The first hurdle was to find a table long enough to fit everyone. We thought about building one, then buying one, and finally ended up renting one. It was the best option. The second hurdle was to find a room in our modest house where such a giant table could fit. There was only one option: my office. With a little help from our family, we moved years worth of stuff out of my office. We cleared it completely to make room for the table and all those who would sit around it to eat.
Why, you ask? Why would we go through so much trouble just to have everyone sit together? It is important to us, now more than ever. Besides, Thanksgiving is The Wife's favorite holiday of all time. There are no presents to buy. There are no eggs to hide. No staying up 'til midnight. I think she loves Thanksgiving so much because the main goal of the day is to sit and eat great food with people you love, and who wouldn't love that?
This brings me to the food. I know that the vegetarian main dish at Thanksgiving has some pretty stiff competition. It has to be something spectacular...something hearty and warm. So I decided to make a cassoulet. I have been a vegetarian since I was 12, so I had never tasted a "real" cassoulet, but Chef John Bragg served one at Circa during his totally vegetarian dinner this fall. His was delicious, and it inspired my version of this classic dish.
Here's how it went:
16 oz dried navy beans (soaked)
4 cans vegetarian mock duck (find this at the Asian market)
2 field roast sausages (crumbled)
1 large onion (large dice)
2 large carrots (diced)
1 parsnip (diced)
1 green & 1 red pepper (diced)
large can of diced tomatoes (with juice)
3 cups white wine
2 cubes of un-chicken bullion
6 cups bread crumbs
fresh parsley, oregano, bay leaf, sage
butter (yeah, lots of butter)
On medium-high heat, melt a quarter stick of butter (or more) in a enameled cast-iron pot. Brown the rinsed and dried mock duck in the butter, and then remove from the pot. Add the sausage to the pot and brown it up as well, and then remove it from the pot, too. Now layer in the onions, peppers, carrots, and parsnip in that order. Allow this to cook without stirring for about 4-5 minutes. Add the white wine and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pot. Add the beans, tomatoes, bullion, duck, and the sausage to the pot. Stir. Make a bouquet garni by tying together a few stems of each fresh herb and then drop it into the pot. Cover and bring it up to a simmer; next, stick it in a 350 degree oven for 2 hours. Check it after 45 minutes and add some water if it looks dry. At this point remove the lid, remove bouquet, and add 1/2 the bread crumbs to the top. Cover and return the cassoulet to the oven for thirty minutes. These bread crumbs should get pretty wet. Cut two tablespoons of butter into the remaining bread crumbs, and them mix them with a handful of chopped parsley. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the cassoulet, and then return it uncovered to the oven for another 30 minutes or the top is nice and brown.
Wow. People honestly couldn't believe it was vegetarian. My dad teased me by saying that they call it mock duck because it is from the town of Mock, and not because it was fake. I know better.
Everyone did their part. We had Lindsey's spicy cornbread stuffing, Bianca's butternut squash, Diane's sweet potatoes, The Wife's cranberry sauce, yeast rolls, baked apples, and pumpkin pie, Hunter's spinach, and my green beans. I think there was a turkey there, but I couldn't point him out.