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How to Cope With a Vegetarian at Christmas

Posted on | July 10, 2011 | Comments Off on How to Cope With a Vegetarian at Christmas

In the Northern hemisphere, the nights are lengthening, the days are getting colder. This can mean only one thing: time to panic about creating the perfect Christmas experience. But no, wait, disaster and tragedy! “Oh by the way Mum, Dad, I’m vegetarian now, so I can’t have any Christmas turkey”.

What on earth is a caring parent to do? It’s easy to over-react, but equally easy to think about how much worse it could be: they haven’t just announced they’re a drug addict or they’re dying, they just have decided to take the path less trodden and not eat animals. No big deal right? Assuming for a moment that you still love your child and that you want to support them, Christmas dinner need not be a complete disaster nor a catering nightmare. There are still plenty of dishes from your standard Christmas dinner that with a couple of easy modifications can be made veggie-friendly. Plus I have a host of tips of what to feed a vegetarian as a hearty breakfast in my article “10 Best Easy Cooked Breakfast Dishes For Vegetarians”.

What kind of vegetarian are they?

First thing is to find out what variety of vegetarian they are. The most common type (and easiest to deal with) is ovo-lacto vegetarian, meaning they don’t eat products that are made from dead animals – things like red meat, gelatin, fish, poultry etc. (And to the joker at the back, no, we don’t eat live animals either!)

If they are a vegan then cooking will be a bit trickier (my tip is to raid the health food stores!). Making vegan-friendly food involves a lot more cooking from scratch, but if you’re a good enough cook to cook a turkey, you’ve got all the skills you need! I’ve separated this out into a different article “How to cope with a vegan at Christmas” – keep an eye out!

If they say “Oh, but I still eat fish”, then they aren’t actually a vegetarian at all, they’re a pescetarian, but you can still follow these recipe suggestions.

Dos and don’ts

Most of these should be obvious, but worth a mention as a quick mental check-list.

Suet, duck fat, goose fat, lard, dripping are not suitable for vegetarians. Use vegetable suet, vegetable oil, vegetable margarine or butter (not vegan!) instead depending on the recipe.

Gelatin isn’t suitable for vegetarians. Use a vegetarian alternative such as agar or vege-gel instead. You can get vegetarian jello sachets from a health food store.

If possible, separate the vegetarian’s food from the meat when it is cooking. Meat juices splashing on the food or cooking in the juices of the meat mean it is no longer vegetarian. Ideally, cook them separately, but if that is not practical, cook the vegetarian dish above the meat dish so the meat does not drip onto it.

Use separate utensils and chopping boards for meat and non-meat or clean them well in between. As much as anything, this is a hygiene issue – you don’t want them getting food poisoning from raw meat germs do you?

Main dish

This isn’t really designed to be an etiquette guide. If you have the kind of relationship with your guests where you don’t stand on ceremony and can say “Everyone bring a main dish”, then that’s certainly an easy option, if not  the most welcoming.  

If not, decide between two alternatives:

Cook a main dish that fits in well with a roast even though it might be a bit dull

Cook their favourite dish even if it doesn’t go very well with the rest of the meal – pizza and roast potatoes can be perfectly tasty even if it is a frankly quite bizarre combination. 

Easy vegetarian dishes

These dishes are included because they are easy for you to make. But in the spirit of fairness, I’ll point out the disadvantage of each dish. (V) means that a dish is (or can be if you make it yourself) vegan-friendly.

Nut roast (V). Personally, I like a nice nut roast, but quite a lot of vegetarians get heartily sick of this by the third or fourth festive meal that they eat. Plus if someone else in the family is allergic, this is not an option.

Roast mediterranean vegetables (V). Nice, but more of a side dish than a main – it’s lacking in protein. If you pick this option, also do something with pulses or nuts in to balance it out a bit. Why not make it a bit tastier with some garlic or rosemary?

Lentil bake (V). Well, it’s a change from nut roast, isn’t it?

Omelette. The easiest way to say “Whoops, I forgot you were vegetarian” known to man. But it’s tasty, easy, quick, cheap and nutritious. If you don’t want the veggie option to look like an afterthought, why not jazz it up a bit by making Spanish omelette with lots of vegetables or use dugg/goose eggs instead?

Tofu (V) / Quorn roast. Only good if the vegetarian can cope with fake meat. Not all vegetarians will appreciate their food resembling meat.

Vegetarian lasagne. Unless they request it specially, really, just don’t. This is the token vegetarian dish in so many restaurants that there’s a good chance the vegetarian you feed it to will have been fed it half a dozen times in the last month and be heartily sick of it by now.

Vegetable curry (V). Really doesn’t go very well with roast potatoes, but if you like it, why not? 

Falafel (V). Rather odd to serve this with a roast, but easy to make and very cheap and nutritious. Would go well with some roast mediterranean vegetables.

Vegetable stew/casserole (V). Saving the best til last here. This is easy to do badly. So make sure you make it substantial and hearty – e.g. lots of root vegetables, some butter beans and some dumplings (made with vegetable suet) are my suggestions.

Side dishes

Roast potatoes and parsnips (V) are really easy to make vegetarian. Just be sure to cook them in vegetable oil not animal fat.

There are many varieties of stuffing available that are vegetarian and vegan – sage and onion, chestnut are both tasty and festive. If you cook a portion of the stuffing separately from the meat, then the vegetarian can eat it as well. If you make sausage meat stuffing, consider buying some vegetarian sausages as well.

Yorkshire puddings are quick and easy to make veggie friendly.

Most vegetable dishes (carrots, brocolli, sprouts) are easy to make vegetarian – just don’t cook them in meat and hey presto, vegetarian vegetables! (May be V)

Roast chestnuts (V). Another dish that is vegetarian by default.

Recommendations from my friends:

If you have lots of spare time and really enjoy cooking, why not put together an interesting selection of vegetable side dishes for all your guests? That way everyone can enjoy a variety of tasty dishes and it won’t matter if you burn the vegetarian’s main dish or they turn out to hate nut roast. Leeks in a cheese sauce used to be my favourite.

Stuffed mushrooms make an excellent starter and have a wonderfully rich umami-filled meat-like flavour. Just remember that mushrooms are mostly water and only have a little protein in so make sure you don’t make that the only vegetarian dish or you will have some seriously hungry vegetarians on your hands!

Goats cheese tartlets. Again rather ubiquitous and best kept as a starter or a side dish rather than a main.

Gravy (V)

A full roast dinner gets awfully dry without a gravy to moisten it. A dark gravy works particularly well with a roast dinner, so I recommend making an onion gravy for the vegetarians. Use packet gravy if you have little time, but make sure to check it does not contain meat stock. 

Puddings

Christmas pudding and mince pies. Be sure to make this with vegetarian friendly fat – suet is a no-no. Plenty of shop bought ones are veggie friendly, so it isn’t too late to stock up at the supermarket or health food store.

Gateaux. Be sure to check if they are made with gelatin (not veggie friendly!).

Trifle. Easy to use a vegetarian jello for the base. (V if soya custard and cream are used)

If all else fails…

If all else fails, cheat! Go to your local wholefood/health store and pick up a few vegetarian-friendly ready meals and put them in your freezer! Don’t try to pass them off as home made though, it’ll never be convincing. But as long as your vegetarian has something that’s filling, tasty interesting and nutritious, they won’t care. And you never know, the rest of the family might find a few dishes that they like too!

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