Note from the editor: I cannot count the times I hated holiday family dinners as a vegetarian. Each time my family acted like they had just found out I was a vegetarian! Even after years and years, no effort was made to accommodate my dietary preferences. It was instead sort of vengeful, as if having nothing to eat at those gatherings was my punishment for eating vegan or vegetarian foods. If I was going to eat like that, family members would scold, then I needed to just accept I could not eat food at family gatherings. This article was written for both the vegetarians and vegans who have been going through what I have just described for years with their family, but also for those family members who would like to show some extra care, as a gift, to their vegan and vegetarian relatives and guests. Feel free to forward this article to relatives.)
Family get-togethers nowadays can comprise many different diets. Often vegetarians and vegans present special challenges to family members who are not familiar with those dietary preferences. This article is for those family members. A vegetarian does not eat meat, but will eat dairy products and/or eggs. A vegan will not eat anything with meat, eggs, or dairy products. So a vegetarian can eat anything a vegan can eat, but not vice versa. With just a little forethought, these dietary preferences are not hard to accommodate. And your vegetarian/vegan guests will appreciate the efforts that show you cared. Often vegans and vegetarians resent the fact that no one cared about them having access to food that they can eat at family events, and with this little preparation, you can set the tone to be one of inclusion.
Many of our traditional fall and winter celebratory foods can be made without meat, and even without butter or eggs. Using a soy based margarine like Willow’s Run, instead of butter, can open up foods to vegans at the table. Substituting soy milk for cow’s milk in recipes can also render them edible to vegans. Little tricks like that can make food accessible to all during your parties. Things like apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie, for example, can be made with vegetarian ingredients, and even vegan ingredients. Mashed potatoes can be made without milk or with soymilk, and with soy margarine, instead of butter. Glazed carrots can be made with soy margarine instead of butter, and brown sugar. Baked yams are vegan (but marshmallows are not!).
Even gravy can be vegan. Roast 6 T. whole wheat flour over low heat until it just starts to smell nutty. Remove from heat. In another pan, saute ¼ c. chopped onions and 3 sliced mushrooms in 2 T. heated oil. Add the heated flour and whisk occasionally, as it cooks over low heat for 5 minutes. Then add 2 c. water or vegetable stock, 1 t. thyme, 2 t. marjoram, 2 T. soy sauce, and ½ t. minced lemon peel (optional). Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes, whisking every few minutes, as it thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste. Vegetarian/vegan breads and rolls are not hard to find, and thus stuffing is not hard to make either. To make vegan stuffing, choose a base, such as breadcrumbs or rice. Add some nuts or seeds. Add some herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, or parsley, as well as salt and pepper. Add some sauted garlic or onions. Add celery, cranberries, sliced water chestnuts, whatever else you might think of. Bake in an oiled, covered pan at 350 degrees for ½ hour.
A good vegetarian/vegan entrée alternative to meat is breaded, fried tofu. Slice firm tofu into pieces ½” thick. Then dip them in a mixture of the following: ½ c. cornmeal, ½ t. salt, ½ t. paprika, and a little salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Pan fry in hot oil until golden. Another delectable vegetarian entrée is the marinated Portobello mushroom. Buy large Portobello mushrooms. Slice the tip of the stems off and discard. Lie mushrooms on their backs, like upside down umbrellas, then pour soy sauce/tamari over the gills and let marinate. After an hour, drain and place the mushrooms in a pan. Cover each mushroom with grated cheeses. Place in an oven at 350 degrees and cook until the cheese is browned and bubbling. And you can use small Portobello mushrooms in this manner to make appetizers. With a fare like this, a vegetarian at your party could end up with a plate of mashed potatoes and gravy, breaded tofu, stuffing and vegetables, to be followed with a big piece of pie. With a little planning, you can avoid the vegetarian of the family eating only veggie sticks, or chips, all night.
For morning get-togethers with vegans, try this crumbcake. The only ingredient you need to get specially beforehand for this is soy milk, which is available at most grocery stores. Mix together 3 cups white flour, 1 c. granulated sugar, 1 t. cinnamon, ¾ t. nutmeg, ½ t. allspice. Then mix ¾ c. soy margarine in little pieces into the dry ingredients. Mix until it is just slightly lumpy, and then reserve 1 c of this for the topping later. After you take the one cup out, then mix in 1 ¼ c. soymilk, 3 t. baking powder, and ½ c. raisins (optional). Mix this together and pour into an oiled 8×8 pan. Sprinkle the 1 c. of reserved topping over the top. Sprinkle ½ c. broken pecans over the top. Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 minutes or until a knife in the center comes out clean.
Many easy appetizers can also be vegan, from bagels with hummus, to bean dips and chips. To make an easy bean dip, measure 1 c. pinto beans (from a can), then mash them in a bowl. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, ½ c. finely chopped onion, ¾ t. salt, a little black pepper, a little crushed red peppers, and ¼ t. each of dried basil, mustard powder and powdered cumin. Mix well, cover and chill. As I said, many vegans and vegetarians dread dinners with family as there is no food they can eat because meat or dairy is in everything. Using the tips of substitutions above, and learning basics about vegan and vegetarian eating, you can make dinner enjoyable for everyone, from meat eaters to vegetarians and vegans.