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Feeding vegetarians at Christmas

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Simon Rimmer Simon Rimmer | 14:50 UK time, Friday, 10 December 2010

One of the most regularly asked questions I get is, “How do I make Christmas dinner exciting for my vegetarian son/daughter/boyfriend?” Well, what non-vegetarian people are really asking is “How can I make a vegetarian Christmas dinner exciting for ME?”  In my opinion meat substitutes are pointless. If you want to eat meat, just eat meat!

Vegetarians like vegetables; it’s what they eat all the time. There are, of course, horror stories from the veggie guest. I’ve been told about those who have just been given a plate of sprouts, no gravy (as it was made with meat stock), a salad or a veggie lasagne ready-meal and the like. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Filo strudel with port wine sauce


So much success can be had by making sure that you have big flavours in all the veg side dishes. So for those of you cooking for a vegetarian, remember not to do your roasties in duck or goose fat and don’t add bacon to the sprouts! But a good selection of veg is a great start – roasted root veg, like carrots, parsnips and squash are good. Dauphinoise potatoes – rich, creamy and very naughty – are a regular guest at our house on Christmas day.

A good, homemade bread sauce with plenty of spices is what you need. Maybe add roasted beets to your sprouts, together with a little orange zest and toasted almonds for a truly inspired veggie treat. In fact all of those dishes are spectacular, whether Mr, Mrs and Ms Veggie are coming to eat or not!

So what about the main event? Again, I think big strong flavours are the order of the day. If you’ve ever made nut roast, you’ll know that it can have an awful, tasteless, sawdust-like texture with that bottom-of-the-hamster’s-cage (small rodent, not Richard Hammond) taste. My recipe for nut roast packs a huge amount of moisture into the fella, including bread soaked in milk to keep it juicy. I also like to include plenty of herbs, spices and a spoonful of mustard. It’s quite a time-consuming recipe, but it is Christmas after all.

I also like gravy. Add things like caramelised onions, garlic, rosemary, tomato purée, red wine and vegetable stock to get your tastebuds going.

Another winner is my filo pastry strudel (pictured above) with leeks, tomatoes, mushrooms and cream cheese. This is so packed full of flavour and texture, meat-eaters may end up fighting veggie guests to eat it. I love it with port wine sauce, which takes some beating for a Christmas sauce.

Can a meat-free Christmas menu be magnificent? Are you veggie? I’d love to know what you’re eating this year. Share your tips and recipes for a vegetarian feast to remember.

Simon Rimmer presents BBC Two’s Something for the Weekend.


  • Comment number 1.

    Yes a veggie Christmas can be fabulous all you need are some great recipes and all the trimmings (roasties without goose fat,roasted parsnips,cranberry sauce, sprouts etc). There are loads of ideas and recipes out there. This year I'm going to try and make a recipe from the Vegetarian Society's web called Walnut and Spiced Plum Christmas cob. It sounds really tasty.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thanks Simon for your veggie suggestions. I certainly agree big flavour is the key as well as presentation and contrast of textures. Your food should look special particularly at Christmas. Nut roast can be delicious and easy to make, particularly if the have a food processor to save the chopping. I would take my time to look through a few cookery books or look on the Vegetarian Society web site then prepare several dishes in the run up to Christmas to see which you like. A rich sauce can realy lift your dish. Don't over use cheese. It has it's place but is all too often added to every veggie dish. I will be having a chestnut, mushroom, red wine pie with a rich creamy sauce. Of course served with roast potatoes, sprouts and all the trimmings.

  • Comment number 3.

    I've been veggie for about 20 years and my Christmas dinners have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. I really love all the trimmings of a traditional roast provided it's not cooked with animal fat. It's not that difficult to make your traditional Christmas dinner veggie-friendly. The nutroast is much maligned but with the right recipe, it's the perfect accompaniment to a Christmas meal, so I'll try this one! I also love veggie haggis as an alternative to stuffing - or you can just cook the stuffing separately from the turkey.

  • Comment number 4.

    Excellent blog Simon, but I can’t help thinking the title “Feeding Vegetarians at Christmas” sounds rather as though you keep a pet vegetarian in a cage somewhere….something along the lines of “How to feed your Gerbil”!

    Having been a veggie for 15 years I don’t find it terribly hard to serve up something tasty and festive; the main problem for me is making sure the omnivores don’t eat it all before I get to it!

    We’ll be having mushroom pate to start followed by cranberry nut roast with rosemary roast potatoes, roast roots (carrots, parsnips, butternut and celeriac), sprouts with chestnuts and proper homemade gravy; I don’t like bread sauce so that won’t be making an appearance. Christmas pud, mince pies and brandy butter to follow.

    I agree with the previous poster, it’s not difficult to make a Christmas lunch veggie-friendly, it just requires a little thought.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi, I have an excellent steamed nutmeat recipe from Leon Lewis' Vegetarian Dinner Parties - simple & fab. Also soybean pate from Martha Rose Shulman in The Vegetarian Feast is gorgeous. You cant beat these classic books -Ax

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm really glad that vegetarian christmas recipies were included it gave me lots of ideas. Wish there were more interesting veggie recipies included. However Sean's dirty finger nails, greasy hair and dandruff put me off the last recepie. Shouldn't anyone being asked to help out in the kitchen be told to be hygenic. Great show though.

  • Comment number 7.

    Last year I made a really tasty Nut Wellington with plaited puff pastry. It made the traditional nut roast a bit more special and was popular with the non-veggies too. Might make it the Christmas staple from now on.

  • Comment number 8.

    Or if you fancy something a bit different this year, Levi Root's Caribbean-influenced Christmas menu might be just the ticket...

    We've got many more Christmas ideas (vegetarian and non-veggie) in our Christmas section:

  • Comment number 9.

    You can't beat a traditional (well, traditional in my family anyway :-) ) portobello mushroom stuffed and wrapped in filo pastry. Yum!

  • Comment number 10.

    I am amazed as to what non veggies think is acceptable for veggies to eat for Christmas Dinner. I have been on many 'works outings' and have had such glorious options as mushroom risotto, mushroom stack, mushroom stroganoff etc basically anything with mushrooms but not a roast dinner!! This year I had a mushroom stack with broccoli & carrots but no potatoes or gravy! It isnt any better during the rest of the year - it is really hard to find a local pub which serves a veggie roast without prior notice if at all. I am fed up with being an after thought to professional caterers.

    By the way I am a lone veggie in my family, so I will do a pie with chestnuts, veg and of course mushrooms while everyone else has beef, but we all have the same vegetables. i will be making red wine gravy for everyone too :)

  • Comment number 11.

    I make filo parcels filled with baby asparagas and corn cobs, onion, garlic, mushrooms, toasted pine nuts. stir in creamy Dolcelatte cheese and spoon of creme fraiche. Only ever make for Christmas so always a real treat with lots of different veg - heaven!

  • Comment number 12.

    It is great to see you celebrating the vegetarian Christmas. After a few years of being served vege sausages with the Christmas dinner by my well meaning grandma, my sister and I decided to take control, and we now enjoy a Mushroom and Nut Wellington that has become the staple vegetarian dish at my house. I found the recipe from the Vegan Society website, but adapted it a bit as we are not vegan and I felt it could do with a bit of cheese and butter. It is wrapped in puff pastry and is full of flavour - absolutely delicious. This year I really pushed the boat out by making a mushroom and port gravy to go with it, which I found here on the BBC website by Celia Brooks Brown, which was fantastic and was enjoyed by the non vegetarians too.

    One thing that I usually find annoying is if you go out for a Christmas lunch, as my friends and I like to do in the run up to Christmas, the vegetarian option is often completely different to the traditional dinner. Rather than serving a vegetable pie or parcel that can be eaten with all the veges and potatoes, with a vegetarian gravy, they serve something like a vegetable lasagna or risotto. In fact, I have only been to one place where the vegetarians were really well catered for when it comes to traditional meals. It was a fantastic pub in Stockwell, South London where vegetarians were served a delicious nut wellington and vege gravy along with all the traditional roast potatoes, veges and vege stuffing. I think they changed management and the menu though recently, which is a shame.

  • Comment number 13.

    I'm born again meat eater after being given a reheated, still frozen, 'vegetarian' meal at the New Year's night out many years ago. I refused to eat it and ended up getting sooooo drunk on an empty stomach. Next day was the worst and I mean the worst hangover I ever had. I found a restaurant open and had the biggest steak they could find. I think this coincided with the mad cow outbreak so the vegetables may yet get their own back on me. When I first started with the vegi thing we had Cranks and dear Sarah Brown but before understanding the need to mix nuts, grains and rice, etc. I just followed the non meat French recipes in Julia Child's classic book and these are still some of the best. Moulded crepes with cream cheese, spinach and mushrooms just one example. Her original book still takes some beating especially for a vegetarian who wants to put some taste variation in their diet.


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