Sunday, 9 December 2012

"Everybody knows, Tofurkey and some mistletoe..." A Guide to a Vegan Christmas

Tradition is pretty comforting. As Tevye tells us, tradition reminds us of who we are and have been. Change is terrifying. So it's no surprise to me that people don't like to imagine changing their traditions in the name of protecting animals.  And so many of our holiday traditions are centered around animal flesh and bodily...outputs, that the idea of changing these rituals, ingrained in and treasured by us since early childhood, seems unnerving or even ridiculous.  It's one thing to say that you believe that animals have the right to roam, fly and snooze as they please.  It's quite another to give up the Christmas turkey and chocolate orange you've looked forward to all year for as long as you can remember.
I love Christmas.  And I love tradition.  And I understand these fears completely.  But I think traditions, like everything else, are in flux. Maybe that's a depressing thought to you, but traditions can be modified to reflect the you that you are now.  So those of you who are experiencing your first vegetarian or vegan Christmas, I hope the following post will help your transition be a little easier.  Relatives of vegans may find some helpful ideas below for incorporating vegan food into their usual menu, and even if you're just leaning towards veganism, you might find some ideas for increasing the vegetable ratio of your Christmas.
1.  Replacing the Turkey.  Finding another option for the big dead bird in the centre of your table is probably the most stressful, or unimaginable part of a vegan Christmas for most people.  But there are plenty of delicious options!

  •      Vegetable Pot Pie.  When I'm cooking Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, the Winter Vegetable Pot Pie from Moosewood Celebrates is my absolute favourite.  The original recipe is not vegan, but I simply replace the butter with a vegan margarine, and omit the haverti cheese.  See my recipe below. There are lots of different pot pie recipes that might be to your liking. I like this option partly because it's a nice, pleasing big centrepiece in the middle of your table, that provides a focal point, just like a turkey. 

  • Nut Roast.  Maybe you've heard some mocking in the media about this vegan holiday standby. Forget everything you've heard, my friends! Nut roasts are deliciously delicious!  For years now, my mother has made a really lovely nut roast with pine nuts and cashews, with a tomato gravy to go on top. I don't actually understand what sounds bad about a nut roast. Nuts. Roasted. Um, yes?

  • Tofurkey.  You're all making a face, aren't you? If nut roasts receive mocking... Tofurkey is the classic vegan "meat" in the form and flavour of a turkey.  I tried one once.  It's not the kind of thing I'm really crazy about, but if you're in that transitional phase of craving animal flesh, you might find Tofurkey the thing for you. Plus, then you get to say the word tofurkey a lot.

  • Stuffed Squash, Pumpkin, or Sweet Potatoes.  Baked starchy veggies filled with grain, spices, dried fruits and nuts...delicious, nutritious, and all familiar food. And also really easy to make super pretty.

  • No Main Dish.  You can skip trying to find an edible centrepiece, plop your kid's weird Christmas art project in the middle of your table instead, and just have a plethora of delicious, familiar, vegan side dishes.  Just make sure you make enough to feel disgustingly full afterwards.
2.  Side Dishes.  This is the easy part.  Most of your usual side dishes are probably already vegan or effortlessly veganised.  Use Pure, Vitalite, Earth Butter, or olive oil instead of butter.  Soy, almond, hazelnut, rice, oat, or coconut milk instead of cow's milk.  Pick up almost any vegetarian cookbook you will see an amazing array of delicious options, both traditional and creative.  Roasted veggies, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, garlic green beans, cranberry sauce...YUM.  Here are a few classic things you might want to think about:
  • Stuffing:  Its so easy to make your traditional stuffing vegetarian.  Just cover it in vegetable stock and bake it in the oven.  I promise you it's delicious this way. And if you want to step outside the traditional bread stuffing (um, why?), I've seen many tempting stuffing recipes with nuts, dried fruit, apples, even vegan sausage!

  • Gravy.  Again, it's so easy to make a good vegan gravy.  You can use miso, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, onions, mushrooms, or even just a good vegetable stock as your base, and you will not feel at all deprived of the fat laden animal-based version. And no one has to drink the fat.
3.  Dessert.  Most any dessert can be veganised with a little creativity.  There are so many options I can't even list them all here.  If you are looking for a traditional Christmas pudding recipe, try the one on The Vegan Society's website, found here.  For a cream or custard option, Apro makes a nice soy custard option in both vanilla and chocolate.  You can try soy cream, oat cream, or even coconut cream!  Think about a cranberry and orange cake, poached pears in cinnamon red wine sauce, a chocolate and cranberry tart, or a trifle with soy custard or cashew cream. Oooh, I'm thinking about all of those things right now.

4.  Christmas Cookies.  Who doesn't love a Christmas cookie?  It's even fun to say.  There are about 1,690,313 vegan cookie recipes online.  If you want to veganise your traditional recipes, here's a crash course in vegan baking:  for butter, use margarine or canola oil.  For milk, use...non-dairy milk. For eggs, in cookies try either a good quality egg replacer, flax gel (1 tbsp ground flax/linseeds mixed with 1 tbsp of water), or use a pre-existing recipe for vegan cookies that doesn't use a replacement as your guide for ratios.  And try my super simple, healthy and delicious recipe for date rolls below.  For your gingerbread needs, look at these adorable gingerbread men from PPK (Post Punk Kitchen).

5.  Stuff your sorries in a sock!  Also known as stocking stuffers.  Candy canes, apples, oranges...already vegan! For some vegan milk chocolate ideas, try MooFree vegan chocolate. The make kid friendly, cute milk chocolates with rice milk. They also make a vegan advent calendar that I was VERY pleased to purchase.  You can also use hard candy, vegan trail mix, roasted nuts, or dark chocolates.

6.  Chocolates. Gifts of chocolate truffles are an unavoidable part of Christmas. Obviously, I don't mean unavoidable in a bad way.  Try Booja Booja truffles, Green and Blacks dark selection, or Allison's Gourmet Vegan Truffles.  Turkish Delight, although not chocolate, is another nice option that's usually vegan. You may also find that conventional chocolate shops or sellers have a range of dark chocolates that will be vegan. BUT, please don't just assume that dark chocolates are vegan, you really have to check the label to make sure there are no milk products, eggs, or gelatin in the chocolates or the fillings. And of course, you can just make your own chocolates and truffles. There are a gazillion recipes online for this purpose.

Here's the bottom line. Christmas traditions like turkey, roast beef, or chocolate oranges are completely arbitrary. They have no connection whatsoever to the birth of Jesus, or the winter solstice, or whatever you believe the real origins of this holiday to be. And they are replaceable with equally delicious alternatives that in time will come to mean as much to you, and that you will look forward to just as much. There's nothing inherently wrong with arbitrary traditions, but I think I'd like some traditions in my life that mean something to me. I'd like the tradition in my household of valuing life, my own, and that of all the other animals. Perhaps you, Dear Reader, would like to teach your children that in your house it's more important to have compassion than to have turkey. I think that sounds more like a tradition worth handing down the generations than bread cooked in a turkey's rear end.

Peace to all creatures on Earth.

Ethical Eats!

Winter Vegetable Pie

This recipe is one of my favourites. It's fairly time consuming, so I only make it a couple of times a year, but I dream about it the rest of the year. As I said above, the original recipe, found in Moosewood Celebrates, includes cheese, but just omitting it will still give you a delicious, creamy sauce. You could also add, say, a 1/2 cup of nutritional yeast to the sauce to give it a cheesy flavour, and I think it would be really scrumptious.

Pie filling

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
2 1/2 cups cubed potatoes (about 2 medium taters)
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups cut green beans about 1 in pieces
3 cups peeled, cubed butternut squash (I'm usually not a fan of pre-prepared veggies, but if you can buy the squash already cubed, it will be a huge help to you)
2 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (dill and I are going to get married one day)


1/4 cup vegan margarine
1/3 cup unbleached white flour
2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes (optional and untested, but potentially yummy)
salt and ground pepper to taste


1 3/4 cup unbleached white flour
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup vegan margarine of vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice water

For the filling:

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add the onions and the bay leaves and saute until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, salt, celery, and the vegetable stock. Cover the pot and bring to a boil then lower the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the beans and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the squash and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, parsley, dill, and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Cover the pot and lift to stir occassionally and enjoy the delicious, country soup aroma. Once the vegetables are just tender, not too mushy here because you will be cooking them again a long time in the oven, remove the bay leaves (or, as I understand it, you will choke and die). Cover the pot and set the vegetables aside while you prepare the sauce and the crust.

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

For the sauce:

Melt the vegan margarine in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook for a couple minutes stirring the whole time so the roux doesn't burn. Whisk in the stock and cook on medium heat, stirring often until the sauce thickens. You know you've done it right when the sauce starts to thicken in beautiful, smooth swirls. If you're using the nooch, add it now and stir until smooth. Add the sauce to the filling, and pour it into your baking dish.

I've used a big 9x13 baking dish, a large oval Le Crueset dish, or just a large, oven proof mixing bowl, all to happy results.

For the pastry:

Mix together the flour and rosemary in a large bowl. Work in the margarine or shortening with two forks or a pastry cutter until the dough resembles course meal. Sprinkle the ice water over the dough 1 tablespoon at a time and lightly mix it in. Form a ball with the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. You have a few options: you can make one big crust with a few slits to allow steam to escape, you can do a lattice top with strips, or you can cut the pastry using shapes. Fit your cutouts or crust on top of the filling and then pop the whole thing in the oven and cook for 40 or 50 minutes. The filling will get bubbly and the crust should turn golden and puff just a little.

Eek, I want to eat it now!

Healthy Chocolate Cherry Truffles

Makes 7-10

I made these one day when I realised how much money I was spending on Nakd snack bars (I think they're the same as Larabars across the pond) as snacks for work, and figured it couldn't be that hard to make my own. And it wasn't, but they're so good that I eat them all for dessert and now I still don't have any snacks at work. The flavour combinations are vast and varied here, but I thought chocolate and cherries were particularly Christmas-y.

100g (about 1/2 cup) pitted dates (if your blender or food processor isn't very strong, I'd suggest soaking the dates for an hour or so beforehand)
60g cashews (about a scant 1/2 cup)
50g dried cherries (about 1/3 cup)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp almond extract

Roughly chop the dates and cashews. Add all ingredients into your food processor and process. Stop to savour the ambrosial smell of the almond extract. I like to leave the ingredients a little chunky so that I get nice chewy bites of dried cherries. Once blended, form the mixture into little tablespoon sized balls with your hands. If they are a little moist, you can roll them in cocoa powder.