Thanksgiving Came Early. Vegan Fail.

I decided I couldn’t wait until next week to try the vegan roast I purchased from Trader Joe’s. I reasoned that since it’s a seasonal item if it turned out to be so tasty that I wanted to get another, I didn’t want to risk it selling out before I had a chance to buy a second one. Alternatively, if it sucked I didn’t want to serve it as the main dish on Thanksgiving. Well, I’m glad I was too anxious to wait because it sucks major donkeyballs.

I’m sure you could tell from my last blog post how excited I was to try this vegan roast. Growing up in an Asian household I’ve eaten my fair share of soy protein and wheat gluten and I enjoy eating them. Like most Asians, meatless proteins like tofu and seitan are as common to the diet as beef, chicken and pork and it’s not treated as particularly special or unusual for an omnivore to eat as it is in western cultures where it’s usually only vegans who choose to eat meat alternatives.

I’ve tried a few American/western vegan “meats” but I’ve mostly played it safe. I’ve tried veggie burgers and vegan chicken which have been pretty good for the most part but I think it’s really hard to mess up something so plain and simple. This Trader Joe’s roast was more complex compared to those foods. Or at least it was supposed to be but, disappointingly, it turned out to be very one note. And that one note is sage. Lots and lots of sage.

Unlike vegan chicken patties that do a very convincing job of mimicking the texture of real chicken, I don’t think the makers of the Trader Joe’s vegan roast were even trying to fool anyone into thinking that this was turkey. The roast has the texture of firm tofu (it’s made of soy protein) which is much softer in consistency than any form of poultry, even at its most tender. Maybe if I had cooked it longer than the allotted 75 minutes or left it uncovered while baking it would’ve dried out and felt more like turkey meat? The center is supposed to be filled with a bread stuffing but is really more of a stodgy paste. The breading on the exterior bakes up nicely but the crumb is so fine that it doesn’t really offer much in the way of texture.

ETA: I reheated some of the roast for lunch today and it was a lot firmer today than it was yesterday. It still isn’t a convincing dupe for poultry but it’s more believable today than it was for dinner last night. Still doesn’t taste all that great though.

Overall the roast is seasoned well with salt but contains an overabundance, in my opinion, of sage. The breading tastes of sage, the main protein tastes of sage and the stuffing tastes of sage. I can handle sage but it’s not my favorite herb and there’s just way too much of it here. Also, the gravy that comes with the roast tastes like tangy sage and was so disgusting that I dumped it out and had to make a last minute chicken gravy with some butter, flour and chicken stock to serve with the roast.

A gravy is a necessity because the instructions on the vegan roast’s box say to place the roast on a bed of potatoes and veggies (seasoned only with salt, pepper and oil) before placing it in the oven. With a conventional roast chicken or turkey, the natural juices that are released from the poultry while baking bastes and flavors the veggies underneath it but because this is basically a loaf of tofu no juices are released while baking and the veggies end up tasting very plain and bland. You really need some type of gravy or sauce to go with the veggies or you need to season them up really well with lots of herbs and spices before you bake them.

The vegan roast was a fail but I did make a bread stuffing with veggies and toasted walnut as well as a green bean casserole from scratch using Laura Vitale’s recipe that saved the day. I even fried the onions myself instead of using the pre-made stuff. I didn’t care for her baked french fries recipe but this casserole was really tasty and I recommend it.

For actual Thanksgiving next week I’m thinking about making this vegan roast which I think looks a lot more intersting and appetizing than the Trader Joe’s roast:

You can’t have Thanksgiving dinner without pumpkin pie. The tried and true recipe I use every year comes from Cook’s Illustrated which combines both sweet potato and pumpkin into one pie. It has the added flavor of sweet potato but isn’t as wet as a sweet potato pie because of the addition of pumpkin.

I roasted plenty of sweet potatoes for the pies as well as some Japanese sweet potatoes which are my absolute favorite. Japanese potatoes are the best. If you haven’t ever tried them, you’re missing out! They have red skins and pale gold flesh, the drier texture of a russet/Idaho potato, are much sweeter than regular sweet potatoes and taste like roasted chestnuts. Yum! Go get you some!

Speaking of roasting and baking, I found this awesome set of three silicone baking mats at Costco for $19.99. I was originally going to buy one silicone baking mat at Bed, Bath & Beyond but a single 16″ x 11″ mat there goes for $15 (the name brand Silpat in the same size costs $25), so the Costco set was a lucky find. You get two 16″ x 11″ baking mats plus a smaller mat for a toaster oven in the set.