The festive season is upon us and, let’s be honest, most of us are thinking about all the food we’re going to consume on Christmas Day.
But while traditionalists focus their meal around a turkey and pigs in blankets, veggies options get overlooked or even dismissed.
The number of vegetarians and vegans has risen over the past few years in the UK, with even more declaring themselves “flexitarians” (meaning they eat meat on occasion), so there’s never been a better time to have a very merry Christmas.
We sat down with Jamie Oliver’s former protégé Anna Jones to get the lowdown on making the tastiest meat-free (and therefore, more sustainable) Christmas dishes, making them enticing to veggies and meat-eaters alike on the big day.
Make veggie options exciting and vibrant
These dishes should be tasty in their own right, not as a meat substitute.
“It’s all about celebrating the vegetables,” Anna says. “We should use butternut squashes or onion squashes to make their own dishes. You could also stuff a roasted pumpkin with other vegetables and cheese. The options go on forever!
“Most importantly, the vegetables shouldn’t feel like a second best option, but be celebrated in their own right.
She’s also a big fan of condiments. “A roast dinner is a great vehicle for condiments, with or without meat. Every year our table is strewn with sauces and chutneys to punctuate the potatoes and sprouts.”
Appeal to meat eaters with something they know
According to Anna, you’re best making a recognisable dish to everybody, like a pie or a quiche.
“Something that meat eaters would be comfortable eating is a great place to start. Although the go-to vegetarian option for a roast dinner, the nut roast, can be delicious it can also be very ungenerous.
“Try stretching it out into a tart, make it colourful. I try to make the vegetarian options the most beautiful things on the table, to make people as excited about it as possible.”
And she didn’t disappoint with her delicious contribution to the launch of the Organic Feed Your Happy Christmas campaign and the Soil Association’s Organic Christmas Marketplace: a vegetarian alternative main course in the form of a sweet garlic pie with a popped bean top.
“There’s loads going on with the texture and flavour of the pie. In the times that I’ve made it, all the meat eaters definitely dived into that more than they did the turkey!”
Jazz up your veggie gravy
Don’t be afraid to add leftovers from other elements of your Christmas dinner to your gravy mix. It means they won’t go to waste and your gravy will be full of flavour.
“Roast off some vegetables, and chuck odds and ends – like onion cut-offs for example, or leeks and carrots – into the gravy.
“You could also throw some vinegar into the mix, or some spoonfuls of your favourite chutney or condiment. Even though I haven’t eaten beef for the best part of ten years I absolutely love to use horseradish sauce in my dishes.”
Make a perfectly roasted potato
This skill is undoubtedly one of the most important in any Christmas cook’s repertoire, veggie or not.
“This is actually really tough to get right on the day because of how much else is going on. Also because there’s lots of moisture in the air so it’s really tough to get that crisp heat.
The potatoes have different needs to most other parts of your average Christmas dinner, Anna’s got the TLC that they require down to a science.
“I blanche my potatoes and put them in a roasting tray on Christmas Eve. They need to go in first on the day and be taken out early before everything else, so they can breathe. Then, when everything is done, pop them back with a fierce heat to crisp off those last bits.
“I also love to put lemons in with my roast potatoes. Yum.”