Feeding vegetarians at Christmas
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.
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.