to Use: Rather not spend the day in the kitchen? Order a deluxe turkey-free Thanksgiving from Miss Rachel's Pantry (215-285-7622; missrachelspantry.com) or attend the meal being hosted from 4 to 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving by Public Eye: Artists for Animals at the Chestnut Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church (reservations, 215-620-2130 or lisa@publiceyephilly.org).

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 10-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles the growing trend of plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia. Send your veg tips to VforVeg@phillynews.com and follow @V4Veg on Twitter.