Similar to Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas Day fare is often a hefty serving of meat surrounded by all sorts of veggies, starches and sides. If you, your family or your guests are vegetarian, however, it's necessary to rethink this formula. With some creative recipe selection and outside-the-box thinking, cooking innovative vegetarian holiday meals can be a cinch. Remember this one key component: For most people, the veggies, starches and sides are their favorite parts of the meal! By combining these "side" ingredients into a tasty holiday centerpiece, vegetarian meals can easily work around the old Christmas ham or turkey and stuffing.
The first main challenge of cooking a delicious vegetarian meal is finding a recipe that doesn't feel like a plate that is just missing the meat and loaded full of individual side dishes.This is the classic vegetarian meal dilemma: "Just take the patty out of the hamburger and you're good to go, right?" Wrong; now I just have a lettuce sandwich. The second challenge is learning to combine ingredients in a way that is both festive and satisfying. Yes, a beans and rice dish is both filling and vegetarian, but nothing about it says, "Merry Christmas!" By following some of the guidelines in the two abridged recipes below, borrowed from top vegetarian cooks and resources across the web, finding ways to make enticing and filling meatless meals should come a bit easier.
*Portobello Mushroom Wellington
This exquisite Christmas Day idea is an impressive centerpiece with a deep, rich flavor. For intermediate steps such as caramelizing the onions and making a cream sauce, use cookbooks you have on hand, personal preferences or the full recipe on Epicurious. Scale this general recipe to fit the size of your gathering.
Servings: 4 to 6
For the Wellington:
-- 8 large portobello mushrooms
-- 2 garlic cloves, diced
-- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
-- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-- 3 1/2 ounces spinach
-- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, grated
-- 1 tablespoon Marsala
-- 3 egg yolks, beaten
-- 11 ounces ready-rolled puff pastry sheet
-- 1 teaspoon black onion seeds
-- Kosher salt (to taste)
-- Ground pepper (to taste)
For the pancakes:
-- 3 eggs
-- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
-- 1 1/4 cup whole milk
-- 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
-- Sunflower oil (to taste for frying)
In a foil-lined tray, roast cleaned portobello mushrooms rubbed with the garlic, thyme, Marsala, oil and salt and pepper at 350 F for 15 minutes.
Caramelize several white or sweet onions (see full recipe on Epicurious for ingredients and directions).
To make pancakes, use a large mixing bowl to whisk the eggs with the flour and slowly pour in the milk. Whisk all the time until no lumps are visible. Add chopped rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Let rest for 10 minutes. Then cook each pancake 1 minute per side on a hot, oiled nonstick frying pan to make several thin crepe-like cakes.
Use a frying pan to cook the spinach for a minute with a pinch of salt and a grating of nutmeg until bright green and just wilted. Squeeze out as much moisture as you can through a sieve, then dry on paper towels.
Assemble the Wellington by laying out cooked spinach on the pancakes, adding the mushrooms on top of it and layering in the caramelized onions.
Chill this mixture, roll into tubes and then wrap each tube with puff pastry. Cut into smaller segments and bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes, until dark golden all over.
Serve the Wellington with a cream sauce poured over it (Bowles recommends a taragon cream sauce) and steamed broccolini and/or kale on the side.
*Squash, Winter Herb and Crispy Butter-Bean Pie
This recipe idea epitomizes wintry comfort food. Plus, with the crispy crust and warm and savory filling, it is sure to satisfy even your non-vegetarian guests. Don't be afraid to improvise on the filling; this recipe works well with all manner of winter vegetables and beans.
Start to finish: 2 hours (active prep time: 40 minutes)
For the pastry:
-- 250 grams plain spelt flour
-- 125 grams cold, unsalted butter
-- Rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped (to taste)
-- Thyme sprigs, leaves picked and finely chopped (to taste)
-- 1 lemon, zested
-- 25 grams mature cheddar, grated
-- 1 medium egg yolk
-- Cold water
For the filling:
-- 700 grams butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-centimeter cubes
-- 2 tablespoons olive oil
-- 3 bulbs garlic, cloves separated and peeled
-- 1 teaspoon balsalmic vinegar
-- 1 tablespoon runny honey
-- 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
-- 2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped
-- 220 grams lancashire cheese or mature cheddar, crumbled or cut into cubes
-- 150 grams creme fraiche
-- 1/2 lemon, juiced
-- 1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
-- Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
-- Dash of vegetarian Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
-- 2 large eggs, beaten
-- Kosher salt (to taste)
-- Black ground pepper (to taste)
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Mix the flour, butter, herbs, lemon zest and cheddar cheese. Then beat in the egg yolk and add cold water until it forms a dough. Wrap and chill in the fridge while you make the filling.
To make the filling, cook the chopped and oiled squash pieces at 350 F until softened.
Simmer garlic cloves, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Add honey, boiling water and reduce until it resembles a thick syrup.
Add squash into a bowl and add the cheese, creme fraiche, lemon juice, mustard, parsley, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and beaten eggs. Add a good pinch of salt and black pepper and gently fold in the garlic cloves.
Remove the cooled dough from the fridge and mold into a pastry dish, ensuring it goes up and slightly over the sides.
Put the squash mixture into the pastry shell and top with drained beans and olive oil. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 F until golden brown and crispy.
There are thousands of creative ideas out there, but either of these two should really wow your vegetarian guests (who are probably used to just eating extra sweet potatoes and green beans while the rest of the party feasts on Christmas roast). Experiment, use your resources, test out your recipes beforehand and you're sure to have a delicious meatless holiday.
(Portobello Mushroom Wellington recipe from Tom Parker Bowles on Epicurious; Butter-Bean Pie recipe from Anna Jones on BBC Good Food.)