Chef Phillip Frankland Lee’s Tips for a Tasty Vegan Thanksgiving

Keeping it real is the key to a delicious meatless holiday spread

“The biggest mistake you can make is trying to replace meat with a vegetable. Anytime someone tries to make cauliflower sausage or potato steak—you’re never going to be able to do that, so don’t,” says Top Chef season 13 contestant Phillip Frankland Lee.

The chef, who’s known for creating beautifully plated vegetable-focused dishes at his restaurant The Gadarene Swine in Studio City, contends the most successful meatless dishes are those that embrace their main ingredients: “Take a cauliflower or a potato and make that taste real yummy, and concentrate on it for what it is, not for what you wish it was.”

Thanksgiving is no exception. While turkey might be the centerpiece of the holiday, side dishes offer plenty of opportunity for deliciousness. The secret, according to Lee, is to embellish natural flavors. Brussel sprouts, for example, can be as easy as adding a little lemon juice, olive oil, and sea salt while coconut milk can replace cream and butter without sacrificing lusciousness. “It’s totally cool to integrate different kinds of flavors into dishes,” he says.

Making it beautiful can help, too—Lee says he likes to plate artistically, but even just a nice ceramic or wooden dish can really make your dish pop.

Here are three of Lee’s favorite vegan Thanksgiving recipes:

Roasted Cauliflower
Slice a whole cauliflower in half vertically all the way from the top through the center of the stem.  Season with olive oil and salt and place cut side down on a baking sheet.  Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes (or until brown and soft), remove from baking pan, and let cool.  Once cool, return the cauliflower to the oven cut side up and broil until dark and charred (or on a grill). Once finished, season with olive oil, a fresh squeeze of lemon, sea salt and some fresh basil.

Coconut Mashed Potatoes
Slowly simmer 6 peeled Yukon Gold potatoes in 4 cups of coconut milk and 1 1/2 cups water seasoned with a touch of salt.  As the “scum” floats to the top, gently strain it off with a spoon. Once the potatoes are cooked all the way through, strain your potatoes, but save the coconut milk.  Return the coconut milk to the stove, add 1/4 cup olive oil, and gently reduce by half. Take your strained potatoes and place in large bowl. Begin smashing with potato masher and start slowly incorporating the milk/oil mixture until desired texture. Season with salt and cracked black pepper.

Tip: You can check if your potatoes are cooked through by slicing a potato and half. If there is no change in color all the way through, you are good. If the interior has a white ring, you will need to continue cooking.

Cranberry Jam
Place 5 lbs dehydrated cranberries into a pot and cover with the contents of a bottle of red wine. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar to the pot and bring to hard boil. As soon as it begins to boil, remove the pot from the heat and let cool at room temperature. Put on gloves (or use a food processor for smoother result) and begin smashing the cranberries by squeezing them in your fingers until they turn to mush.