Thanksgiving Side Dishes for Guests who are Vegetarian, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Keto
Delicious recipes that satisfy dietary restrictions
En español | These days when people sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, their food preferences come with them. Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, keto and other dietary requirements or inclinations sometimes mean the typical holiday spread won't satisfy everyone.
Try these Thanksgiving side dishes for those with dietary restrictions
It’s a good bet you might have guests at the table with dietary restrictions. About 5 percent of Americans identified as vegetarians, according to a 2018 Gallup poll. And the following year, market research firm Ipsos reported that nearly 10 million Americans said they were vegan. Millions more are following a keto or low-carb diet. But you can still provide options at your holiday table that will please most diners.
"Don't stress about it,” says Jessica Shillato, chef and owner of Spotted Salamander Cafe and Catering in Columbia, South Carolina. “You don't have to plan your whole holiday meal around one person, but just make sure that one person has a few options to choose from.”
In the South, says Shillato, “the sides are just as important as the main dish.” These Thanksgiving side dishes will satisfy diners with dietary restrictions as well as those who just like good food.
Asian-inspired vegan squash soup
A soup option on the holiday table makes for a great precursor to the meal. Chef Barry Robinson of Antlers at Vail hotel in Colorado puts an Asian spin on the iconic butternut squash soup. It can also serve as a base for additions for guests who are willing to eat fish or shellfish.
The soup “offers an amazing backdrop for incorporating fresh seafood to create a complete meal fit to impress and complement any special dinner event,” Robinson says.
Thai Butternut Squash Soup (serves 4-6)
- 4.5 pound butternut squash, peeled and diced
- Just under a 1/4 cup of avocado oil, vegetable oil or olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 8 medium cloves of garlic
- 1 ounce fresh sliced ginger
- 2 pinches of salt
- 1 full length stick of fresh lemon grass or fresh lemon grass puree in tube
- 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 cups of water
1. Add cooking oil to a 6 to 8 quart pot and then add onions, ginger, garlic and cloves and sauté. Add salt after a minute and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes more.
2. Stir in diced butternut squash and sauté for another minute.
3. Pour in both cans of coconut milk and water and stir to evenly cover all ingredients.
4. Add sweet chili sauce, lemon grass and cilantro to the top of the soup and cover, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer until the squash is cooked and soft, about 50 minutes.
5. Remove lemon grass and cilantro and drain in a colander, reserving water to return to the soup.
6. Place soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, and blend on slow speed (never fill above half when blending hot soup to avoid getting burned).
7. Season as necessary, garnish with fresh cilantro and serve hot.
Mashed Celery Root (serves 4-6)
- 2 pounds celery root
- 1 onion
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt to taste
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Peel and cube the celery root and onion, toss with olive oil.
3. Cook covered in foil in the oven for 30 to 45 minutes, or until soft.
4. Place into a bowl and add the cream, butter and a generous pinch of salt and mash with a potato masher or mixer until it's as smooth as you like. Add salt to taste.
Fancy, festive vegetarian beets
Alex Pyser, the chef de cuisine at Sear + Sea restaurant at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, calls this recipe for roasted beets a “vibrant dish that allows quality produce to be showcased without masking them with tons of other ingredients.” This recipe adds a pop of color to your table, and provides a good option for guests with food allergies (allergy to beets is very rare, he says).
Roasted Beets (serves 4)
- 4 baby red beets
- 4 baby golden beets
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or sunflower oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh horseradish, microplaned
- 1 tablespoon sourdough (or any available) croutons
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon verjus or white balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Wash and peel beets, removing tops of each, then cut into roughly 1-inch pieces.
3. Keeping the two colors separate, toss beets with oil and season with salt and pepper.
4. Roast beets in oven about 8 to 10 minutes, until edges turn golden brown and they are tender.
5. Allow beets to cool slightly before tossing together in a mixing bowl with olive oil, verjus, microplaned horseradish and lemon juice.
6. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Garnish with sourdough croutons and microgreens or edible flowers (optional).
Stuffing for vegetarian, gluten-free guests and everyone else, too
It's not Thanksgiving without stuffing on the table — whether your guests are eating turkey or not. And this plant-based recipe by Fran Costigan, the director of Vegan Baking and Pastry and chef instructor at Rouxbe Culinary School, is sure to have everyone spooning out seconds. If you're hosting gluten-free guests, make a second serving but swap out the French bread for a gluten-free variety from your favorite bakery or supermarket. They'll be delighted.
Plant-Based Holiday Stuffing (serves 5-6)
- 1 loaf French bread (6 to 8 cups diced)
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 cup diced celery
- 1 cup diced carrots
- 10 to 15 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 4 cups vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons nondairy butter
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Prepare the bread by cutting it into 1/2-inch cubes. Allow it to dry out for up to 24 hours, then add to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Prepare the diced vegetables and fresh herbs.
4. Melt nondairy butter in a large fry pan over medium-low heat, add onions, celery, carrots and fresh herbs and cook 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables become translucent.
5. Add cooked vegetables to the bread and toss to combine.
6. Pour the stock over the bread mixture, a bit at a time, tossing and continuing to add liquid until it's a bit wet.
7. Place stuffing in a greased casserole dish and cover and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown.
Nutty green beans for keto and gluten-free eaters
Green beans are an essential at the holiday table, but you hardly need to defer to the usual green bean casserole. “Having a recipe that can be cooked on the stovetop really helps Thanksgiving preparations move more smoothly as the oven is always in heavy use,” says Cynthia Graubart, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and cooking teacher who recently published Thanksgiving for Two (or Four): Downsized Recipes for Today's Smaller Thanksgiving Dinner.
Skillet Green Beans with Pecan Browned Butter (serves 4)
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound green beans, tipped, tailed and stringed (if necessary)
- 4 tablespoons chopped pecans
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1. Melt butter and olive oil in a medium skillet. Once very hot, add the beans and cook until dappled with dark brown spots. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking and stirring for a few more minutes, until beans are soft. Then remove to a platter.
2. Melt remaining butter in skillet. When foamy, add pecans, stirring frequently until fragrant and starting to brown (1 or 2 minutes), being careful not to burn them.
3. Return beans to skillet, toast and season to taste with salt and pepper. Season with fresh thyme.
Keto guests get decadent bacon skewers
Equally apt as a side dish or a showstopping hors d'oeuvre, candied bacon skewers (with keto-friendly sweeteners) are “really fun and delicious” and can be made ahead of time and reheated in a toaster oven just before serving, says Marcey Brownstein, owner of Marcey Brownstein Catering & Events in New York City. Bundle them inside a mason jar tied with a festive ribbon for a pretty presentation.
Candied Bacon Skewers (serves 6)
- 12 pieces thick-sliced bacon, cut in half to make 24 shorter pieces
- 1/4 cup sugar-free maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons Swerve brand brown sugar
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Pinch of ground cayenne pepper
1. Combine syrup, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper in a bowl with 2 tablespoons water. Stir until combined.
2. Dip the bacon slices into the mixture and lay flat on a plate.
3. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium. Add the bacon slices and cook until crispy. If the bacon curls up, put a weight on top (a foil-covered brick does the trick).
4. Allow to cool before threading bacon slices onto 8-inch bamboo skewers.
Terry Ward is a contributing writer who covers food, drink and travel. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler and The Washington Post and on CNN.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 18, 2020. It's been updated to reflect new information.