The procrastinating veggieducken chef stands in the grocery store on Thanksgiving Eve eve — aka Tuesday — with a spaghetti squash in one hand and zucchini in the other. She’s trying to picture them gutted, one tucked inside the other like Russian nesting dolls. As she looks back and forth between the two, trying to gauge their relative size, the pressure mounts. Ladies with shopping carts towering with stuffing, hams, and 12-pack dinner rolls grow impatient behind her. She’s blocking the yams, she realizes, and she hasn’t even picked out a super-skinny yellow squash yet — one that will fit inside the zucchini.
The veggieducken, inspired by the carnivore’s turducken, isn’t a recipe, it’s a concept: vegetables stuffed inside other vegetables, together comprising a meat-free holiday entree. Some holiday chefs start with a butternut squash; others use pumpkin or acorn squash. Though a ‘ducken is traditionally tied closed with string and slow-baked at a low temperature, some cooks opt to bake theirs open-faced for a crispy center. A small, round acorn squash cut open like a bread bowl yields a single-serving feast.
Even after one has located appropriately sized nesting squash, they’ll realize that with endless possibility comes a bit of pressure: deciding on the spices and sauce to complement the chosen ingredients, and determining cooking time for a dish completely unique in size and composition.
Back home at the parents’ house, the veggieducken chef and her sister get to work halving and gutting the squash, nesting them with layers of garlic, onion, and leek, plus fresh herbs from the garden. Dad supervises, offering an engineer’s perspective on the matter. There’s no twine in the house, so the culinary team settles on securing the halves back together with two diagonally lodged metal skewers. At last, the veggieducken goes into the oven on a bed of small potatoes, whole garlic cloves, and olive oil, topped with salt and pepper and sealed in aluminum foil. Nobody — not even the chef — is sure of the best temperature, how long to cook the bird, or how to tell when it’s done. After 30 minutes they poke at it. It seems to be getting soft in the center, so they remove the foil and return the veggieducken to the oven to brown.
The chef throws more herbs and the rest of the onion, leek, and garlic into a pot with butter and salt — the two most important ingredients for vegetarian comfort food. A honey glaze, creamy gravy, or holiday-spiced sage pesto would pair well with starchier veggieduckens, but this one’s subtle flavors would be overpowered by a heavy sauce. She squeezes a garden lemon into the simmering concoction for a bit of zing.
Fifteen minutes later, mostly because all the other food is ready, she pulls the veggieducken from the oven. It is aromatic, soft, and completely falling apart. Twine is a must, she notes for future reference. The leeks are a little stringy and end up being cast to the edge of the plate. Next year, she’ll sauté the “stuffing” first. The veggieducken, predictably, tastes like vegetables — divinely soft and flavorful vegetables. It’s a simple dish. But for the chef and her sister, who harbor equal disdain for traditional holiday food and tofurkey, it’s a Thanksgiving miracle.
Local heritage turkey options
Not all turkeys are created equal. That delicious buttery flavor that flows from your Safeway bird may not be entirely natural — even if the packaging says it is. For carnivore palates, true poultry bliss comes at a price and requires some planning ahead. Heritage turkeys, the heirloom tomatoes of poultry, can be ordered from local grocers or directly from some local farms. Order as soon as possible to lock down a pasture-raised bird — many local farms take orders year-round and cannot accommodate last-minute orders. Alternatively, order certified organic, heritage, or free range from a natural grocer beginning in early November.
Ramsteadranch.com // 509-442-4725
Reserve your turkey as soon as possible to get a pasture-raised bird from the Ione, Washington ranch. They accept pre-orders throughout the year.
Rocky Ridge Ranch
Rockyridgeranchspokane.com // 509-953-0905
The Reardan ranch is currently taking pre-orders for pasture-raised turkeys.
Main Market Co-op
Mainmarket.coop // 509.458.2667
Place an order in early November to get an organic turkey from the downtown Spokane co-op.
Huckleberrysnaturalmarket.com // 509.624.1349
The lower South Hill natural market begins taking orders for free range or organic turkeys in early November.
Naturalgrocers.com // 509.953.0905
The new North Spokane location of this national health food chain store will offer pre-orders for organic turkeys starting in early October.
Erika Prins Simonds bicycles as her primary mode of transportation. You can find more of her writing at erikaprins.com.