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Want to cut down on meat and dairy this Christmas? Here's some advice from the experts

A guide to the best vegetarian and vegan food this Christmas.

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In the latest of our Green Christmas articles, we look at what you’ll be eating on Christmas Day. Want to cut down on your animal product consumption at the dinner table? Read on.

IF YOU’VE BEEN inspired to experiment with veganism or simply cutting down on animal products (like meat or dairy) this Christmas, you’re probably not alone. The big trend towards vegetarian and vegan food in 2019 has turned up a whole new selection of foods and recipes as chefs, shops and consumers experiment. 

And while tofu might not yet have replaced turkey on everyone’s Christmas menu, there certainly has been somewhat of a shift in thinking – a vegetarian or vegan at the dinner table no longer needs to be a source of stress, but instead an opportunity to try something new. 

If the thought of a meat-free Christmas meal fills you with horror, don’t worry. There are plenty of delicious meal options if you are considering cutting down or have a vegetarian mouth to feed – and it doesn’t need to be a nut roast. 

Keep it simple

Sam Pearson, who created the ‘vegan ch*cken fillet roll’, is looking forward to his third vegan Christmas. 

He says simplicity is key for appealing to people expecting meat.

“Christmas can be difficult because it is a family time and you have to slot in people who might not be vegan,” he says. 

But a lot of the time, the best bits of a classic Christmas dinner – from roast potatoes to Brussels sprouts -  are actually already vegan (once you don’t cook them in the same pan as meat, or with animal fat like duck fat).

“You can make all of Christmas dinner a vegan dinner quite easily,” he says. 

“Personally, and many people are the same, I don’t like to feel my Christmas dinner is less than other people’s.”

“You don’t have to compromise on flavour,” he adds. Instead, it’s about re-creating traditional flavours and getting that umami taste using vegan alternatives.  It is possible to make vegan gravy, and those crispy roast potatoes just need olive oil instead of duck fat.

Vegan options

Pearson personally makes a seitan roast. For anyone not familiar with seitan, it’s a wheat gluten that can be moulded into many meals as a meat-free substitute. You can buy wheat gluten, or pre-made seitan, in most health shops or in larger supermarkets.

While wheat gluten might not sound immediately appealing, it’s tasty, versatile and surprisingly easy to use if you wanted to give seitan steak a try this Christmas.

If you don’t want to jump into the deep end with seitan, there are plenty of other, more familiar options available. 

shutterstock_1222967233 Roasted cauliflower anyone? Source: Shutterstock/Julie208

Stuffed aubergines or portobello mushroom, says Deirdre McCafferty, the owner of Dublin restaurant Cornucopia, are a perfect option. 

“They’re not that intimidating for people,” she says.

The important thing is to prioritise strong flavours. “Lots of gravy and lots of sauces. This is the important thing. Dry food is always badly cooked food,” she says. 

“You can have bad regular food,” she adds. “Roasting things is a good way to bring out that umami. It brings out that flavour.”

When it comes to replacements, there are non-dairy alternatives to every dairy product you can think of (though most vegans would agree that there isn’t quite an exact substitute for cheese yet – though there are some good replacements).

In the average supermarket you’ll be able to find soy or rice cream, dairy-free milks, butter, yogurts, and ice-creams. Major brands such as Ben & Jerry’s now have dairy-free options for dessert. 

Eggs can be replaced in most sweet recipes – with apple puree, banana, or milled flaxseed and water for baked goods. But if the recipe calls for a large number of eggs, you won’t be able to get the same effect, so you’re better off googling a vegan version of the recipe you want.

That said, aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas) is a good substitute for egg whites. Here’s the Vegan Society on what to do with aquafaba.

Cheese

If you’re making food for vegetarians, make use of cheese. “It still has that umami smack,” says cook Susan Jane White.

She says this is “good if you’re trying to phase out meat”. 

Or she suggests roasted cauliflower – with or without cheese – as another satisfying centre piece, which can be dressed up with a variety of spices. 

Dessert

One of the best things about having a more vegan Christmas is that many classic desserts can easily be made vegan

While a lot of desserts are not vegan, there are plenty of options. 

Christmas pudding can be easily made without eggs or milk, says Pearson, while mince pies are often “accidentally” vegan. 

This is where Google really comes in handy – there’s no need to buy a cookbook. Googling ‘vegan roasted cauliflower’ or ‘vegan Christmas pudding’ will bring up many results.

 Tips for a more vegan Christmas

  • Roast vegetables can be a great, hearty addition to a dinner. Space them out in the dish to let them caramelise and sweeten.
  • Soy sauce or bouillon powder can help add a meaty flavour. 
  • Something as simple as a stuffed mushroom can be a great centrepiece.
  • Seitan, for the more ambitious, is very easy to use. 

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