Why doesn’t a vegetarian Christmas have to mean boring beige food?

‘Fries with hazelnuts’ are two words that will strike fear into any vegetarian’s heart.

Many of us – for our planet and for our health – are trying to add more vegetables to our diet, but festive meals seem like an area where vegetarian and vegan food hasn’t gotten very far.

It tends to be an extreme time (and that usually means a lot of meat), leaving vegetable dishes a bit lackluster and dry.

That’s why Heather Thomas wrote Vegetable Christmas Cookbooksays: “There aren’t many Christmas books for vegetarians out there, and I think vegetarian people are asking, ‘What can we cook, what can we do, is that special? How can we get away from all that traditional brown and beige food that people used to eat, roasted hazelnuts?’ ”

Thomas’ recipes are colorful and lively – suitable for veggies, vegans and meat eaters alike. These are the top tips for making the best vegetarian festive meal this Christmas.

Be as prepared as possible

A little planning will go a long way, especially if you meet many different nutritional needs.

“Plan and prepare if you’re organized enough to do this ahead of time,” advises Thomas, who is in his 50s. “It means it’s so much better when the time comes, because you always have something in the freezer if guests come in unexpectedly.

“You can make party meals ahead of time, or even make the stuffing or gravy—veggie versions—and freeze them until you need them.

“Then you can enjoy Christmas – sit down with a few drinks and have some fun without having to be a slave to a hot stove all the time.”

Try some new recipes

Thomas encourages us to “get away from doing things the traditional way” and that can mean trying new recipes with a classic ingredient.

“Sprouts aren’t boring,” she says, particularly recommending them in a festive salad or coleslaw.

“If you take the greens of brussels sprouts and you have some very nice chopped red cabbage and you make a fresh or mayonnaise citrus dip, you have something completely different. Maybe it’s really fresh and crazy while eating a lot of heavy food and sweet stuff.

Stock up on puff pastry

This is Thomas’ secret weapon in vegetarian cooking. “You can make great festive stuff with phyllo dough — you can make great Christmas crackers,” she says.

“Instead of putting vegetable fillings such as pumpkin in the pastries, if you have ready-made phyllo dough in the freezer or refrigerator, make a roll, [put in the filling] and roll them up like cigars and tie the ends with chives. They look like little crackers.”

Think festive touches

“I think all the festive touches are really important,” says Thomas, and it can be as simple as having pomegranate seeds on hand.

“Everything comes alive like salads, coleslaw, desserts, if you sprinkle pomegranate seeds on them. They’re beautiful, they catch the light, they’re like little ruby ​​gems, and they’re crunchy and sweet.”

Shop seasonally

One of the simplest ways to make sure your vegetarian meal is full of flavor is to use seasonal ingredients.

“Use the highest quality ingredients you can find, really fresh and seasonal,” says Thomas. “You don’t need to buy a lot of imported, exotic stuff for Christmas. Often locally grown, more sustainable, freshest ingredients are best.

“It’s a bit like the Mediterranean concept of no fuss food, where you can make the best and healthiest food if you use a few really simple, great ingredients.”

For Thomas, that means vegetables like zucchini, pumpkin, carrots, cabbage, and beets.

Make dishes that appeal to veggies and meat eaters

Thomas suggests that one of the biggest pitfalls people fall into is trying to “make a vegetarian version of the traditional dish,” which can be quite time consuming and not always the tastiest option.

Instead, Thomas suggests making “adventurous and colorful food that people really want to eat,” even for non-vegetarians.

He also wants to encourage people to add more vegetarian dishes to their table: “Meat is pretty heavy. A lot of people stock up on a huge turkey, a large ham, and other joints and sausages, but this one is heavy and very rich—especially when eaten with gravy, rich sauces, and other things.

“If you’re vegetarian, this is a much lighter way of eating, you can get your protein from other sources like beans, lentils, and dairy products for non-vegans. Also, it’s cheaper. I think everyone will be a lot more budget conscious this Christmas – they won’t be able to buy the meat or huge salmon they would have gotten to celebrate in the past. We need to show that you can feast on this wonderful food – but it’s cheaper and healthier.”

Use all leftovers

Thomas says he hates wasted food, so using leftovers is a big part of the book.

He continues: “If you’re on a tight budget – Christmas is expensive, you don’t want to throw away a lot of food. So if you turn leftovers into something else and make a delicious lunch, dinner or brunch, that should be a good thing.”

Thomas says it’s “too boring,” but his favorite way to value leftovers is with a classic bubble and squeak—otherwise you can add seasonings and make a curry from leftover vegetables or stir them into a soup.

‘The Veggie Christmas Cookbook’ by Heather Thomas (published by HarperNonFiction, £12.99; photography by Joff Lee), available now.

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