Vegetarian Thanksgiving, A Decadent and Savory Turkey Substitute

I love making this for Thanksgiving, but it is also wonderful any time of the year. Flavorful, satisfying, and infinitely customizable.


For a few years now, I’ve had mixed feelings about whether or not to make a turkey for my Thanksgiving celebrations. And, always, I have ended up making a turkey anyway. This year, I adopted Elsa, a turkey from Farm Sanctuary and I decided to have a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner that is a feast full of love and respect for all of Elsa’s friends in the world!

I’ve been invited to spend Thanksgiving at friend’s house and I will be bringing over my turkey substitute, a roasted loaf packed with all the flavors of Thanksgiving. It is a delicious superfood made with mushrooms, chestnuts, walnuts, almonds, pecans, red quinoa, red rice, thyme, rosemary and sage. I added a mini-stuffing in the middle, too, made of cranberries, pecans, and Turkish apricots. The gravy is creamy and full of umami flavor from the sliced mushrooms, creamy chestnuts, and porto.

I wanted to make this turkey substitute so good, that even if you aren’t vegetarian you will love it too. Last week I had a mini-Thanksgiving at home while tasting and testing the recipe. Everybody loved it, so it passed the test! I am thinking of making this recipe for Christmas too, perhaps by switching some ingredients to add the tastes of Christmas: cherries, cognac, and toasted pignolis.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I am very thankful to all of you for being here with me, transcending time and celebrating all of the small pleasures of life. My love and blessings to all of you.

Pulling everything together is much easier with a food processor for chopping and grinding. And by picking up the whole roasted and peeled chestnuts at the store. They come in sealed bag. You can also cook the quinoa and rice in advance.


For the loaf
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil (for sautéing the onions and mushrooms)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
3.5 ounces Shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
6 ounces Portabella mushrooms, finely chopped
5.25 ounces chestnuts, roasted, peeled, and finely ground (I use pre-roasted and peeled chestnuts)
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts, finely ground
1 cup cooked and unseasoned red quinoa (this can be made in advance)
1 cup cooked and unseasoned red rice (this can be made in advance)
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons porto
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste

For the stuffing
1 tablespoon ghee (or butter)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped (about 20 apricots, optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup celery, diced

For the gravy
3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
4 ounces chestnuts roasted, peeled, and ground
1 cup of porto
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon whole nutmeg, grated
salt and pepper to taste


Grind the nuts for the loaf very finely in the food processor and set aside. Pulse the rice in the food processor a few times.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, heat 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the onion and minced garlic. Add the bay leaves, the chopped rosemary, sage, and thyme, and set aside. Remove the bay leaves.

In a sauté pan over medium high, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Once the pan is hot, throw in the chopped mushrooms and sauté until tender. Add 3 tablespoons of porto and let it simmer until most of the porto has evaporated. Remove from the heat and mix with the ground chestnuts, the cup of cooked quinoa, and the cup of cooked red rice in a large bowl. Add the ground walnuts. Incorporate the reserved sautéed onions, the Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together well, along with the beaten eggs and set aside.

(You could make the patties just as is at this point. It’s perfect — just taste for seasoning and accentuate the flavor to your own taste, maybe with a little more salt, pepper, or Worcestershire sauce, or more onions or mushrooms. Simply bake the patties on a lined sheet pan until they are firm.)

To make the stuffing
In a sauté pan over medium high heat, sauté the shallot, celery, and thyme in the ghee. Add the dried chopped apricots (optional), the cranberries and set aside. You can serve the stuffing alongside the loaf or add it as a layer in the loaf itself.

For the gravy
In a sauté pan over medium high, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the herbs, then remove the mixture from the pan and reserve. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and sauté the sliced mushrooms. Incorporate the onions and garlic. Add the cup of porto and let it evaporate over medium low heat.

Meanwhile, in a small pot at medium low heat, add the cream and the ground chestnuts. Let the mixture cook for a few minutes, then add the nutmeg. Remove from the heat and pass through a sieve to improve the texture of the final result. Add to the mushroom mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the loaf
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan with non stick pan lining paper and grease with olive oil. Pour in half of the mixture and compress. If stuffing the loaf, add the stuffing mixture now and compress it, then top with the rest of the loaf mixture and compress again. Bake for approximately 45 – 60 minutes or until the loaf is firm. Just like a cake, let the loaf cool before flipping it out of the pan. Once it is cool, the loaf will hold together well enough to flip, slice, and serve.

Serve sliced and topped with the gravy. And, of course, it tastes great with cranberry sauce too.

One Comment

  1. La prueba fue un manjar uno de los platos más deliciosos que he comido en los últimos tiempos !!! Algo exquisito !! Una vez mas !! para patentarlo

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