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Vegans Say It's Even Better Than Turkey

Air Date: Week of
Veggie Planet co-owners Didi Emmons and Adam Penn in their restaurant kitchen (Photo: Brandon Nastanski)

Vegan eaters may consider Thanksgiving a gastronomic challenge, but chef Didi Emmons meets this challenge with relish - or rather, seitan. The author of “Vegetarian Planet,” shares with Living on Earth her tried and true vegan turkey substitute.


CURWOOD: Traditionally turkey takes center stage at Thanksgiving dinner. But many people who eat no meat can find themselves just left with the sides. Unless they know someone like Didi Emmons. She's a well-known chef in Massachusetts, and author of numerous cookbooks including “Vegetarian Planet.”


Each year, she hosts a Thanksgiving spread for vegans who steer clear not only of meat but also eggs and dairy. A few years ago Emmons invited us into her kitchen while she prepared the dish that will replace tom turkey on her Thanksgiving table.

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.


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.


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.


EMMONS: I’ll throw in a little more tarragon. Because it’s a special occasion – only comes around once a year.


EMMONS: We’re going to make a Portabello Madeira 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 seeds, and so we’re going to borrow some of that and we’re going to make gravy out of that.


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.

CURWOOD: Eco-chef Didi Emmons. Steve Gregory produced our audio postcard. To gobble up a recipe of her roasted seitan and other vegan Thanksgiving delights, head over to our website at LOE dot org.

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.
(This segment was originally broadcast in 2004.)


CURWOOD: We leave you this week with a murder...


CURWOOD: A murder of crows, that is. The collective noun for these corvids dates back centuries. These noisy birds are complaining in a woodland on a blustery winter evening.


CURWOOD: Five carrion crows head to roost at dusk in Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire, England. Richard Margoschis recorded this murder for the British Library National Sound Archive CD, Wild Britain.



Sample some of Didi Emmons' Vegan Thanksgiving Recipes


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