VEGETARIANS AT THE GATE

Filed under: Holidays, Mealtime

Dishing it Out Katie Workman

Welcome to Dishing it Out, ParentDish's weekly food column. Katie Workman lives in New York City with her husband and two boys, Jack and Charlie. By day she is the Editor-in Chief of the recipe website Cookstr.com. You can read all of the Dishing it Out posts here.

My sister, Lizzie, is a full-fledged vegetarian. Not vegan, but a card-carrying veggie, wearing vinyl shoes and shunning chicken broth, the whole bit. She walks the talk, which I admire, and is raising her two little girls vegetarian as well. It's fully admirable (though serve her husband Mark a steak and keep your fingers clear of the serving platter). It does, however, make family meals, especially Thanksgiving, somewhat of an obstacle course.

First, there's just the general food persnikety-ness of kids. Then a bunch of not-so-kid-friendly side dishes (see Thanksgiving Side Dishes Kids Will Like from last week for some simple new ideas). Now add in vegetarianism. Yikes.

So how do you make the vegetarians at the table feel fully welcome, and not like second class citizens? I refuse to mold a turkey out of tofu, and it would make them all gag anyway. There's the veggie lasagna option, but it does say kind of loud and clear "HI VEGETARIANS! YOU ARE WELCOME AT THE THANKSGIVING MEAL, BUT YOU WILL BE EATING SOMETHING THAT IS DIFFERENT!"

The answer in our family is substantial side dishes, and plenty of them. We have a big group, so there are cooks to share the load.

A savory bread pudding can be kid- and vegetarian-friendly, especially when it's served with a nice assortment of veggies. Here's a cheesy one, which is a great side dish for the non-vegetarians, and a substantial (albeit indulgent) middle-of-the-plate offering for those who want to skip the turkey.

CHEESY BUTTERNUT SQUASH BREAD PUDDING

Serves 12

Use a substantial bread, either a firm white bread, or a challah or a brioche. You'll want to cut off the crusts, but don't get too fussy about it. And you have a choice: either let it get a little bit stale, or very lightly toast it before you begin so it holds its texture.

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (about 1 1/2 inches)
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste
2 shallots or 1 onion, finely chopped
4 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
6 large eggs, plus 6 egg yolks
2 cups shredded cheese, such as greuyere, cheddar, fontina, swiss or jarlsberg
1 whole challah or loaf good white bread, crusts removed, sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

On a baking sheet with sides, toss the cubes of squash with two teaspoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes, until the squash is tender. Remove, set aside to cool, and lower the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a small skillet and saute the shallots or onions for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside and let cool.

In a large saucepan, heat the milk, cream, broth thyme to a near boil over medium high heat (bubbles should just begin to form around the edges). Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

Beat the whole eggs and yolks in a large bowl with the shallots or onions. Add the hot milk and cream mixture, a few tablespoons at a time, to the egg mixture, beating so it doesn't curdle. After about 1/4 of it is incorporated, ppur the milk and egg mixture back into the saucepan, beating the whole time. Season with salt and pepper, and beat in the cheese.

Roughly chop the butternut squash.

Layer half the bread into a buttered large (about 15 x 10-inch) baking pan, tearing it to make it fit in a slightly overlapping layer. Sprinkle over half of the squash, and pour in half of the cheesy milk mixture, pressing down to soak the bread. Layer in the rest of the bread, then the squash, and pour over the rest of the milk mixture.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover the pan, and bake for another 1/2 hour until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let sit for 20 minutes and serve warm.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.