Posted 28th November 2014 by Amber Bryce
I’ve been a vegetarian for six years now and one of the most common questions I still get asked is: “But what do you do about Christmas dinner?” Of all the famous British meals, it’s not only the biggest – just lifting that plate is a workout for your biceps – but also the most traditional.
Buying, basting then boasting about the turkey feels as vital a part of the festive celebrations as decorating the Christmas tree and drinking bubbly for breakfast.
It doesn’t have to be, though – you can still enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner that’s just as delicious and traditional in feel without meat.
What makes a vegetarian showstopper?
When it comes to deciding on a main, I’ve always found it preferable to find a substitute for the meat that is substantial in its own right, but works well with all the traditional trimmings, too.
A nut roast is the most popular substitute and while this may make some vegetarians sigh with boredom, there are many ways to make a nut roast different and exciting.
Bibi Rodgers, one half of the popular vegetarian blog Veggie Runners, tells me her favourite recipe is a richly flavoured porcini and cashew nut roast, “It’s more interesting than your ordinary nut roast, but still means that you get to have everyone else’s Christmas dinner sides.”
If you want to try something a little more unusual for your main course, there’s many a delicious possibility. For Clare Rudd, the creator of The Vegetarian Experience blog, a rich strudel is a favourite. It’s filled with the most festive of ingredients, including cranberries, walnuts, mushrooms, soft blue cheese and nutmeg. Yum.
Andrew Dargue, head chef at prestigious London vegetarian restaurant Vanilla Black, tells me one of his favourite Christmas mains is based on the French dish boulangère potatoes. “You take thinly fried potatoes and layer them with portobello mushrooms, adding a little bit of cream, truffle oil and seasoning between each layer before slow cooking in the oven for a couple of hours. When it comes out, put some foil on the top and give it 20 minutes to set so that it becomes firm and you can almost slice through it like a cake.”
A bonus of these dishes is that they can be prepared the night before and kept in the fridge, saving you lots of time on the day.
It’s all gravy
If you’re worried about obtaining a richly flavoured vegetarian gravy, Bibi advises “Putting red wine in a gravy is really good of giving a fuller flavour, similar to those of a meat gravy.” While chef Andrew suggests “a spoonful of Marmite will give it a lift”.
If you want to add extra character to your other trimmings, Bibi recommends a Canadian-inspired treat of maple-glazed sweet potatoes, while Andrew likes to put a quirky spin on sprouts, “I shred them so that they’re quite fine, then stir-fry with some seasoning so they go almost nutty”. He also has an interesting way with parsnips, “A nice thing to do with parsnips is to lay them on your chopping board, peel them into strips, then deep-fry, absorbing the oil with a tea towel before sprinkling a little sea salt on them.”
Is your stomach rumbling too?
Embrace the challenge
Cooking a vegetarian Christmas dinner for the first time or attempting a new recipe can take you out of your comfort zone in the kitchen, especially when it’s for such a hectic celebration. Clare’s advice is “keep it simple” and also “Watch out for any hidden non-vegetarian ingredients, such as gelatine”.
“It’s a challenge”, says Andrew, “but don’t be scared of it.” We each define what makes our Christmas special and a vegetarian Christmas dinner offers the chance to start new rituals, creating your own special foodie traditions. Embrace the delicious opportunities out there and always remember: you can’t go wrong with a few extra crispy roast potatoes.