Plant-Based Piesby Judith Fertig
Gratitude for the bounty in our lives has been a constant in every American Thanksgiving since the Pilgrims’ first celebration at Plymouth Plantation. What has changed is the menu.
Many holiday hosts today wish to be inclusive and respect everyone’s increasingly restrictive dietary needs. A few dishes that offer naturally gluten-free, paleo and plant-based options never go amiss, especially when we’re talking pie.
It’s easy to make a plant-based pie—think pumpkin, sweet potato and chocolate. As a bonus, many vegan pies can be made ahead and actually taste better the next day.
The CrustA mellow nut crust might be the best way to go; pecans or almonds, sweetened with dates, crumbled in the food processor and pressed into a pie pan. It’s deliciously easy and can be made the day before, always a plus at holiday time. Gluten-free vanilla, chocolate or gingersnap cookie crumbs, mixed with a little coconut oil pressed into the pan, can serve as an alternative to nuts.
The FillingThe freshest filling makes the freshest-tasting pie. Winter vegetables such as squash, small sugar or pie pumpkins or sweet potatoes can be baked in the oven and puréed in the food processor days ahead of time. Or, make the purées weeks ahead and freeze them, ready to thaw for a recipe.
Award-winning cookbook author Deborah Madison, author of Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market, in Galisteo, New Mexico, preheats her oven to 375° F. “Cut the squash in half, the pumpkins into quarters, scrape out the seeds and brush the cut surfaces with a vegetable oil such as sunflower or safflower,” she suggests. “Place the squash or pumpkins cutside-down on a sheet pan. Prick sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Bake the vegetables until tender, about 40 minutes,” says Madison. When baked, scoop out the flesh, discard the rinds or skin and purée the flesh in a food processor. About two cups of purée equals a 15-ounce can of pumpkin, sweet potato or butternut squash. Pies made with fresh purées will have a lighter color and flavor.
Madison says she prefers natural sweeteners. “Honey and maple syrup are so dynamic—they’re more like foods in their own right than just sweeteners.” Maple and date sugars give pies a deep, caramelized flavor.
Always taste test during preparation, recommends Alissa Saenz, of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, who blogs at ConnoisseurusVeg.com. She loves a big dose of chai spices and little dose of sweetener in her Vegan Chai-Spiced Sweet Potato Pie. But pie is personal. “I recommend tasting your batter to decide if you’d prefer a little more or less of each,” she says.
Finishing TouchesAn ethereal cloud of coconut whipped cream can taste just as delicious as the dairy version, says vegan baker and cookbook author Fran Costigan, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She refrigerates a 14-ounce can of unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk for at least 24 hours. After opening it, she spoons out only the solid coconut cream into a chilled bowl, saving the remaining liquid coconut milk for another use. She whips the coconut cream with an electric mixer until fluffy, adding a natural sweetener and vanilla extract if desired. It all makes for a perfectly healthy plant pie.
Judith Fertig writes award-winning cookbooks plus foodie fiction from Overland Park, KS (JudithFertig.com).