Christmas is here again and you're getting ready to prepare a classic dinner for friends and family when one of your guests informs you they are a vegetarian. Oh dear, the dreaded 'v' word. If you're in a fluster and don't know where to begin thinking about cooking for your guest, we're here to help you. The great news is that catering for veggies isn't difficult at all and following the hints and tips below will ensure carnivores and veggies alike enjoy their festive feast!
1. Have a chat with your guest in advance
First off, find out whether your guest is a vegetarian or a vegan. Vegetarians don't eat meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish, crustacea or any other product which has been made from slaughtering an animal. They also tend to use free-range eggs. Vegans go a bit further by also cutting out milk, dairy products, eggs and honey.
It's also helpful to remember that vegetarians and vegans, like anybody else, may have food allergies or things that they just don't like. If you're going to cook something special for them, it's well worth a quick chat in advance to make sure that your efforts will be appreciated.
2. Read the labels
Being veggie is easier than ever, thanks to the huge variety of suitable products and manufacturers becoming increasingly aware of vegetarians' needs. Food companies and supermarkets label a lot of vegetarian food, so you shouldn't need to pore over the ingredients list of every item in your shopping basket. There are a few things you'll want to look out for if you're not used to shopping for vegetarians, however: animal fat, gelatine (which turns up in some desserts) and animal rennet (which can be used in cheese.)
Most supermarket cheeses now use vegetarian rennet, so just make sure you choose cheese with a label indicating that it is suitable for vegetarians. To avoid gelatine, read the ingredients label or look out for products approved by the Vegetarian Society by clicking here
. Christmas pudding and mincemeat traditionally contain suet, which is a form of animal fat, but many brands now use a vegetable version which tastes just as good. If you'd like to find out more about hidden ingredients, just click here
3. Make plenty
Remember, food that is suitable for vegetarians isn't just for vegetarians. Once the meat eaters get a glance of the delicious food you've prepared for your guest they're bound to want a taste!
4. Keep it separate
If you're having a traditional Christmas dinner, your veggie guests will probably be eating a lot of the things everyone else is, like roast potatoes, veg and gravy. Cook them in vegetable oil, separately from the meat so everyone at the table can share them. Vegetarian gravy granules and mixes are readily available in supemarkets and some instant 'meaty' gravy granules are actually suitable for veggies too. The majority of stuffing mixes are suitable for vegetarians and vegans, so look out for one that mentions this on the packet.
5. Ready-made options
If you don't want to cook a separate dish for your veggie guest, you'll have no trouble at all picking up a nut roast or other ready-made festive dish from the supermarket or health food store. Tasty options also include meat substitute 'roasts' or 'fillets'. However, while some vegetarians love meat substitutes, others don't enjoy food that looks and tastes like meat - check first to avoid an unhappy guest!
Most vegetarians love a drink too, but beers and wines are often fined or clarified with animal products. This process stops the drink from becoming cloudy and because the animal products are not an actual ingredient, they don't have to be mentioned on the label. Some supermarkets will say whether their own-brand alcohol is suitable for veggies on the label, but if you can't find out it's worth visiting a specialist wine shop to see if they can recommend something suitable.
You can also find alcoholic drinks that are approved by the Vegetarian Society here
Veggie survival guide for Christmas with the carnivores!
So, you're going to a meat-eater's house for Christmas dinner. You're probably thinking everything will go horribly wrong and you'll end up with a plate of cabbage and some potatoes that have been cooked in animal fat for your dinner. In reality this is pretty unlikely, especially as the Vegetarian Society is here to show you how to avoid any awkward, meat-induced situations at the dinner table! All you have to do is follow our advice below and everything should go super smoothly this Christmas.
Not everyone knows exactly what a vegetarian is and what they eat. To avoid any misunderstanding you need to speak with the person cooking the meal in advance. Tell them what you eat, what you don't eat and share with them any other information that will help them cook or buy something you'll really enjoy on the day. A quick chat will help you both out, and hopefully show that Christmas is a time when vegetarians and carnivores can be nice to each other!
2. Prepare yourself for the jokes
There's always one person who thinks vegetarians live wild in forests, eating berries from the trees while relentlessly searching for the next pair of sandals they can wear with their thick, knee-high socks. Obviously we know this isn't the case, but showing your irritation won't help. Smile and feel safe in the knowledge that your food is delicious, cruelty-free and they are the ones who will be eating the same boring and predictable fare as last year. But remember, there's nothing wrong with a bit of banter and veggies should be as willing as their carnivore counterparts to poke a bit of fun at themselves!
3. Congratulate your host
It's important to bear in mind that this might be the first time your host has cooked a vegetarian Christmas dinner, or even a vegetarian meal. If they've put in the effort and made you something tasty, tell them how grateful you are. It's not always easy conjuring up something you don't usually make and you never know, your kind words might encourage them to start cooking vegetarian meals more often!
4. Show off your veggie status
Many people are misled into thinking that a vegetarian diet is bland, limiting and not always nutritious. Well, they're wrong and you can prove it! Why not contribute to the day by taking over a recipe you've made? Not only will your host and the other guests appreciate your efforts, but upon tasting what you've made they'll realise being vegetarian isn't a bad thing at all. Have a word with your host so your food doesn't clash and if you're not sure what to choose, take a look at our great Christmas menu ideas here
5. Enjoy yourself
Christmas is all about chilling out, catching up with friends and family and just having a good time. If you've followed these tips you're in for a carefree day and hopefully a first-class veggie dinner. Sit back, relax and enjoy the festivities!
General Food Tips for Christmas
Roasty heaven - Roast potatoes should be cooked separately from the meat and in vegetable fat or oil.
Stuff your gravy - Vegetarian gravy granules and mixes are readily available in supermarkets. The majority of commercially available stuffing mixes are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Olives - An acquired taste, granted, but the stuffed varieties filled with garlic or sun dried tomatoes can be favourites. Check you haven't got anchovies in them though, veggies don't eat fish.
* Soft Drinks - Some canned orange drinks use gelatine as a carrier for added Beta Carotene. (This would not appear on the ingredients panel).
* Crunchtastic - Crisps often use whey as a flavour carrier so ready salted are the only flavour that is always vegetarian. Check the ingredients.
* Chocolate - Watch out for whey and emulsifiers.
* Look out for vegetarian labels or contact manufacturers consumer helpline to find out if they’re suitable for vegetarians.
Delicious Dips - Hummus is always a fab dip.
Fish Fury - Avoid Taramasalata though as it has fish roe in it.
Choice Cheese - Most supermarket cheeses now use vegetarian rennet, so just make sure you choose one with a label indicating that it is suitable for vegetarians.
Mince pie magic - Christmas puddings and mince pies are no longer a problem for vegetarians since many brands now use vegetable suet and this doesn't affect the taste, so meat-eaters will enjoy them too. Some brands will be suitable for vegans too - look out for The Vegan Society symbol on packs.
Trifle-ing matters - You can make jelly for your trifle using vegetarian or vegan jelly crystals.
Rudolph knows - If you buy cocktail cherries check that they do not contain cochineal E120, made from crushed insects.