Nutritional yeast is the secret ingredient for making a tasty veggie gravy that will make meat-eaters and vegetarians happy this Thanksgiving.

Share story

IN THE GORGEOUS cornucopia of our holiday table, we’re giving thanks to one decidedly unglamorous harvest: nutritional yeast.

A pinch of yeast flakes or powder, available in well-stocked supermarkets and bulk bins, has allowed us to conquer the final frontier of a vegetarian-friendly Thanksgiving table: a boat of rich, luscious, meat-free gravy.

We’d tasted the seasoning, an inactive yeast harvested from molasses, in other common contexts, as when restaurants sprinkled it on popcorn. Accustomed to seeing it as a cheese substitute, I hadn’t considered that the umami-packed ingredient could also stand in for meat.

We roast a hefty turkey every Thanksgiving, and it took a while to even realize we should consider a vegetarian gravy at a bird-centered meal with some meat-shunning guests.

Component post 9819034 could not be found.

A decade ago, we stuck with abundant vegetarian appetizers and sides — soups, a cheese plate, platters of minted green beans and mashed potatoes. Eventually, it seemed considerate to add a vegetarian stuffing made with homemade vegetable broth alongside the giblets and oyster dressings.

Finally, we realized more than half our guests no longer ate meat — including two of our three kids — and started presenting a vegetarian entree along with the golden-roasted turkey. Our go-to is a dramatic, aromatic panade-stuffed pumpkin with Gruyere and chard, courtesy of local author Tara Austen Weaver.

Last year the final straw broke the recipe book’s back. Our single remaining omnivorous child, the 4-year-old, was happily chowing down on some white meat. “Huh,” she said. “I wonder what turkey is made from?”

The 7-year-old seized his chance. “It’s dead bird,” he gloated, accurately but unhelpfully. “They KILL the bird to get the MEAT.”

The turkey dropped from our daughter’s fingers. “I don’t want this,” she announced. Since then, there’s been no more pepperoni on her pizza, no more bacon with her eggs, no more turkey sandwiches in her lunchbox. And we decided a rigidly traditional Thanksgiving table no longer made sense for a holiday centered on shared pleasures — like pouring gravy over the plate.

Mushroom gravy just wasn’t the same. But the flavor and depth of the recipe using nutritional yeast matched up with what our taste buds expected from our usual gravy made with pan drippings.

The yeast is used for both “cheesy” and “meaty” substitutions thanks to the rich, savory flavor enhancements imparted by glutamates, according to Sarah House, food innovation chef for Oregon-based Bob’s Red Mill. “Like mushrooms and seaweed, nutritional yeast contains natural glutamic acid,” she said in an email.

Perhaps best of all? The yeast-based gravy is easy, unfinicky, and doesn’t depend on a limited supply of rendered drippings. If it goes wrong, you can start over again. Both the carnivore and vegetarian ends of our table will be pouring it over their plates this year and into the future. Tradition, after all, is what we make it.

Vegetarian Gravy

Makes 10 servings

½ cup vegetable oil

½ cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup chopped onion

5 cloves garlic, minced

4 teaspoons nutritional yeast

4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 to 4 cups vegetable broth

½ teaspoon dried sage

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan or, ideally, an enameled Dutch oven, over medium heat.

2. Whisk in flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour begins to brown, lowering heat if it threatens to smoke or burn.

3. Add onion and garlic, stirring constantly, and cook for about one minute.

4. Stir in nutritional yeast and soy sauce to form a smooth paste.

5. Gradually whisk in 2 cups of broth, then add more if the mixture appears too thick.

6. Season with sage, and add salt and pepper to taste.

7. Puree with an immersion blender until smooth.

8. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Adapted from Allrecipes.com