A vegetarian or vegan that’s who. What to do when there is a guest/family member/friend dining at the holiday table and they don’t eat the traditional ‘star of the carnivore dinner’ i.e. turkey, goose, pig, pigeon etc. depending where you’re from.
(One year I was in Morocco for Christmas and pigeon in pastry was served as the ‘Christmas’ meal to salivating Australian travelers looking for a traditional Christmas meal.)
Mixing herbivores and carnivores at the same table can make for strange bedfellows. Take it from one who has first-hand experience dining with those of the flesh-eating persuasion, the holidays can be a trying time for testing one’s tolerance and understanding levels. How often have I heard “Oh you don’t eat turkey? What a boring meal for you then.” or “why can’t you be happy eating vegetables and some cheese?” The general feeling seems to be that turkey is the only thing worthy of a festive feast. Nature has graciously shared her bounty of plant foods and many of them are available from harvest time to the holiday season.
“East is East and West is West and never the ‘twain shall meet.” ~Rudyard Kipling~
“Eats is eats and vegetarian/vegans know best” ~Kimberley i.e. me
With all the access to information on vegetarianism/veganism there are still many people who don’t understand how to adapt these dietary preferences for a holiday meal. Here are some tips from my own experience:
- For a start don’t assume they would like to have tofurkey or any other soy derivative. While I have tried a particular brand of tofurkey and enjoyed it, I don’t need a non-meat facsimile of the real thing. And not all vegetarians/vegans like tofu all the time.
- Keep serving utensils for meat and vegetables separate.
- Foods with meat are not necessarily meat free i.e. stuffing cooked in a turkey; gravy made from meat juices; vegetables roasted beside a turkey; marshmallows (made with gelatin, an animal by-product); packaged stuffing (animal broth and/or pieces) and cheese (animal-derived rennet is often used to help set the cheese).
- Vegetarians/vegans like to have hearty filling meals too. Simply eating a side of mashed potatoes, some vegetables roasted separate from said carcass and some dessert does not make for a well-balanced and substantial feast. I have often eaten before or after going to holiday dinners to ensure I get sufficient protein and enough to eat.
- Let the vegetarian/vegan contribute a main dish to the table, not just a salad.
Here are some of my ideas for creative and inspired meatless meals for the holiday table:
- Cupcakes all dressed up. Pumpkin dressing topped with mashed potato icing. Serve as a side or appetizer. Dressing is made with cheese, butter and eggs but can easily be substituted with a vegan version. Other ingredients: onion, sage, pumpkin, maple syrup, baguette, salt and eggs.
- Lentil loaf cooked. Cumin, carrot and lentils with a foundation of onion, garlic, salt, pepper, thyme and any other seasoning you care to put in. Marmite and/or nutritional yeast adds a nice depth of flavour.
- Raw nut loaf. Leaving nuts raw prevents the degradation of the naturally occurring oils contained within. To coax the activation of the nuts’ enzymes soak them (from one to several hours), drain them, then finely chop in food processor with some mushrooms, herbs and spices. Use ground flax seed as a binder. Seasonings for the season are a Simon ‘n Garfunkel mix i.e. parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Cashews, walnuts and/or almonds make for a tasty nut loaf. No cooking time required.
- Savoury ‘fruitcake’, a dish inspired by a Moroccan tajine and traditional fruitcake. Couscous with dried fruit (apricots, raisins, cranberries, dates etc. Try to balance sweet and sour so it’s less dessert-like), nuts (e.g. pistachios, almonds), chickpeas and a vegetable mix (e.g. onions, garlic, carrots, squash, potatoes, turnip etc.). Season with Ras al Hanout, a Moroccan spice blend (if you can find it) or just cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper. For the fruitcake inspiration, marinate the dried fruit and vegetables in alcohol of your choice (a cooking wine is a good place to start) prior to cooking the whole concoction in the oven, preferably in a Moroccan tajine if you have one. (That sentence was a mouthful!)
- The Americas Salad (as opposed to the America’s Cup). Combine what the Indigenous populations from North, Central and South America ate: quinoa; squash; beans; corn; potatoes; avocado etc. Throw in some onions, garlic and festive flavourings e.g. sage, salt, pepper, parsley, nutritional yeast, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, tomato paste etc. Get creative!
…And any more ideas you’d like to share…?
My present to myself (one of many, heh heh, and more to come) is a cookbook entitled Vegan for the Holidays. It has lots of great recipes and ideas for festive feasts from Thanksgiving to Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year’s. It makes for a great gift for the vegetarian/vegan and is very user-friendly for the carnivore.