How to Take a Plant-Based Spin on Thanksgiving

A Franklin home cook celebrates her favorite holiday by preparing a spectacular vegan feast.


I have an aunt who wrote the book on the home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. I’m exaggerating, but only a little. She was the sort of cook who, through my young eyes, timed it all perfectly – from the turkey to the sides to that last-minute gremlin, the gravy. Everything seemed to be ready at the same time, brought to the table in hot covered vessels, nothing overcooked. And she repeated this ritual for over 20 people year after year.

The people who take on this most culinarily centered of holidays – not to mention take enjoyment in it – deserve a throne at the table. I haven’t been a guest at Gail Teigeiro’s Thanksgiving, but she sure has an impressive zeal for her favorite holiday (“a great time to get together and celebrate family”) and devotes seemingly boundless energy to making it special each year.

Gail Teigeiro’s “Vegducken”; Photo by Chris Kessler

Teigeiro, of Franklin, says she learned from the best – her own mother, a from-scratch cook and “great entertainer” who steered the Thanksgiving ship during Teigeiro’s formative years and beyond. It was when Teigeiro married her husband, José, that she became the captain.

She’s cooked plenty of conventional meals centered around turkey, but when two of her sons shifted to plant-based diets, she had to rethink the bird and those sides and desserts rich in dairy products and eggs. But rather than seeing that as a challenge, Teigeiro was inspired and now makes plant-based cooking an adventure that satisfies all the palates in her family.

Mushroom Wellington; Photo by Chris Kessler
Gail Teigeiro making mushroo wellington; Photo by Chris Kessler

For the past six years, she’s devoted her free time to helping out at The Chef’s Table, the Walker’s Point venue specializing in private dining experiences. Besides pitching in at cooking stations, she assists with menu creation and specialty diets. The cooking she favors emphasizes whole foods, lots of vegetables and healthy fats. She doesn’t use fake meat as a stand-in for the real thing.

That first Thanksgiving with plant-based eaters at her table, she whipped up special sides for the vegans, such as a pumpkin centerpiece filled with wild rice stuffing and vegetables, “and everyone else wanted to try them,” she says. Two years later, “no one was eating turkey anymore. It’s become all about those showstopping sides.”

A vegetable-based variation on turducken (a chicken stuffed inside a duck, which is then wedged into a turkey) has become the family’s Thanksgiving entrée. Teigeiro’s version of this culinary nesting doll features parsnip, sweet potato and butternut squash as stand-ins for the meat, and a stuffing of mushrooms, cranberries, walnuts and lots of thyme and sage. She serves it with a mushroom gravy. Other dishes include a celery root-pear mash and mushroom Wellington – puff pastry wrapped around a rich, savory Portobello filling.

Vegan desserts – using things like dairy-free butter and flaxmeal – have come a long way in terms of improved texture and truly delicious flavor. One such dessert that has become a holiday staple for the family is a vegan tarte tatin, the French upside-down apple tart. It’s now so loved by the family that they eat it year-round.

Vegan Tarte Tatin; Photo by Chris Kessler


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s November issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.