The survival guide for vegetarians at Christmas
Christmas is a time of indulgence. For some, this seems to consist of consuming as much meat as possible. Every time I read Christmas cookbooks, I notice an inordinate number of recipes that seem to include cooking all the animals in the sun. So if you are a vegetarian, this time of year can be tough for you. You may be under a lot of pressure to eat meat, or people can give you a hard time when they realize you are not eating meat. Or maybe you are worried about what to cook or whether you will go hungry, especially if you are going to be a guest in someone else’s home. These problems can be particularly difficult if you have recently become a vegetarian. Hopefully the following will make your Vegetarian Christmas a happy time for everyone.
Dealing with pressure
When friends and family get together at Christmas, there is a chance that being a vegetarian will emerge. Either in conversation or when they see you not eating meat. So it is very possible that you start to feel the pressure to eat meat. It can help to remind yourself that what you eat has nothing to do with anyone else. Do these people pay so much attention to all other aspects of their life? What I’m saying is that being a vegetarian is just one of hundreds of decisions you’ve made in your life. It is a small part of who you are, but it is an important part. Don’t let pressure from others derail you.
Sometimes you can also feel the pressure to eat meat when you feel like you don’t have good food choices. There are many options and it is a great opportunity to go into the kitchen and create something amazing. It can help to remember why you became a vegetarian in the first place. I remember arriving in Australia and there were hardly any options for vegetarians. It was in stark contrast to the UK, where vegetarians were much more catered for. However, it never occurred to me to eat meat again. Instead, I got stuck in cooking from scratch and was soon able to easily turn many meat recipes into something vegetarian.
What to eat
If you are cooking for yourself this Christmas, there are a number of directions you can take and your personality can go into it. Are you a traditionalist or are you happy to stray from the norm?
Personally, I love tradition. Or rather, the tradition of roast potatoes, since they are the best and the rest are just side dishes! If you prefer a traditional dinner, think about how you can modify a traditional dinner to be vegetarian. Fake meats are widely available and can be easily substituted for the meat that other people eat. It may be worth trying different brands before Christmas and see what you like. If you don’t like meat alternatives, there are plenty of other tasty options that go well with all the trimmings. Nut roasts and delicious things wrapped in puff pastry can be fantastic (I’m thinking of pies, Wellingtons, croute and strudel). Just remember to make a veggie sauce and make sure your stuffing balls are veggie if you’re going to eat them. I often make pigs in blankets, I just wrap veggie bacon around veggie sausages.
If tradition doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to ignore it entirely. It’s always good to create new traditions when you find something that works for you. My traditional Christmas breakfast is Nigella Lawson’s Christmas Muffins. I’ve made them for so long that I can’t remember what I used to make and even what a traditional Christmas breakfast would look like. One thing you can do is look at the different dishes that people eat around the world at Christmas and be inspired by them. Or you could just eat your favorite food. Maybe go a bit with it by using the best ingredients or adding some festive flavors or garnishes. When I first moved to Australia I had to get used to Christmas in the summer and spent a few years trying different things, until I found something that worked for me, the weather and made me feel like Christmas. So, in addition to my traditional dinner, I enjoy things like mango salads and the abundance of fresh fruit available, especially cherries.
If you are looking for recipe ideas, the Internet is a great source. Vegetarian society always offers a Christmas menu and I look forward to seeing it every year. If you like cookbooks, I love Rose Eliot’s ‘Vegetarian Christmas’ and have used it for years. There are some good magazines that offer seasonal dishes for vegetarians – Good Food magazine is great and there are some good vegetarian cooking magazines as well.
Cooking for others
I know that some vegetarians will cook meat for other people. However, I have never been one of them. When I left home I became a vegetarian and moved into a flat with my vegetarian boyfriend. So my cuisine has always been vegetarian. Last year I had family for Christmas and I warned them in advance that the food would be vegetarian. They were happy with this and they loved the food. On Christmas Day I made a tasty en croute stuffed with delicious things like Stilton and chestnuts. With all the trimmings, of course. On New Years Day I made a traditional roast dinner – Yorkshire puddings and all, but instead of beef, I used imitation meat. Knowing that my meat-eating guests probably wouldn’t like fake meat, I told them to bring some slices of cooked meat to add to their meal. This worked well and everyone was happy. Some people will be more open than others to trying simulated meats; you will probably have a clear idea of who they are.
Be a vegetarian guest
Some people are more than happy to please vegetarians, while others go into panic mode and go blank. So try to make it easy for your host. If your host is concerned about what to do, an easy solution is to prepare and carry your own main dish that can be served with the garnish. Depending on what you are eating, you can also make a sauce to go. This doesn’t have to be a strange thing, tell them that it will ease their burden and keep them from worrying about you. I did this before, cooked a walnut roast, and took it with us.
It’s been pretty easy for me to be a guest over the years. I’m not the activist type, being a vegetarian is personal to me. Although it would be great if they were all vegetarians, it is not my role to preach to them. However, if you like to talk a lot, maybe Christmas (which can be stressful enough anyway) is not the time to discuss your beliefs. This way you can enjoy your food and your family and feel good about yourself.
Lastly, you may be dreading the digs that you’re a vegetarian, which can get tedious. A quick solution to this is to smile politely and then change the subject. If you want a winning topic, make the conversation about them. Most people are very happy to talk about themselves and will soon forget about you.
Now happy eating and Merry Christmas!