Christmas is a time of indulgence. To some, it seems like consuming as much meat as possible. Every time I read Christmas cookbooks I notice an inordinate amount of recipes that seem to include cooking every animal in the sun. So if you are a vegetarian this time of year can be difficult for you. You may be under a lot of pressure to eat meat, or people may give you a hard time when they notice that you are not eating meat. Or maybe you’re worried about what to cook or whether you’ll be hungry – especially if you’re invited to someone else’s house. These issues can be particularly tricky if you’ve only recently become a vegetarian. Hope the following will make your vegetarian Christmas a happy one for all.
Coping with the pressure
When friends and family get together at Christmas, you might be a vegetarian. Whether it’s during a conversation or when they see you not eating meat. So it is quite possible that you will start to feel the pressure of eating meat. It may help to remind yourself that what you eat has nothing to do with anyone else. Do these people pay as much attention to every other aspect of your life? What I’m saying is that being a vegetarian is just one of the hundreds of choices you’ve made in your life. It’s a small part of who you are, but it’s an important part. Don’t let the pressure of others derail you.
Sometimes you can also feel the pressure of eating meat when you feel like you don’t have good food choices. There are so many options and this is a great opportunity to step into the kitchen and create something amazing. It can help if you think back to why you became a vegetarian in the first place. I remember arriving in Australia and there was hardly any choice for vegetarians. This was in stark contrast to the UK where vegetarians were much more catered for. However, it never occurred to me to start eating meat again. Instead, I started cooking from scratch and was able to quickly convert many meat recipes into something vegetarian with ease.
What to eat
If you are cooking for yourself this Christmas, there are a number of directions that you can take and your personality can come in. Are you a traditionalist or are you happy to stray from the norm?
Personally, I like the tradition. Or rather, the tradition of roasted potatoes since they are the best and the rest is only accompaniments! If you prefer a traditional dinner, consider how a traditional dinner can be modified to make it vegetarian. Simulated meats are widely available and can be easily replaced with meat that other people eat. It may be worth trying out different brands before Christmas and seeing what you like. If you don’t like meat substitutes, there are plenty of other tasty options that go well with any garnish. Nut roasts and yummy things wrapped in pastry can be fantastic (I’m thinking of pies, Wellingtons, crust, and strudel). Don’t forget to make a vegetarian sauce and make sure your stuffing balls are vegetarian if you eat them. I often make pigs in blankets – just wrap veggie bacon around veggie sausage.
If the tradition isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to ignore it all together. It’s always nice to create new traditions when you find something that works for you. My traditional Christmas breakfast is Nigella Lawson’s Christmas morning muffins. I’ve been making them for so long that I can’t remember what I was doing and even what a traditional Christmas breakfast would look like. One thing you could do is take a look at and be inspired by the different foods that people around the world eat at Christmas. Or you can just eat your favorite meal. Maybe prepare it a bit using the best ingredients or adding some festive flavors or toppings. 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 to suit me, the weather and that makes me feel like it’s Christmas. So, in addition to my traditional dinner, I enjoy things like the mango salads and the abundance of fresh fruit available – especially cherries.
If you are looking for recipe ideas, the Internet is a fantastic source. The vegetarian company always has a Christmas menu and I look forward to checking it out every year. If you love cookbooks, I love Rose Eliot’s ‘Vegetarian Christmas’ and have been using it for years. There are some great magazines that offer seasonal dishes for vegetarians – Good Food magazine is awesome and there are some great vegetarian food magazines around too.
Cooking for others
I know some vegetarians will cook meat for others. However, I was never one of them. When I left home I became a vegetarian and moved into an apartment with my vegetarian boyfriend. My cooking has therefore always been vegetarian. Last year I had family for Christmas and I warned them ahead of time that the meal would be vegetarian. They were happy with it and loved the meal. On Christmas Day I made a tasty crust filled with delicious things like Stilton and chestnuts. With all the trimmings of course. On New Years Day I had a traditional roast dinner – Yorkshire puddings and all, but instead of beef I used fake meat. Since I knew my meat-eating guests probably wouldn’t like the simulated meat, I told them to bring slices of cooked meat to add to their meal. It worked well and everyone was happy. Some people will be more open than others to trying mock meats – you’ll probably get a good idea of who they are.
Be a vegetarian guest
Some people are more than happy to accommodate vegetarians, while others go into panic mode and vacuum. So try to make it easier for your host. If your host is wondering what to do, a simple solution is to make and have your own main course which can be served with the toppings. Depending on what you eat, you can also make a sauce to take with you. It doesn’t have to be a strange thing – tell them it will ease their burden and keep them from worrying about you. I have done this before and made a nut roast and took it with us.
I have found being a guest over the years to be quite easy. I’m not the activist type – being a vegetarian is a personal thing for me. While it would be great if everyone was a vegetarian, it’s not my job to preach to them. However, if you like to be heard, maybe Christmas (which can be quite stressful anyway) might not be the time to discuss your beliefs. This way you can enjoy your meal and your family and feel good about yourself.
Finally, you can dread reviews that you are a vegetarian, which can get overwhelming. A quick fix for this is to smile politely and then change the subject. If you want a winning topic, discuss it. Most people are very happy to talk about themselves and will soon forget about you.
Now great food and merry Christmas!