Vegan eaters may consider Thanksgiving a gastronomic challenge, but chef Didi Emmons meets this challenge with relish. She’s the author of “Vegetarian Planet,” and shares with Living on Earth some of her tried and true turkey substitutes.
CURWOOD: It’s tradition that turkey takes center stage at Thanksgiving dinner. But what anchors the annual holiday feast at tables where no one eats meat? Didi Emmons, a well-known chef in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of the cookbook “Vegetarian Planet” has an answer for that.
CURWOOD: Each year, Ms. Emmons hosts a Thanksgiving spread for vegans who not only steer clear of meat, but cream, butter, and all other dairy. And this year, she invited us into her kitchen.
Veggie Planet co-owners Didi Emmons and Adam Penn in their restaurant kitchen (Photo: Brandon Nastanski)
EMMONS: When people know they’re going to a vegan Thanksgiving dinner, you know, they know they’re not going to be getting that big bird. But I think that what they do want is something that is similar, that has the same kind of chew value. Turkey, you know, like any meat, it’s much harder to chew than a vegetable, and there’s something really kind of very satisfying, probably it goes back to our hunting days.
[SOUND OF POT LIDS, COOKWARE HANDLED]
EMMONS: For this year’s vegan Thanksgiving we’re going to have a roasted seitan, which is going to be, you know, the bird. Seitan is wheat gluten, and more than tofu, and more than tempeh, really has great chew. And it also has good flavor. It’s got much better flavor than tofu.
EMMONS: It comes in this box. And I’m throwing the wheat gluten into a bowl. And it’s pretty simple, even a six-year-old could do it. You’re just adding water –
EMMONS: – and all of a sudden, it starts to look a little brainy. It starts to kind of…it’s just strange. It doesn’t look like your regular average dough.
[WET KNEADING SOUNDS]
EMMONS: So right now, as the seitan is resting, I’m making its braising liquid. It’s gonna have to braise in a liquid. It’s gonna have to cook for an hour.
EMMONS: Turkey already has a lot of flavor, but seitan needs a little help. I’ve added an onion, I’ve added a bunch of garlic, I’ve added fresh tarragon, a lot of Worcestershire sauce. I’m gonna add about a quart of water and a good amount of salt and pepper.
[RUNNING WATER, MIXING SOUNDS]
EMMONS: I’ll throw in a little more tarragon. Because it’s a special occasion – only comes around once a year.
[LIQUID, MACHINE SOUNDS]
EMMONS: We’re going to make a Portabello Madire gravy. And what I’ve done is I’ve taken Portabello mushrooms and I’ve thrown them into a food processor and I’ve just kind of obliterated them. They’re just very finely ground. We’ve got the braising liquid from the seitan and that is a stock. And it’s a delicious stock, with the tarragon and the fennel seed, and so we’re going to borrow some of that and we’re going to make gravy out of that.
[CLANG OF COOKING BOWLS]
EMMONS: It’s time for the seitan to hopefully be done. And the Worcestershire has given it a really lovely golden brown color. So we’re just going to put the seitan down like we would the way that dad would put the turkey breast down on somebody’s plate. And then we’ve got our gravy, and we’re going to drizzle it right over the seitan. Mmm… [TASTING], it’s there. It’s everything I wanted it to be.
[MUSIC: Charlie Haden/Hank Jones “Hymn Medley” STEAL AWAY (Verve – 1995)]
CURWOOD: Didi Emmons is co-owner and chef of the restaurant Veggie Planet in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and author of “Vegetarian Planet.” Our sound portrait was produced by Living on Earth’s Steve Gregory. Didi Emmons’ recipe for roasted seitan and other vegan Thanksgiving treats are posted on our web site, Living on Earth dot o-r-g.
EMMONS: Going vegan forces you to get into creativity, and that for me is something that’s a lot more fun than just eating what I’ve been eating every single year.
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