For me, the scariest thing about learning to cook plant-based food was accepting that it’s more than ingredient swaps, it’s a new process. Learning vegan cooking forced me out of my comfort zone of using what I call “crutch” foods—the easy things we were all taught to reach for—like cheese, eggs, cream and chicken broth. The only way to overcome this hurdle of making foods in new ways is to practice, and if you have vegetarians or vegans coming for Thanksgiving, the time to practice is now. There are plenty of plant-based convenience foods out there today, but they aren’t always an even swap and it’s important to also know how to cook real, whole foods without needing those processed substitutes.
A couple of years ago, when Comfort du Jour was new, I went over the top with a Savory Sausage Mac & Cheese (baked in a pumpkin). It was fun to serve and tasted as good as you’d imagine. This year, I decided to do something visually similar but with all plant-based ingredients, and this is that dish.
Unlike my earlier creation, which was stuffed with rich, decadent cheese, heavy carbs and calorie-laden pork sausage, today’s recipe is entirely plant-based. It also happens to be free of gluten and nuts, so it’s suitable for people with those dietary restrictions, too. I start thinking about dishes like this around mid-October, because my husband’s daughter is a committed vegan, and as I see it, we can dread cooking for loved ones with dietary restrictions (and believe me, they will feel it at the table), or we can adjust in a way that is as fun as it is nutritious.
This effort was also a reminder that a meal doesn’t have to be heavy to be satisfying; after we finished our pretty pumpkin supper, both my bacon cheeseburger-loving husband and I acknowledged that we were “stuffed” (in a good way). We didn’t miss what wasn’t in it, and no wonder, because what was in it was hearty and full of texture.
There are three main components of this dish: roasted pumpkin (which did double duty as a serving vessel), creamy pumpkin bisque (without actual cream, to keep it vegan) and a mixture of cooked lentils and rice with sautéed mushrooms and aromatics.
If you prefer, you could swap in another sturdy winter squash, such as buttercup or acorn. If you wish to serve the stew inside the roasted squash, be sure to choose one that will sit flat on a plate. Or you could simply serve the soup in a bowl and save time by using canned pumpkin. I found it comforting to roast the pumpkin. My mini pumpkins were small—about six inches across—and I roasted them at 350° F for 45 minutes, then scraped out some of the soft pumpkin pulp when they were cool enough to handle. I was careful to keep enough pulp in the bottom of the gourd to prevent my soup from leaking, and enough along the top cut edge to keep the carved top from falling inside
The pumpkin bisque was the simplest part of this, made with the scooped-out roasted pumpkin, enough vegetable broth to blend smoothly, and a couple of other ingredients to punch up the flavor a bit. Roasted garlic adds a depth of flavor. The carrot-turmeric juice is something I bought for smoothies, and it worked great here for spice and color. And the smoked maple syrup is a fall/winter staple in my smoked maple old fashioned cocktails, and I liked it here for a slight touch of sweetness but mostly the smoke. I might have added some plant-based creamer here as well, but I never have it on hand unless I have a vegan guest coming. Honestly, the soup was great without it. If you have some almond milk, go for it!
Finally, a mixture of cooked lentils, kale, sautéed mushrooms and aromatics gave my dish all the texture and fiber it needed to satisfy our hungry bellies. I also added a portion of wild rice blend to my stew, but next time I would sub roasted Yukon potatoes for extra chunkiness. If gluten isn’t a concern, I think cooked wheat berries would also be great in this, for a little snappy texture.
This was a time-consuming project, partly because I was multi-tasking and making it up as I went along. Next time, it’ll be a breeze, especially since I’ve made a click-to-print recipe card below to guide me (yes, I make those for sharing, but I also use them myself)! Please, don’t be intimidated. Cooking is as fun as you make it. By the way, every part of this dish can be prepared in advance. Simply warm the stew and pumpkins before assembling and serving.
A word to the wise, though—if you decide to make this for a vegan guest at Thanksgiving, you might want to make enough for everyone. This is exactly the kind of dish to make the meat eaters jealous. 😉
This is a satisfying, autumn-themed dish that also happens to be vegan, gluten-free and nut-free. It would make an excellent main course for a vegan Thanksgiving.
- 4 mini pumpkins, tops removed and cleaned (see ingredient notes below)
- 1 bulb roasted garlic
- About 1-1/2 cups cooked lentils (see notes)
- 1 cup cooked wild rice blend (substitute cooked wheat berries or cubed and roasted Yukon potatoes, if you wish)
- 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided (you’ll use a little for each thing you saute)
- 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 8 oz. carton cremini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into chunks
- 1 rib celery, strings removed and chopped
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (I used a red one for color)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- A fat handful of kale (substitute with double the amount of spinach, if you prefer)
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup carrot-turmeric juice (or substitute more broth)
- 1 Tbsp. smoked maple syrup (substitute with regular maple syrup or omit)
- Roasted, shelled pumpkin seeds for garnish
- If using canned pumpkin puree, skip to Step 3. If roasting the pumpkins, pre-heat oven to 375° F, with rack in center position. Spray or brush a small amount of olive oil inside the pumpkins and sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. Replace the tops, capping the stems with a piece of foil to prevent burning them.
- Roast pumpkins for 45 minutes, until flesh can easily be scraped with a fork. Let them rest until cool enough to handle, and then use a small spoon to gently scrape out some of the flesh, keeping about 1/2-inch intact on the bottom and sides of the pumpkins’ interiors so they hold their shape. Transfer the scooped flesh to a blender container, and set the roasted pumpkin bowls aside at room temperature.
- Combine pumpkin with roasted garlic (squeezed from it’s paper shell) in the blender container. Add veggie broth, carrot juice (if using) and maple syrup. Pulse a few times to combine, then puree until completely smooth. Transfer to a bowl and set it aside.
- Place a skillet or wide pot over medium heat and swirl in a tablespoon or more olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add onions, celery and jalapeno. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until slightly softened. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan. Swirl in another tablespoon of oil and cook the mushrooms until they become soft and give off most of their moisture. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and set it aside. Add a final tablespoon of oil to the pot and saute the chopped kale until it has wilted and softened. Adjust salt to taste. Transfer the kale to the same bowl with the other vegetables. Add lentils to the vegetable bowl and fold gently to combine.
- Transfer the pureed pumpkin base to the same pot used for cooking the vegetables, and place it over medium-low heat. Gently stir in about half of the lentil-vegetable mixture, then add more until the stew seems balanced to you. Add more vegetable broth if you wish, and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- If the pumpkin bowls have cooled completely, slide them into a warm oven on a cookie sheet for about 15 minutes. Ladle the pumpkin-lentil stew into the bowls, sprinkle with roasted pepitas and serve.