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How to cater for a vegan Christmas

If one of your lunch guests this year is vegan, then instead of worrying how catering for them may increase your workload in the kitchen, why not explore the idea of going completely plant-based this Christmas. The plant-based revolution has led to the creation of many alternatives to roast turkey, and it only takes a few simple adaptations to make the rest of your menu vegan-friendly.

Rob Hobson, registered nutritionist and xx for HFMA explains how you can create the perfect vegan Christmas lunch that will keep all your guests happy.

What is the vegan diet?

Plant-based eating refers to a diet that consists primarily or entirely of foods derived from plants, including veggies, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.  This doesn’t mean you are necessarily following a vegan or vegetarian diet but simply that you are eating mostly plant-based foods.

Veganism is the pinnacle of plant-based eating. It excludes all foods of animal origin, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and other ingredients such as honey. 

What are the health benefits of the vegan diet?

While some people choose to go vegan for ethical reasons (environmental damage from methane gases and deforestation, water scarcity, and land degradation), others see this as a great way to improve their health, and rightly so.  Research shows that non-meat eaters have healthier lifestyles compared to a typical omnivore diet. Plus, a well-balanced vegan diet is more likely to contain a greater quantity of fibre-rich wholegrain foods and pulses.

It’s also been shown that vegans are more likely to exceed the daily recommended fruit and vegetable intake, which means gleaning a greater quantity of specific essential vitamins and phytonutrients that help protect the body from disease.

Vegan cooking is all about seeking out the flavour

The key to tasty vegan cuisine is all about flavour. You can achieve this by making the most of herbs, spices, and fruits and finding exciting sauces to accompany your dishes. Getting to grips with the taste of umami is also helpful. This taste provides a savouriness to dishes and can be achieved by using onions, garlic, mushrooms (especially dried), tomatoes (especially tomato puree), miso paste, and soy sauce. You can increase the umami flavour of these foods by slow roasting or caramelising in the pan before using them.

What do you need to consider when creating a vegan Christmas lunch? 

Christmas lunch is made up of a meat centrepiece served alongside a selection of vegetables and sauces.  Classic desserts include Christmas pudding and a whole raft of other sweet treats.

The challenge is to come up with an exciting vegan centrepiece to replace the turkey.  The remaining accompaniments and puddings are simply a case of choosing to cook with plant oils and replacing dairy with a vegan alternative.  Then there’s the booze, and surprisingly many of the favourites may not be gluten-free.

So, lets break Christmas lunch down and see how we can adapt to make everything vegan friendly.

The centrepiece

There are plenty of roast turkey breast alternatives available in supermarkets made from ingredients such as Quorn or soya, and these have a similar texture to meat. While this may be a more acceptable option to omnivore guests, these products are not always that exciting.

Why not explore some of the delicious vegan roast recipes available in cookbooks and online? These recipes burst with flavour using seasonal veggies such as butternut squash and mushrooms alongside dried spices and other ingredients that add texture to these dishes, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, and dried fruits.

Butternut squash can be stuffed and bound up with string then roasted in the oven. Mushrooms can be used in place of beef to make a vegan ‘wellington’ encased in pastry. Beans, pulses, lentils, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit can also make a roasted ‘loaf’ which can be served in slices.

Roast potatoes

Traditionally many people like to cook their roast potatoes in goose fat, but this is obviously not an option for vegans. Stick to plant-based oils and try adding ingredients such as garlic and rosemary with plenty of salt. Roasting your potatoes in coconut oil is also delicious.

The key to a good roast potato is more about the type of spud you opt for and how you prepare it. Use Maris Pipers and parboil them for about 15 minutes, then once drained, put them back in the pan and give them a good shake with the lid on as this will chuff up the edges and help make them crispy.

Vegetables

Anything goes in this department, but you can’t coat them in butter, so you will have to stick to plant oils. You can make delicious ‘parmesan’ roasted parsnips or cauliflower cheese by using nutritional yeast instead of cheese and plant-based drinks in place of milk. Vegetables become much more flavoursome when roasted. Some exciting recipes online add ingredients such as lentils and miso paste, which help maximise that umami flavour.

Sauces

Gravy is a must-have at the Christmas dinner table.  There are many ways to make a tasty vegan gravy using ingredients such as vegetable broths, dried mushrooms (soaked into a stock), fresh mushrooms, dried herbs, nutritional yeast, and miso.

Plant drinks made from soy, oats, or nuts can be used as an alternative in sauce recipes. Oat milk is probably the closest thing to dairy milk in terms of consistency and richness. Coconut milk can be used to make a tasty vegan custard, and you can add a little turmeric to give it a yellow colour.

Puddings

Christmas pudding contains many animal foods, including suet, eggs, and honey.  You could make your own, but as there are so many options on the market now, buying something pre-made may help take some of the stress of cooking on the day.

Booze

This is something many people are unlikely to consider when it comes to the vegan diet. During the process of making alcohol such as beer and wine, several fining agents are added to help improve the clarity, flavour, and aroma. Commonly used fining agents include gelatine, isinglass (derived from fish bladders), whey, casein and lactose (derived from milk), and albumin (derived from eggs). Honey is used as a sweetener in some drinks, while carmine (red colouring derived from insects) may add colour.

You can view a comprehensive list of vegan-friendly alcoholic drinks on the website https://www.barnivore.com . Many supermarkets and suppliers such as Majestic now label their wines.

Turning Christmas day into a vegan affair doesn’t take too much effort, as many of the dishes you commonly serve can be adapted somehow. Flavour is essential for vegan cooking, so take the time to explore exciting recipes that make the most of ingredients that will help you achieve this. 

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Written by
Rob Hobson

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