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Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving can be particularly awkward for vegetarians, seeing as the whole production traditionally revolves around the preparation, presentation and praising of perfectly plated poultry.

Passing up the turkey – so lovingly basted by one beloved relative or other– is akin to betrayal in some families. But even in one’s own kitchen, forgoing a bird can mean grasping for a main dish that “tastes like Thanksgiving.”

This of course is the very dilemma that spawned so many unfortunate Tofurkey recipes over the years.  Because when it comes down to it, sides are still sides. Turkey or no, there needs to be a centerpiece worth celebrating and being thankful for.

When I was a kid, my grandparents were strict vegetarians. Actually, it’s a lot more accurate to say that my grandfather was a strict vegetarian and he forbade my grandmother to eat meat. Which she did not; at least in his presence.

Alas, my gram was a somewhat reluctant veggie and was rather prone to sneaking a nibble of ham or a tuna sandwich on the sly when she had the opportunity.  One of her biggest frustrations, though, was with Thanksgiving, which simply did not taste like Thanksgiving to her without a big, juicy stuffed turkey.

My grandfather would not hear of it, though (he stopped eating meat entirely in 1943), so my gram devised a recipe that would deliver the flavor she craved without delivering the actual bird. Through trial and error she adapted her own mother’s stuffing recipe to become a casserole – and our family’s signature Thanksgiving dish.

Now that my grandparents are gone and the Thanksgiving meal has shifted to my brother-in-law’s clan, I don’t get to taste that old family favorite very often, but it is something I absolutely crave.  I get to make a meal at home this year, so I went looking for the ingredient list in my recipe box today.

And there, on four yellowing index cards stapled together at the top left corner, is my grandma’s familiar handwriting:


Gram’s Dressing Casserole

Wash all vegetables before chopping

1 Loaf Bread – whole grain

1 cup Water (approx)

2 or 3 Large Onions, chopped

2 or 3 cups Celery, chopped

1 Bunch Parsley, chopped and stems removed (2 or 3 cups)

1 tsp Pepper

2 or 3 Tbsp Poultry Seasoning

No salt. Broth is salty.

½ lb Butter (more if needed)

4 Tbsp Braggs Liquid Aminos

1 cup Hot Water


Put bread in large bowl and pour water over it. Squeeze and crumble bread.  Add next five ingredients. Fry (one-half at a time) in butter in large skillet until vegetables are almost soft and bread is slightly browned. Stir frequently so mixture doesn’t burn. Add more butter if necessary. Put mixture in large casserole – cover and store in refrigerator overnight or until ready to use. Make a broth with the Amino and hot water and pour over mixture and bake in moderate oven until bubbling hot. Serve with cranberry sauce. May be made the day before serving but do not add broth and bake until just before serving. No salt needed. The Amino is salty. Variations – add mushrooms, nuts or raisins.


My family never really made the variations, as far as I can remember, but I have added mushrooms to the recipe in the past and it is terrific.  My grandma’s advice to fry the mixture “one-half at a time” is pretty wildly off, though. I simultaneously use one big cast iron skillet and a wok and still end up doing multiple batches (don’t worry, it shrinks down!) Also, I recommend going with the lower end of the scale for poultry seasoning, especially the first time you make it — the flavor can dominate if you use too much.  You can find the Bragg’s Liquid Aminos at any health food store or Whole Foods market. Don’t skip it; it is essential to the recipe.


This special Thanksgiving casserole is truly a wonderful family tradition that can be the centerpiece of any meal, vegetarian or not.  May you and yours find much to be thankful for.