Yarmouth resident Kate Huntress always makes a vegan nut roast as the centerpiece dish for her all-vegan Thanksgiving. The roots of her tradition stretch back to London in 1984, when Huntress, then living in England, stopped eating animal-based meat. Her favorite restaurant at the time was Cranks, a famous chain of (now gone) British vegetarian restaurants credited with setting the tone for London’s current vibrant veg scene, and her favorite Cranks dish was the classic nut roast.

“I used to venture across the city to Covent Garden to eat there when I was a fledgling vegetarian in the early 1980s,” Huntress said. “It was such a treat to eat in a restaurant where everything was vegetarian and much was vegan. The food was delicious and it was always crowded, especially with business people at lunch time.”

She soon began making her own nut roasts, and when she returned to the States and started a family, the Thanksgiving nut roast tradition began.

“I really love nut roasts,” Huntress said, who used to run a catering business in Maine and now works as a realtor. “Over the years, when I see a new nut roast recipe, I try it. There’s one with cashews and apples that is very light and summery. The traditional Cranks’ one tends to be darker and have more umami flavors.”

Lending that umami to the Cranks recipe is Marmite, a strongly flavored British spread made from yeast extract similar to Australia’s Vegemite. And while Huntress loves the Cranks recipe, it isn’t what she makes for Thanksgiving. It took her a few years of experimenting to settle on the perfect Thanksgiving nut roast.

“The one I’ve discovered I love the best incorporates parsnips, one of my favorite vegetables,” Huntress said. “It has a mashed parsnip base with roasted chestnuts. It tastes like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. My husband is still quite a carnivore and he’s my taste-tester. If he says it’s worth eating, I know I’ve hit on a good recipe, because it not only pleases me but he’ll eat it, too.”

The loaf is also free of refined oils.

These days, vegans, vegetarians and their omnivorous family members can purchase plant-based turkeys, roasts and other centerpiece dishes from supermarkets, restaurants and online retailers. But Huntress has plenty of company among Maine vegetarians who prefer a homemade dish on Thanksgiving. In an unscientific poll of members of the Facebook group Vegan Maine, the most popular home-cooked Thanksgiving centerpieces are plant-based roasts, tofu pot pies and Wellington-style vegetable roasts.

For Peter Boie of Arundel, it’s a Wellington-style recipe. Two years ago he watched the documentary “Game Changers,” about elite athletes who use plant-based food to gain a competitive edge and learned that the film’s website offered recipes. There, he discovered the Game Changers Thanksgiving roast.

The site describes the dish as “layers of savory mushroom lentil stew, mashed sweet potato, and an apple cranberry sauce all wrapped into a puff pastry package.” (The traditional Wellington recipe is made from beef wrapped in meat pâté or foie gras, topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions and likewise encased in a puff pastry.)

“It takes a little bit of time cooking the lentils and the potatoes and getting everything right,” Boie said. “The first time you make it, you’ll spend more time doing it, but it’s definitely worth the effort. To me, it’s kind of like a cross between Thanksgiving and a pot pie because of the puff pastry. It has all the flavors in one.”

The dish can be prepared the day before, and baked on Thanksgiving day.

“My family isn’t vegan or vegetarian, and when they tried it, they said they liked it,” reported Boie, who works as an entertainer and magician; he just wrapped up a national college tour of his Halloween-themed show Summoning Spirits.

Jinger Howell of Bowdoin takes an old-school approach to her vegan Thanksgiving centerpiece. “Instead of turkey, I bake savory tofu slices, make a bread stuffing like Mom (without the beef consommé), vegan brown gravy (no more giblets), baked sweet potatoes, homemade potato rolls and, this year, a vegan pumpkin cheesecake,” Howell told me.

The vegetarian celebration has been hosted by Howell’s daughter in recent years because she has the largest dining table in the family. However, Howell still does the bulk of the cooking. Howell stopped eating animals in 1976, and sometime after moving to Maine in the 1980s, she settled on a simple, savory recipe from the iconic, all-vegetarian Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York, as her go-to Thanksgiving centerpiece. She marinates the tofu slices in a mixture of roasted sesame oil, tamari and water, then bakes them at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, flipping the tofu halfway through.

Howell, who loves vintage styles and runs a business making aprons inspired by old patterns, plates the tofu slices and stuffing on an antique platter for Thanksgiving dinner.

Back in Yarmouth, Huntress often bakes her nut roasts in a standard loaf pan, but for special occasions she uses a cake pan or Bundt pan. She has also used miniature Bundt pans and muffin tins to create individual nut roasts.

“Sometimes I’ve made a stuffing and added a layer of nut roast, then a layer of stuffing, then nut roast on top so it has a pretty little band of stuffing in the middle,” Huntress said. “I’ve also put dried cranberries in. Once I put dried apricots in it with Moroccan seasonings. I’m a big fan of changing it up based on what’s in the pantry and what I feel like eating.”

But for her Thanksgiving vegan centerpiece dish, she sticks to classic harvest time seasonings and ingredients.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. Contact her at

[email protected]
Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

KATE HUNTRESS’ HOLIDAY NUT ROAST

If you don’t have a food processor, you can chop the nuts with a knife and grate the bread with a box grater. The loaf may be prepared in advance, frozen, and then baked from frozen for slightly longer, 40-45 minutes. Leftovers are delicious, sliced and made into sandwiches with lettuce, vegan mayonnaise and cranberry sauce.

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound parsnips (peeled, diced, boiled, drained and mashed)
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2¾ cups raw, unsalted nuts such as chestnuts (or any combination of walnuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans)
1 cup fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs (about 2 slices of bread)
2 carrots, finely grated
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice

Oil a 2-pound loaf pan and/or line with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium sauté pan, cook the onion and garlic in a little water until softened, 5-8 minutes.

While the onion and garlic are cooking, toast the nuts on a baking sheet in the oven for 5-8 minutes.

In a food processor, process the bread into crumbs and set aside. Next, process the nuts until they are the size of large breadcrumbs, being careful not to process too long or they will turn into nut butter.

In a large bowl, mix together the mashed parsnips, onion, garlic, nuts, breadcrumbs, carrots, parsley and other seasonings. Stir thoroughly to combine evenly.

Spoon the mixture into a prepared loaf pan and press down evenly. Bake 30-35 minutes until edges are golden brown.

Remove the loaf from the oven and let it stand for 5 minutes before removing from the pan and placing on a serving plate. Decorate with fresh herbs, edible flowers or cranberries, if desired.

Serve with a quick whole-berry cranberry sauce made by simmering on the stovetop 1 pound of fresh cranberries, 1 cup of water and 1⁄2 cup pure maple syrup until berries pop and sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.


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