Perfect Plant-based Plate: Alternatives to Turkey This Thanksgiving

Stuffed pears

Image via Shutterstock

By Amie Knowles

November 18, 2021

Are you looking to spice up your family’s Thanksgiving table with meatless options? These three plant-based options will wow even the pickiest of eaters.

We all faced supply chain issues during the pandemic, and there have been rumors of a shortage this year leaving some Virginians wondering if they’ll be able to plate the turkey on the table.

According to a report from the University of Illinois, Americans consume an estimated 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving. Earlier this year, the US Department of Agriculture reported that frozen turkey inventories for 2021 were 24% below their 3-year average volumes. Despite that, it doesn’t mean it’ll be impossible to find one for your Thanksgiving feast.

Beyond supply, there are other reasons some families may opt to forego the turkey this year. The COVID-19 pandemic led some families to be more health-conscious. And while turkey isn’t a poor meat choice — it’s high in protein, B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and phosphorus — it can have its downsides. Some processed turkey products contain up to 75% of a person’s recommended daily sodium intake, which could impact diners with conditions like high blood pressure. 

If you’re looking for a delicious alternative Thanksgiving menu that doesn’t feature turkey — or meat, for that matter — we’ve got you covered. We spoke with three Virginia residents, restaurant owners and home chefs throughout the Southside and Southwest regions to craft the perfect plant-based plate just for you. 

Roasted Red Potatoes with Rosemary Dressing

First up, we’ve got a delicious dish sure to delight: roasted red potatoes with rosemary dressing. Danville resident Adrinna Beltre doesn’t pop a steamable bag of seasoned potatoes into the microwave; she makes the dish by hand, something she learned in another country. 

“I first started cooking from scratch when I lived in Taiwan for three years,” Beltre said. “Since the grocery stores were vastly different from what I was used to as far as produce and other products, I began to experiment with creating meals that I enjoyed by making everything from scratch. During that same time, my sister gave me an amazing vegan cookbook that taught me so much about vegetarian cooking.”

Besides tasting amazing, there are a few other perks to Beltre’s recipe. 

“First of all no animals will give their lives for the meal, which is wonderful,” Beltre said. “But also, a vegetarian meal is better for your heart and your waistline.”


2 pounds small red potatoes, halved or quartered

1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

2 tsp sea salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/3 c finely chopped parsley, for garnish


1 tsp lemon zest

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp mustard

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary

1/4 tsp sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread evenly on the baking sheet. Roast 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender and golden brown around the edges. The timing will depend on the size and freshness of your potatoes.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, rosemary, salt, and pepper.
  4. Remove the cooked potatoes from the oven, and immediately drizzle the dressing onto the cooked potatoes and gently toss.
  5. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed. 
  6. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

“It’s beautiful, flavorful, and it’s an easy way to do something different for the Thanksgiving table,” Beltre said. “I’m literally making this instead of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving this year!”

Stuffed Pears 

Here at Dogwood, we love foods that teeter the line between dish and dessert. And is it really cheating if it’s healthy? We think not.

Laurence Vanderwoods is a small business owner in Collinsville, and boy does he ever know his way around some quality ingredients. He opened Gourmet & Keto Entree Express & Bakery last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, serving healthy food options to his community—but his knack for turning a handful of items into an amazing platter started far before he opened the business’s doors.

“My love for cooking came at a very young age, as my fascination with foods and flavors drove me to enter the food industry,” Vanderwoods said.

Now, Vanderwoods operates the only expressly keto restaurant in the area. A ketogenic diet—oftentimes shortened to “keto”—consists of a low carb, high fat intake. In addition to improving health and promoting weight loss, keto diets also benefit many people who experience such conditions as diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

While the keto diet incorporates meats like steak, ham, chicken, turkey, and fatty fish, creating a veteran keto entree also has its benefits.

“Meatless would help with energy levels, bloating, [and] aid in not raising blood pressure,” Vanderwoods said.


3 pears 

1 c gorgonzola cheese or bleu cheese 

1/2 c walnut halves or walnut pieces 

1/2 c honey

5 tbsp balsamic vinegar 

1/2 tsp dried parsley

Organic lettuce blend


  1. Peel and slice pears in half. Scoop out the middle of the pears and place to the side.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine gorgonzola or bleu cheese, cracked walnuts or walnut pieces, honey, balsamic vinegar and dried parsley.
  3. Mix all ingredients together in a stand mixer or use a hand mixer until walnuts are well incorporated into the mix.
  4. Scoop filling in each pear and bake at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes.
  5. Place cooked pear onto a dessert saucer and surround with organic mixed greens. Drizzle additional balsamic or a pear vinaigrette over the pear and serve.

“This is a side dish that everyone will love, as the flavors meld together to form an awesome combination,” Vanderwoods said. “Presentation is amazing and you will impress your guest with this new traditional favorite.”

Southern Style Dessert Squash

Crystal Matherly, who grew up in the Danville area, shared a treasured recipe with a new twist.

“This was a recipe my mom used to make all the time,” Matherly said. “Then I played with it a bit and it’s a family favorite, southern style dessert squash. And it’s vegan.”


4-5 normal sized squash or 3-4 large squash, sliced

1 onion sliced and chopped longways

2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil or vegetable oil

3-6 tbsp sugar (depending on amount of squash)


  1. Add the oil, squash, onion and pepper into a large skillet. Cook on high until all of the water is cooked out.
  2. Add the sugar.
  3. Cook the mix all the way down until it caramelizes. If it’s a little burnt, that’s okay! 

“Side note: not meant to be an actual dessert; it’s just a side that’s sweet enough, it could be,” Matherly said. 

From our Dogwood family to yours, we hope you have a fun, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving—with or without turkey this year.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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