Who needs the bird at the table?

  • Article by: LAURA REILEY , Tampa Bay Times
  • Updated: November 14, 2012 - 12:41 PM

Winter squashes help fill in where meat's left out.

Winter squash makes an appearance in many vegetarian dishes.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Not that many years ago, a vegetarian at Thanksgiving was an object of pity. That special day without the burnished turkey was a holiday without a centerpiece. Times have changed. For many of us, meat-free options are essential at every gathering, including Thanksgiving. This doesn't mean some creepy meat substitute (tofurky, be gone!) or just having veggie guests go heavy on the green-bean casserole. There needs to be a dish of drama and substance that serves as a "centerpiece" for meat-free guests.

Here's the secret weapon: squash.

Thick-rinded winter squash varieties -- from acorn to butternut, pumpkin to delicata -- mostly mature during the fall, lending autumnal colors of orange and yellow to the Thanksgiving table. They are affordable and forgiving and make great do-ahead casseroles, purées, tarts, pies and even dramatic receptacles when roasted whole and filled with stuffing or rice pilaf.

Here are a few tips in making squash a showstopper:

• What carnivores miss in meat-free entrees is often textural. Tooth resistance and contrast are easy to achieve with a dish that includes pastry. Pie dough, puff pastry, phyllo and even pizza dough can turn a side dish into a main attraction.

• Combining roasted squashes with grains and legumes takes a hearty vegetarian dish and makes it a complete protein (something vegetarians have to work a little harder to find). Lentils, white beans and wild rice are elegant companions to sweet roasted butternut squash and the like.

• No, chicken broth is not vegetarian. Make your squash purées with it and you've closed the door to vegetarians. Vegetable broth works fine.

• Everyone loves gravy, including vegetarians. Consider making a mushroom gravy or other sauce as a special treat for meat-free guests. This gives a squash entrée a little more holiday polish.

• Think presentation. Dried fruit and roasted nuts go great with squashes and make for a pretty serving-platter garnish.

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  • Recipes: Roasted Butternut-Squash Pie

    Wednesday November 14, 2012

    Also: Creamed Onions With a Whole-Wheat Breadcrumb Topping; Winter-Squash Souffle; Spiced Pumpkin, Lentil and Goat-Cheese Salad.

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