It’s no secret that veganism has come more and more into the mainstream. According to the Alliance for Science, in 2022, around 10% of surveyed Americans considered themselves vegan. This is a pretty considerable jump, given that all but a decade ago, veganism was considered some sort of radical diet reserved for select fanatics. With the number of vegans growing, chances are that you or someone at your table may be opting out of eating animal products this holiday season. Thankfully, there are more options available today than in years past.
But as Vox advised in 2014: Put the tofurkey down. As the article readily points out, the tofu take on the holiday turkey tends to disappoint; it’s soft, chewy, and nothing like the traditional dish. Rightfully argued by Vox, you don’t necessarily need meat alternatives for a good plant-based holiday. Thanksgiving is a meal-oriented holiday, and while the feast centers around the bird, there’s a universe of sides that falls in its orbit.
While these may usually be more vegetarian-friendly, there are plenty of easy vegan sides that can be whipped up without too much hassle. Sides are a great way to provide options for everyone at the table, regardless of their diet.
1. Roasted corn salsa
Long having held a place at the Thanksgiving table, roasted corn salsa is a re-imagining of a crop native to the Americas. The dish takes around 20 minutes in total to cook and prepare, but rewards tenfold in flavor. The heart of the recipe lies in baking the corn for around 10 minutes, which gives the dish a distinct smokey taste. Typical of all good salsas, this recipe includes tomatoes, red onion, and garlic cloves. Meanwhile, the salsa’s fresh lime juice and chopped jalapeño work as a wonderful palate cleanser.
Recipe: Roasted Corn Salsa
Tostones are a treat hailing from the Caribbean. Made from deep-fried green plantains, they are wonderfully crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. With a mildly starchy flavor, they taste a bit like hash browns. They are typically fried in a neutral oil, such as avocado oil, and seasoned well with garlic powder and smoked paprika. To properly prepare, they are fried in two rounds, and flattened in between to take an almost circular shape. For those trying a lighter take on the meal, opt to bake the tostones instead.
Recipe: Baked Tostones
3. Buffalo cauliflower
While buffalo wings may be more of a game day treat, buffalo cauliflower is a vegan take on an American favorite. The real trick to this recipe is getting the shape right: The cauliflower needs to be cut into florets to take on a “buffalo chicken” shape. Almond meal makes for the batter, and spice such as paprika will help create the buffalo sauce seasoning that defines the dish. These “wings” take around 35 minutes to properly bake. Just as with any good chicken wings, you’ll want to serve these piping hot.
Recipe: Buffalo Cauliflower
4. Grilled sweet potato wedges
Sweet potatoes are a common Thanksgiving to-go and often grace the table in the form of the ubiquitous marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole. Sweet potato wedges can offer a nice switch up, and grilling them adds a new texture to the table. Imperative to the recipe’s success is to boil the wedges well before grilling, which will give the wedges a crunchy exterior and supple interior. The recipe suggests taking the wedges directly out onto the grill, as this will give the wedges the perfect charred texture and smokey flavor.
Recipe: Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges
5. Three-Bean Salad Recipe
This three-bean salad adds a bright pop of color to the table with the rich greens of its green beans and the deep reds of its kidney beans. Chickpeas are the third bean in this three-bean recipe and solidify the dish’s hardiness. This particular recipe capitalizes on a bit of apple cider to add a refreshing acidic twist, and a dash of olive oil rounds out the dish. The recipe can easily be whipped up in around five minutes and makes for a great side in a pinch.
Recipe: Three-Bean Salad
6. Cabbage salad
Cabbage is a good piece of produce with a bad rep. While some may turn up a nose to it, it’s better advised to take a second look. A cabbage salad, for example, can make for a hearty, filling, and seasonal salad that rounds out a holiday meal. This particular dish combines Napa cabbage with red cabbage and adds cilantro and peanuts to add tastes and textures to the salad. But the real pop of flavor is the peanut butter and soy sauce-based dressing. This is just as filling as it is yummy.
Recipe: Cabbage Salad
7. Creamy pumpkin soup
This brilliant pumpkin soup is such an un-ignorable orange that it’s certain to warm you before even touching your lips. Coconut milk adds a creamy element to the soup, while also lightening the otherwise thick bowl. Miso paste, ginger, curry, and smoked paprika add a symphony of flavor to the otherwise uniformly sweet soup. Pair it with Thanksgiving rolls, and you’ve got a beautiful, yummy, seasonal hit on your hands.
Recipe: Creamy Pumpkin Soup
Caponata is an autumnal dream. The side features eggplant accompanied by tomatoes, celery, and bell pepper. The recipe centers around sautéing the eggplant, so it takes on that heavenly creamy texture that defines the vegetable. The dish has a slight glaze to it, which puts the proverbial cherry on the cake. While it takes around an hour or so to prepare and cook, the recipe notes that the more time left to sit, the better. The flavors ages like a fine wine, and this side can be made comfortably in advance before the big meal.
9. Vegan shepherd’s pie
While shepherd’s pie is an English delight, there’s no reason it can’t be incorporated into an American tradition. The shepherd’s pie isn’t quite like a pie in the way one would typically understand it. It doesn’t have a crust, and is topped with mashed potatoes instead. While typically made with a lamb (hence, shepherd), the vegan variety is no less filling with its lentil base and chickpea base that is then loaded with miscellaneous vegetables. This is truly a side dish that feels (and fills) like a main.
Recipe: Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
10. Vegan pulled pork
From the grill to the table, this is a meal worth bringing inside. Pulled pork can shockingly be amended into a vegan dish, this is due to jack fruit. The fruit is both completely neutral in flavor, and has a chewy texture, which makes for a great meat substitute. Of course, similar to tofu, the bland base of the fruit makes it perfect for seasoning used for the meatiest of dishes. Boiling the fruit in seasoning, and once baked, re-baking the dish in barbecue sauce are essential to give it that barbecue flavor.
Recipe: Vegan Pulled Pork
Borscht is a soup that hails from Ukraine. Stateside, it is typically beet-based which gives it an appealing bright pink to red coloring. The soup walks a tightrope between sweet and sour, partially due to the vinegar, sugar, and vegetables used to make it. Potatoes can be used as a meat substitute and will be just as hearty in nature. The trick to getting the balancing act to the soup just right is letting the cabbage simmer in the same pot as the potatoes, right as the potatoes are about to cook through.
12. One-pot vegetarian mushroom goulash
There’s no need to rely on turkey for a good ole Thanksgiving food coma; this one-pot mushroom goulash will do the same trick. The pot is mixed with mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage are just as nutritious as they are filling. The recipe notes that flavor is the cornerstone of goulash. Thus, the recipe says to take the sauce-making step very seriously and not to fear the amount of paprika that goes into the recipe; it’s what gives the goulash its authentic flavor.
Recipe: One-pot Mushroom Goulash
13. Mushroom risotto
Mushroom risotto is a prized dish of the Italian cuisine. While it may seem intimidating, with a little bit of information and instruction, it can also be made at home. Risotto is a creamy dish, and a plant-based butter will work to give the risotto its iconic texture without any of the dairy. Miso paste and nutritional yeast add a certain umami to the dish. But be careful — risotto is a cooking method that notoriously needs a lot of attention to get great results. Make sure to allot enough time for it.
Recipe: Mushroom Risotto
14. Grilled bok choy
Like many greens, grilling or roasting brings out the best out of the best of bok choy. To add to the vegetable, the recipe calls for a coating made out of soy sauce, sesame oil, and garlic. The recipe also recommends closing the grill until the bok choy chars around the edges, around 3 minutes or so. Once properly grilled, this dish leaves something original for vegetables to cut into. This recipe can be prepared and cooked in under 15 minutes but should be served immediately.
Recipe: Grilled Bok Choy