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Silicon Veggie

Veggie for the Holidays

By Elisa Camahort

IN THE years that I've been a vegetarian, I've been to many, many meaty Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And, yes, I confess (I seem to do a lot of that in this column) that sometimes it's tough. Even pre-veggie, I rarely ate turkey, other than on those holiday dinner nights. Even so, when those nights roll around, the turkey tempts me. What is that? Nutritional nostalgia, I guess.

In the early years, my mom and I both fell into this "Must Have Main Dish" mentality. Other cultures eat a series of small or side dishes: tapas, kimchee, dim sum. There's no equivalent here. We are definitely an appetizer-entree-dessert kind of country.

Usually my mom would go all out on some vegetarian main dish: a casserole, a stew, a pasta dish ... something hearty, something veggie ... and something I felt obligated to make a major dent in, especially if no one else was.

It took years for me to convince my mom that I would not starve or feel deprived if left to my devices with all of the normal side dishes at a holiday meals. We're talking sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberries, salad, bread, corn, maybe even another cooked vegetable. Not to mention the absolute necessity to save room for dessert.

I'm sure you see what I mean: big, full meal without a main dish.

Actually, I'm often happier in a restaurant if I approach my meal with the same philosophy. You try going to Left Bank, for example, and finding a real vegetarian entree on the menu ... doesn't exist. Am I unhappy to chow down on a beet salad, and sides of spinach, Brussels sprouts and/or mashed potatoes? Not unhappy at all, thank you.

Sometimes I do feel like dispelling the pitying attitudes of my holiday dining companions. You can only hear so many jokes about tofurkey. So every now and then I bring a delicious recipe for vegan Tofu Pot Pie, gotten long ago from PETA. (They're not just about naked models, people!)

It's got gravy made with nutritional yeast; it's got a homemade crust; it's got the corn and peas we all remember lovingly from Swanson's. It's hearty, savory and filling.

But it's got no meat at all. And that makes the holiday season that much more full of thanks, peace and goodwill in my book.

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From the November 3-9, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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