The Vegetarian's Survival Guide to Christmas
Christmas is a time of indulgence. For some this seems to be about consuming as much meat as possible. Whenever I read through Christmas cookbooks, I notice an inordinate amount of recipes that seem to include cooking every animal under the sun. So if you are a vegetarian, this time of year can be tricky for you. You may come under a lot of pressure to eat meat, or people may give you a hard time when they notice you are not eating meat. Or perhaps you are worried about what to cook or whether you will go hungry - especially if you are to be a guest in someone else's house. These issues can be particularly tricky if you only recently became vegetarian. Hopefully the following will make your vegetarian Christmas a happy time for all.
Dealing with the pressure
When friends and family gather at Christmas there's a chance that you being vegetarian crops up. Whether in conversation or when they see you not eating meat. So it's entirely possible that you start feeling the pressure to eat meat. It may pay to remind yourself that what you eat has nothing to do with anybody else. Do such people pay as much attention to all the other aspects of your life? What I am saying is being vegetarian is just one of the hundreds of choices you have 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 may also feel the pressure to eat meat when it feels like you don't have any good food choices. There are many options out there and it's a great opportunity to head 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 were barely any choices for vegetarians. It 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 got stuck into cooking from scratch and was soon easily able to convert 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 may come into it. Are you a traditionalist or are you happy to move away from the norm?
I personally love tradition. Or rather, the tradition of roast potatoes since they're the best bit and the rest are just accompaniments! If you would prefer a traditional dinner, think about how a traditional dinner can be tweaked to make it vegetarian. Mock meats are widely available and can be easily substituted for the meat other people are eating. It may be worth trying out different brands before Christmas and see what your like. If you don't fancy meat alternatives, there are many other tasty options out there that go well with all the trimmings. Nut roasts, and delicious things wrapped in pastry can be fantastic (I'm thinking pies, Wellingtons, en croute and strudel). Just remember to make a vegetarian gravy and ensure your stuffing balls are vegetarian if you are having them. I often do pigs in blankets - just wrap vegetarian bacon around vegetarian sausages.
If tradition doesn't work 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 done them for so long, I can't remember what I used to do and even what a traditional Christmas breakfast would look like. One thing you could do is look at the different dishes people eat around the world at Christmas and take inspiration from them. Or you could just eat your favourite meal. Perhaps primp it up a bit by using the best ingredients or adding some festive flavours or garnishes. When I first moved to Australia I had to get used to Christmas in summer and spent a few years trying out different things, until I found something that worked for me, the climate and made it feel like Christmas. So as well as my traditional dinner I enjoy things like mango salads and the abundance of fresh fruit available - especially cherries.
If you are after recipe ideas - the internet is a fantastic source. The vegetarian society always puts up a Christmas menu and I look forward to checking this out each year. If you like cookbooks, I love Rose Eliot's 'Vegetarian Christmas' and have used it for years. There are some good magazines out there that feature seasonal fare for vegetarians - Good Food magazine is great and also there are some good vegetarian cooking magazines around.
Cooking for others
I know some vegetarians will cook meat for other people. However I've never been one of them. When I left home I became a vegetarian and moved into a flat with my vegetarian boyfriend. So my kitchen has always been vegetarian. Last year I had family for Christmas and warned them beforehand that the meal would be vegetarian. They were happy with this and loved the meal. On Christmas day I made a tasty en croute filled with delicious things like Stilton and chestnuts. With all the trimmings of course. On New Year's Day I did a traditional roast dinner - Yorkshire puddings and all, but instead of beef I used a mock meat. Since I knew my meat eating guests probably wouldn't like the mock 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 mock meats - you'll probably have a fair idea who they are.
Being a vegetarian guest
Some people are more than happy to accommodate the vegetarian, whereas others go into panic mode and draw a blank. So try to make it easy on your host. If your host is worried about what to do, an easy solution is to prepare and take your own main that can be served with the trimmings. Depending on what you are eating, you can also prepare a gravy to take with you. This doesn't have to be a weird thing - tell them it will ease their burden and save them having to worry about you. I've done this before and cooked up a nut roast and taken it with us.
I've found being a guest over the years quite easy. I'm not the activist type - being a vegetarian is a personal thing to me. Although it would be great if everyone was a vegetarian, it's not my role to preach to them. If you do like to be quite vocal however, maybe Christmas (which can be stressful enough anyhow) isn't the time to discuss your beliefs. This way you can enjoy your meal and your family and feel good about yourself.
Finally, you may dread the digs about you being vegetarian - which can become tiresome. One quick solution to this is to smile politely and then change the subject. If you want a winning subject - make the conversation about them. Most people are quite happy to talk about themselves and will soon forget about you.
Now happy eating and happy Christmas!