What to Cook for a Visiting Vegan This Christmas

There is so much to think about when hosting a Christmas gathering: the table decorations, candles, music, glasses, gifts, who should not sit next to who… and that’s before we even think about the food. With so many people adopting an animal-free diet, there is a good chance a vegan will be sitting at your table, too. So, how do we cater for them, while making sure everyone has the beautiful traditional meal they love, and you don’t have to cook two entirely separate meals?

Veganize Your Christmas Dishes 

Our biggest tip is to veganize all the dishes you normally make so that everyone can enjoy the same food, and the chef is not exhausted before the fun begins. Obviously, every family and community has their own traditional recipes and favorite dishes to serve at Christmas, and the ones we cite here may not be what you enjoy. But, the principle is the same: make small swaps and keep everyone happy!

For example, vegan cream can be used in soups and desserts. Vegan butter is perfect for making pastry or melting over steamed vegetables. You can switch meat-based stock for vegetable stock, and instead of using animal fat, roast your vegetables in olive oil. With a few small tweaks, many meals can be fully vegan, suitable for everyone, and taste just the way you like them.

Vegan Ingredients for Christmas

Non-vegans are often surprised by how many amazing vegan alternatives are available, either in local stores or online. As well as plant-based milks, did you know that you can get delicious vegan versions of:

  • Bacon, sausages, and other meats
  • Cheeses – soft and hard, in many flavors
  • Chocolate – dark, ‘milk’, and white, chocolate chips and buttons 
  • Cream – for pouring, cooking, or whipping
  • Crème frâiche 
  • Ice cream (so many flavors!)
  • Marshmallows
  • Mayonnaise
  • Shrimps / prawns
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt – plain or flavored

This means that so many of your existing recipes can easily be adapted.

Non-Vegan Ingredients To Look Out For

When you look at the ingredients listed on packages, you might be in for a shock. Small packs can contain so many unidentifiable ingredients that you have to wonder what you are actually eating. Here are a few non-vegan ingredients to look out for as you prep your Christmas meals:

  • Albumen/albumin (typically derived from eggs)
  • Aspic (similar to gelatine)
  • Butter acid, butter fat, butter oil, buttermilk
  • Casein (milk protein) and casein hydrolysate (milk protein)
  • Egg whites
  • Gelatine/gelatin (made from ground up animal bone and skin, can be found in jams and marshmallows)
  • Honey (food made by bees for bees)
  • Isinglass (dried swim bladder of fish, used to clarify wine, fruit juice, and beer)
  • Lactose (milk sugar)
  • Lard/tallow (animal fat)
  • Mayonnaise (contains eggs)
  • Meringue, meringue powder (whipped egg whites)
  • Milk protein
  • Pepsin (made from stomachs of pigs)
  • Shellac (made from the bodies of the female scale insect Tachardia lacca)
  • Tagatose (sweetener made from cows’ milk)
  • Whey powder (milk protein) 

What To Cook for a Vegan at Christmas

So, let’s get down to some specific advice about animal-free foods that all your guests will enjoy, whether they are vegan or not.

Vegan Snacks for Christmas

If you like to provide nibbles throughout the big day, there are plenty of options that are suitable for vegans. Roasted nuts, various types of potato chips, olives, breadsticks, crackers, vegetable batons, and dips can all be vegan-friendly savory snacks. If you would like to make your own, however, there is a wealth to choose from. Search online for inspirations but to whet the appetite, we can recommend these tasty sweet potato and caramelized onions rolls, this delectable mushroom pate, and these very pretty carrot and caraway crackers

If you’re thinking about sweet snacks, there are lots of vegan-friendly chocolates, candies, and cookies in stores. If you would like to make something special, try these fancy vegan Florentines or macarons, or these super tasty mini Christmas pudding bites.

Vegan Christmas Starters

If you serve a starter at Christmas, you might consider something like a chestnut soup or a pumpkin soup, which are naturally vegan and can be made ahead of time. Roast squash and caramelized onion tartlets are another super festive starter, and always very popular. Or try this traditional Ukrainian Shukhi, a warm beetroot and mushroom salad. (Just use the sugar as suggested instead of honey.) There are thousands more great ideas online. Just search for ‘Vegan Christmas Starters’ and see what takes your fancy.

The Main Event

The centerpiece of many Christmas tables is meat, and often it is a whole animal. Unsurprisingly, your vegan guest won’t eat this, so, we will certainly need a different main for them. This can also be offered to non-vegan guests as an option as they may prefer it to the meat. There are so many beautiful vegan centerpiece options, such as traditional nut roasts and lentil bakes, but there are many fancier dishes, too. We recommend this rich and satisfying Mushroom and Chestnut Wellington, or this Festive Butternut Squash, which is crammed full of beautiful Christmasssy flavors. Alternatively, you can buy, or even make vegan meats, including vegan roast turkey

Festive Butternut Squash

Vegan Side Dishes for Christmas

In our view, it’s the side dishes that really make the Christmas meal special, and so many of them are vegan already, or can be with some small substitutions. Roast your potatoes and parsnips in vegetable oil. Use vegan-friendly wine in your braised red cabbage. Use dairy-free cream, cheese, and butter in your green bean casserole. Braise your leeks in vegetable stock.

Whatever side dishes you normally make can almost always be made vegan with some small adjustments. 

The side dishes that make Christmas so special

Vegan Christmas Desserts

Like the rest of the Christmas meal, traditions for desserts vary widely. You might favor a festive yuletide log, a chocolate cheesecake, tiramisu, or make the ever-popular sticky toffee pudding. You may want to finish off with some homemade hazelnut truffles, these super cute vegan meringue kisses, or a batch of warm, homemade mince pies, served with dairy-free ice cream of course! All of these recipes — and so many more — are vegan with no loss of flavor or indulgence! 

Vegan mince pies

Five Tips To Make a Vegan Welcome at Christmas

For households where there are no full-time vegans, the prospect of a visiting vegan can be a source of anxiety, but it really does not have to be stressful. Here are a few tips to make sure your celebrations are joyous for all your guests. 

  1. Speak to your visiting vegan before the big day to discuss food. They may be able to provide some tips on how to make certain dishes vegan, or they may offer to bring a dish or two for everyone to enjoy. Even if you have everything planned, a call to reassure them that they will be catered for is a wonderful kindness as not everyone goes the extra mile.
  1. While you’re talking to them, you might like to ask about drinks and gifts. Vegans avoid animal products in all aspects of their lives, not just their meals, so checking in about these issues will make them feel understood and welcome.
  1. Despite the rumors, not every vegan wants to talk about veganism all the time! On days like Christmas, they may just want to join in the festivities and feel part of a joyful shared experience. So, perhaps, just for one day, set aside any questions you may have about the lifestyle. 
  1. Because veganism is driven by compassion, your visitor is likely to see the meat, not as something tasty to eat, but as an animal who has been killed. If you are able to minimize any distress they may feel by serving the meat onto plates away from the table, that is often appreciated.
  1. Please understand that your visiting vegan is not trying to make extra work for you. They are simply trying to make the world a kinder place, and they will appreciate any effort you have gone to in order to make their day special, too.

Five Tips for Vegans This Christmas

Vegans visiting a non-vegan household at Christmas may also have concerns. However, with a little communication and perhaps some compromise, the day can be a wonderful and memorable event for all.

  1. Speak to your host about food as soon as possible, especially if they do not know you are vegan. Offering to bring a dish with you, or arriving early to help prepare some of the side dishes, can be a wonderful gift to your host, as well as a guarantee that you will be well fed.
  1. Leave the lectures at home. It is often hard to be around animal products, especially on a day that is all about peace on Earth and goodwill to all. But today is probably not the day to get out your PowerPoint presentation on the moral imperative of veganism. 
  1. Prepare for questions. It is likely people will ask about the food, and possibly other issues too, such as protein, vitamins, and any other number of wildcard vegan questions, including the old desert island query. We’d advise against getting deep into these issues around the Christmas table, but if you are well-versed in the arguments, you can gently set people’s minds at ease, and move on.
  1. Practice forgiveness. If the host accidentally uses animal fat in all the vegetable side dishes and you are left only with a glass of beer and some olives, know that producing a Christmas meal is a lot of work, and it was probably not intended. If you think there is even the remotest possibility of this happening, it pays to have snacks in your bag. 
  1. If you know the sight of people eating meat will cause you deep upset or that your host will not accommodate you, you might suggest going along after the meal. You can enjoy  your favorite vegan celebration meal at home, then pack up an indulgent dessert to share with everyone else, and then go along to join in the fun. 

Whatever your plans, we wish you the greatest joy and peace this Christmas, and a more compassionate world for all.

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