That is until Christmas rolls around.
This time of year can be particularly hard to navigate, especially if you’re newly vegan or surrounded by meat-eating friends and family members. There’s temptation at just about every turn and table (which sometimes proves hard to resist after a few Christmas wines). And even when you do hold strong, without adequate preparation, you can feel like you’re missing out. (We’ve all been there, ending up with a plate of potatoes, bread and salad because they’re the only things we can eat.)
If this sounds familiar, we’d like to help. While we’re not exactly culinary experts, we do know our way around a meat-free dish. So we asked the RIISE team to share (and make) a few of their favourite show-stopping, meat-free mains that could hold their own on any holiday table. Here are our top three recommendations.
Mushroom Wellington from NY Times
Mushrooms can be quite a decisive topic. To some people they are nature’s answer to prime rib. To others they are a rubbery alien-like abomination. Personally, I love the little guys and celebrate their full mycorrhizal network glory. But if you’re on the fence, this might not be the recipe for you.
Mushrooms aren’t just the star of this show. They’re the director, producer and union rep. This didn’t really hit me until I laid out all my ingredients and was met with the fungi mountain dominating my kitchen bench. I spent the better part of the afternoon cleaning, trimming, chopping, blitzing and frying these guys. Needless to say, you’ll want a Christmas-sized amount of time to make this thing.
While none of the steps are difficult (don’t be intimidated by working with the pastry or assembling the wellington itself), there are a lot of them. But put in the time and you will be rewarded. The result was a rich and satisfying umami flavour bomb that can stare down any meaty main.
While that aforementioned mountain will cook down, the final result is designed to feed a crowd. Or in the case of my partner and I, two people for three or four days.
Whole roasted cauliflower from Jamie Oliver
First things first: I’m definitely not completely incompetent in the kitchen…but I wouldn’t say I’m the most adventurous cook. I like food I can throw together – quickly. So I opted for a dish that didn’t have a lot of prep work and required minimal intervention.
As far as complexity goes, this was a simple enough recipe to follow. You’re essentially just putting together a mixture of herbs and spices, coating a whole cauliflower in the mix and then chucking it in the oven.
I’ve had some amazing whole roasted cauliflower dishes out, but I’d never tried to cook one myself. This first attempt didn’t disappoint! I went a little heavier on the seasoning ingredients than the recipe’s suggestion to really make sure there was plenty of flavour (throw in extra paprika, olive oil, salt and garlic if you want to follow my lead). It probably could have used another half an hour in the oven to really crisp up and go golden on the outside, but, overall, this was definitely something I’d dish up on Christmas.
I served the dish with steamed greens and harissa and honey roasted carrots. The carrots are a bit of a crowd favourite and super simple to make. Just mix a few tablespoons of honey, red harissa paste, olive oil and salt in a bowl, pour over chopped carrots and roast until tender.
Overall, a tasty and relatively easy roast dish that serves about four moderately hungry adults.
Sweet potato bake from The Spruce Eats website
I have made both of these dishes many a Christmas Day, though I managed to thoroughly bungle both on this attempt. It turns out that, despite how many times you think you’ve made something, it doesn’t hurt for one to actually follow the recipe in order for it to turn out as planned! Who would have thought?
So, having nailed this several times, but fudged it for the first time recently, my first tip, for both recipes, is to use pecans as the recipes say, instead of walnuts as I managed to do. Sometimes the recipe does know best and it’s not safe to go rogue. I also highly recommend not burning whichever nut you are using. If your nuts come out of the oven a bit black like mine did, they have long graduated from being “lightly toasted”.
Despite the misadventures (which are, of course, entirely down to my idiocy), both dishes are absolutely delicious. The kale salad feels very Christmassy with the addition of the cranberries, and the casserole is sweet enough to also be offered as a dessert. Both are big hits among the non-vegans at my place.
We shortlisted heaps of recipes for this Christmas special but unfortunately didn’t have time to make, taste and film them all. But if you’re still hungry for Christmas inspiration, here are the dishes we’ll be trying next: