Merry Veggie Christmas!
by Katie Kibbler
Photos courtesy of Tara McKelvey [flickr].
It's not the carrots that make the Christmas Dinner. It's not the stuffing. And it's certainly not the sprouts. It's undeniable: Christmas Dinner is all about the turkey.
In fact, it isn't just December 25th that's determinedly meat-centric: the whole festive season is a Santa's Grotto of carnivorous delights: pigs-in-blankets, ham hocks, smoked salmon, posh pate, cocktail sausages; breast, leg, rump, trotter and thigh. The (sausage) roll call of meaty treats is as long as the queue in M&S come Christmas Eve.
If it can be a challenge at other times of year, then it's definitely not easy being vegetarian at Christmas time.
Yes, there are lots of other things to keep the herbivores happy: chocolate logs, mince pies, cheese. Lots of cheese. Alas, according to mums everywhere, one cannot live on Quality Street and Camembert alone - and God knows I've tried.
Veggie options don't have to be bad: I've had some great food from bog-standard pubs and cafes and (honestly) the ready-meal aisle in the supermarket. At Christmas, however, all hitherto thoughtful treatment of the vegetarian diet seems to go out of the window, and any semblance of taste and imagination is replaced by a dense and disgusting ‘nut roast’, or –worse- the ubiquitous mushroom stroganoff. Jesus wept.
Last year, my mother invited my brother and I to her annual mates-only Christmas Dinner as proof of our finally coming of age. I dutifully stirred gravy, heated plates and mashed parsnips. I helpfully left my veggie pie out on the worktop to be bunged in the oven along with the potatoes. I arrived at the table to find that amid turkey traumas and cranberry chaos, my poor little pie had been forgotten, and was still defrosting on the windowsill. I trudged back to the kitchen to dowse some mushrooms in (loads of) wine and smother the mess in cheddar.
Who can blame her for forgetting, really? Christmas just isn't designed with vegetarians in mind. It's about sharing food and filling up, making an occasion of a bird that's, let's be honest, just a larger, drier version of the chicken everyone wishes they were eating instead.
This year, however, I'm taking a stand, and I'm reclaiming Christmas for non-meat-eaters. No more will we have to pick through yet another starchy risotto, bewilderingly served with potatoes. No more shall we dither, awkwardly, as Grandma asks if we'll eat a quiche Lorraine- because, after all, 'it is just a phase, isn't it dear? And, anyway, the bits of bacon are only tiny!'
I'm saying 'no' to cheese instead of charm, salt instead of style, and pastry instead of protein. Like a particularly vocal Oliver Twist, I want more.
I can see a way around the meat-feast that is the Christmas meal - and it doesn't involve fake steak, turkey-style slices, or veggie sausage. It involves a bit of theft. Okay, not theft - but borrowing ideas from those in the know.
The Chubby Vegetarian is a great source of alternative ideas. The name says it all: Christmas is not for meekly nibbling on carrots and hummous; we need fat and carbs and protein if we’re going to have fun, and we’re not going to miss out on treats just 'cos we're missing out meat. The Thanksgiving menu could easily be adapted to Christmas and doesn't look too complex.
But why go traditional? That’s where things go boring, when veg-mas becomes the hunt for the perfect copy-cat of the meat dishes that we de facto cannot reproduce. When it comes down to it, Christmas is about eating satisfying, slightly cheeky, tasty food, that looks impressive and feels special.
Who says that shouldn't be a burger in Brandy sauce, or a Kristmas Kofta, or Festive falafel? Christmas is a time to go all-out, be a bit jazzy and combine flavours and experiment in ways we wouldn't at other times of year. Blogs like http://www.veggienumnum.com/tag/party-food, http:// ohmyveggies.com and http://herbivoracious.com have some great ideas that don't scrimp on cheese or taste, and there's no reason why you can't twist them to nod to Christmas without feeling obliged to let the time of year restrict your choices.
We shouldn't be aiming to fit our food onto plates made with meat in mind, but making Christmas work for us. If we can do that, then we might even manage the Holy Grail of all vegetarian cookery: having a committed turkey-gobbler diving into your dish.
Cranberry and couscous cake, anyone?