“We have a vegan at Christmas this year!” is a sentence that has filled many an omnivore Christmas host with dread. Equally, being invited to an omnivore’s Christmas dinner can be daunting for those following a plant-based lifestyle.
The host would rack their brains with what to serve the vegan guest instead of turkey, whilst the guest would be concerned about being underfed, being served animal-derived products or simply a rubbish meal.
What vegan hasn’t received a text or email saying: “I’m putting together a different menu for you, since you don’t eat meat. Can you eat cheese? Is fish OK? How about a nice omelette? Christmas cake is fine, right? It’s just fruit and booze“. Up until a few years ago, at best, the more knowledgeable host would suggest a nut roast – the ubiquitous dish served to vegans and vegetarians since the eighties.
There’s nothing wrong with a nut roast, of course, but how many times can it be eaten before inducing severe food ennui?
In between putting up the tree, decking the halls, sprucing up the house and buying presents, it’s not uncommon for vegans to put together a list of plant-based food for their Christmas host, or even bring their own food to a Christmas dinner, to help them with the stress of putting together a cruelty-free menu.
Back in the olden days, and by olden days I mean pre-2017, the year when a huge number of plant-based food companies launched commercially, vegan Christmas dinner options were slim. The aforementioned nut roast was still king, albeit a monarch whose subjects weren’t ready to dethrone it; plant-based cheese resembled unrecyclable plastic, in looks, taste and texture. Vegan mince pies were few and far between and the three boxes on sale nationwide would sell out by 1 October. Plant-based Christmas cake and pudding were very difficult, if not impossible, to find, dairy-free chocolate was available, but only the dark version or flavourless milk ones; panettone – Italy’s much exported traditional Christmas cake that’s become a staple in Britain in the last 15 years – was only available in its classic non plant-based version. If one wanted vegan pudding and sweets during the holidays, one pretty much had to make them from scratch.
In the last few years more and more people have adopted a plant-based or flexitarian diet or a vegan lifestyle for ethical, environmental or health reasons, and with the numbers of these consumers increasing, so have the plant-based offerings on the market.
These days those choosing to eat plant-based are spoilt for choice with lots of traditional Christmas foods being veganised, so at last, neither the dinner host, nor the vegan guest need to panic this Yule.
Appetisers and starters
Vegan charcuterie boards, pigs in blankets and even foie gras and smoked salmon are all on sale and delicious. Sold in Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Waitrose, Tesco and the Co-op, Squeaky Bean has a large selection of cold cuts, including Cured Meat Style Slices, Spanish Chorizo, Milano Salami and Italian Ham Style Slices; VBites also has a wide range, including turkey, chicken, ham, garlic sausage, pepperoni, beef, sage and onion and salmon slices. The brand also offers a few paté options, such as mushroom, tuna, and seven beans.
Michelin-star chef Alexis Gauthier, owner of Gauthier restaurant in London’s Soho has spent the last five years transitioning his classic meat and fish-based French cuisine into a plant-based one and one of his most popular dishes is faux gras, a plant-based version of the classic foie gras. The mushroom and lentil-based paté is utterly delicious and if you don’t have time to make it yourself (Monsieur Gauthier kindly shared the recipe online a few years ago), you can now buy it from the restaurant’s online shop. It comes in a gift box of three different flavours: Classic Soho, Vintage Port and Black Truffle.
Vegan fish is still in its infancy but there are a few excellent products on the market. Developed by marine biologists, Odontella uses pea protein, seaweed and konjac to make its plant-based smoked salmon, whilst Good Catch‘s newly launched New England-Style Crab Cakes are a perfect accompaniment to a chilled glass of (vegan) fizz.
Pigs in blankets are a Christmas classic in Britain and there are plenty of plant-based versions available. This Isn’t Pork Plant Based Pigs In Blankets are sold in several supermarkets, including Tesco and Asda; M&S sells its Plant Kitchen No Pork Pigs in Duvets, whilst Sainsbury’s stocks Plant Pioneers Pups in Blankets.
This is possibly the most dreaded part of Christmas dinner, if one doesn’t know what to serve to a plant-based guest. These days there’s no need to fear the plat de résistance as there are some excellent options available.
44 Foods take the stress out of cooking by offering a superb Vegetarian Christmas Bundle for four, suitable for vegans, featuring Sgaia Vegan Garlic and Rosemary Roast, British potatoes, parsnips, purple sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts and carrots. The roast is made with seitan (wheat gluten), pea protein and spices and it’s not only succulent and delicious, it’s also healthy.
Available from their London shop and online, Rudy’s Vegan Butcher also sell some fantastic Christmas bundles. The Royal Christmas Meat Feast Box contains homemade Christmas turk’y, ready to roast potatoes, charred sprouts with cranberries, baycon and herbs, heritage carrots with warm spices, maple and thyme, slow cooked cabbage with Bramley apples, raisins and vegan wine, Yorkshire puddings and a rich gravy. Rudy’s also sell a Turk’y Roll made with seitan, beans and spices, if vegetables and trimmings are not required. Made with wheat gluten and pea protein, filled with a mushroom duxelle and encased in crisp puff pastry, M&S Vegan No Beef Wellington is also a satisfying option, as are Tofurky Roast with Herb Gravy and Linda McCartneys Vegetarian Chicken Roast, which is actually fully plant-based and made with soy.
For those adamant they want to serve nut roast, most supermarkets and independent stores stock a good selection.
Dessert and sweet treats
Only a few years ago plant-based Christmas desserts were scarce, but these days vegans are really spoilt for choice.
Most supermarkets sell own brand plant-based mince pies. Sainsbury’s Free From Mince Pies and Taste the Difference Free From Mini Mince Pies are utterly delicious and are suitable for vegans and coeliacs since they are gluten free. Plant Pioneers Grown Delicious Mince Pies are also very good and fully plant-based. Tesco, Morrisons, M&S, Waitrose and the Co-op sells them too. Cakes and aquafaba company OGGS makes some seriously crumbly and moreish Luxury Handmade Mince Pies, handily stocked in most supermarkets and in stores such as Whole Foods and Planet Organic.
Just like mince pies, plant-based Christmas cake and pudding are now widely available too. The Authentic Bread Company’s Organic Vegan Christmas Cake is tasty, beautifully presented and also gluten-free, whilst Tesco’s Free From Christmas Pudding is packed with fruit and has a nice rum kick.
Italian Panettone has become popular in Britain, and finally there are some delightful vegan versions on the market. Go Vegan Panettone Vegano with Chocolate is one of the very best panettoni I’ve tried and non vegans would never guess it’s plant-based: soft, light, pillowy, buttery and with plenty of chocolate chips, this is Christmas in a mouthful. For a classic version, with Calabrian candied orange peel and sultanas, Carluccio’s Panettone Vegano ticks all the boxes.
For those who don’t like traditional Christmas cake and pudding, The Vegan Cakery makes a rich and chocolaty Christmas Yule Log, always popular with children and adults alike. For something a little different, The Blushing Cook’s artisanal Christmas Brownie, topped with white chocolate, is rich, fudgy and utterly delectable. Beautifully decorated with a pretty festive scene and edible flowers, this brownie to share would look gorgeous on any Christmas table.
There are plenty of plant-based sweets and chocolate too. Galaxy and Cadbury’s both have vegan versions of their popular bars. For something more artisanal, Cornwall’s Chocolate Cove produces beautiful and delicious chocolate slabs using raw cacao, raw cacao butter, organic coconut sugar and baobab. Free of palm oil, soy and cane sugar, their chocolate bars and box sets come in a variety of flavours, including the very festive orange and cinnamon, salty cracked pepper and caramel, sour cherry and almond and coffee. Fudge Kitchen makes mouthwatering and creamy artisanal fudge. The Yuletide Vegan Slab Fudge Selection is ideal for Christmas and comes in a selection of flavours, including coffee, black forest gateau, rum and raisin and hazelnut.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Christmas without gingerbread and these organic chocolate covered cherry-filled gingerbread hearts from Koro are a perfect sweet to have with tea, coffee or to munch on throughout the day.
Let’s not beat around the bush, plant-based cheese used to be disappointing. Many people who’d like to follow a plant-based diet are stopped in their tracks by the idea of giving up dairy cheese as up until recently, vegan versions weren’t very good. However in the last few years, more and more excellent cheeses have been developed. Mouse’s Favourite has a large selection of nut-based cheeses. Their camembert could easily rival the real thing in taste and texture and their True Blue is aromatic, spicy and intense.
Cheese company Ilchester also has an excellent selection of plant-based alternatives. Their Applewood Cheddar, Melting Mature Cheddar and the Blue Cheese are particularly delicious and satisfying and are available in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and online at The Vegan Kind supermarket. Get some crackers, chutneys and enjoy with a glass of port or red wine. Made by Bute Island, Sheese Melting Sheesy Bake with Spring Onion & Garlic is a coconut-based melting alternative that’s perfect for dipping and sharing. Messy, but for all the right reasons.
Wine, beer and spirits
I have bad and good news. The bad news is that not all alcoholic drinks are suitable for vegans as many wines are filtered with isinglass (fish bladder) and albumen, whilst isinglass and pork gelatine are used as fining agents in many types of beer. However, there are plenty of brands that are 100% plant-based.
It’s not Christmas without a bit of bubbly. Codorniu Vintage Cava Brut is made with a blend of traditional grape varieties used in cava – Macabeu, Xarel.lo and Parellada – andis fresh, citrussy with delicate floral notes. Prosecco is always very popular and thankfully there are many on the market that don’t use animal byproducts, such as Terra Organica, Mionetto Prosecco Doc and Biscardo Prosecco Spumante to name a few. For champagne, Veuve Clicquot Vintage Champagne, Lanson Le Black Label Brut and Taittinger Prestige Rose Champagne are just some of the many vegan-friendly ones on the market. For lovers of fizzy French wine on a budget, Exquisite Crémant du Jura is good option and available from Aldi. There are also some very good bubbly options from England, such as Nyetimber Classic Cuvée.
Available from VIDA Wines & Spirits, Kreuzberg Weingut Jraaduss 2019 is a delicious, full bodied red from Germany with hints of cherry, blackberries, currants and dark chocolate. A good accompaniment to the main course and the cheese platter. For a classic French, Cap Royal Bordeaux Rouge is a good option, whilst a classic Italian such as Il Faggio, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019, is perfect with a roast or a cheese platter.
There are also a vast selection of white wines available. Sancerre Domaine Roblin from France, Vergelegen Sauvignon Blanc Fairtrade from South Africa and La Monetta Gavi from Italy are all excellent options.
Many popular beer brands are vegan friendly. Carlsberg, Stella Artois, Birra Moretti, San Miguel, Peroni, Heineken, Grolsch, Estrella Damm, Staropramen, Guinness, Budweiser and Beck’s all are. For craft beer, Butcombe Brewing Co has several plant-based ones, including Gold Golden Ale, Gold Gluten Free, Goram IPA Zero (alcohol free) and Stateside Session IPA. Handcrafted in Manchester, all of First Chop award-winning beers are vegan and gluten-free and the company has a large variety to suit all tastes.
Spirits tend to be largely vegan-friendly, however those with cream, milk, egg or cochineal extract (a red pigment extracted from insects and used in the food and beverage and cosmetics industries) must be avoided as they aren’t plant-based. Irish cream whisky Baileys makes a vegan version of its popular Christmas drink, Baileys Almande, available from supermarkets and independent shops, whilst Shannon and M&S offer creamy and rather boozy chocolate and coconut liqueurs, Shannon’s Vegan Chocolate Cream Liqueur and M&S Vegan Chocolate & Coconut Cream Drink.
With all the mouthwatering plant-based options on the market, Christmas hosts needn’t be scared anymore to invite their vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian friends and family for dinner, and for us vegans, we can finally be satisfyingly fed with no need to bring our own tupperware.