During the holidays, young people return from college, relatives arrive from near and far, and we connect with seldom seen friends. For an estimated one family in four (and the number is growing), festive holiday meals must be adjusted to accommodate one or more vegetarians. These include young people with concerns about animal rights and environmental issues, and older individuals who have had a cancer, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease scare. We also find people of all ages who are reluctant to gain a pound or five year after year, and who seek meals that won’t make them feed overstuffed. There are many ways to comfortably extend the range of fare at our celebration meals that go far beyond pulling out a dreary little veggie burger for the lone vegetarian. In fact, the accommodation to vegetarian tastes can make our holiday spread far prettier and more colourful. The menu ideas below also are suitable for the vegetarians (including vegans) among those we love, and also for people with food sensitivities or celiac disease.

A large squash, stuffed with seasoned cooked grains and baked, can make a spectacular centerpiece. The stuffing includes basmati rice, quinoa, onion, parsley, walnuts or pecans, sun-dried tomatoes, and seasonings such as basil and oregano. You can create your own stuffing combination or use the recipe for Sensational Stuffed Squash, along with Good Gravy, and a delicious nut loaf in “Raising Vegetarian Children” (Stepaniak and Melina, McGraw-Hill, 2003).

Another seasonal menu item is Hazelnut Paté, a delicious appetizer that everyone will enjoy. As an entrée on wintry days, vegetarians, including vegans, will enjoy Shepherd’s Pie (made with vegetarian “ground round instead of hamburger). German Chocolate Cake with Coconut Squash Cake Icing may well become the favourite chocolate dessert for everyone at your table. (You could have your guests guess what vegetable is part of the icing; likely no one will guess correctly.)  (See excellent recipes in “Cooking Vegetarian” by Forest and Melina, and in “Becoming Vegetarian”, (US title, “Becoming Vegetarian” (Canadian title by Melina and Davis.

For those whose family gathering includes people with food sensitivities, squash stuffed with grains is a welcome offering, and can be served with one of several excellent gluten-free gravies. Another popular choice, and my favourite in the world of gluten-free baking, is Pumpkin Spice Bread. Ultra-Fudge Brownies and Heavenly Date Squares are good too; all are made without a scrap of eggs, dairy, or wheat. See recipes for these in the “Food Allergy Survival Guide” (Melina, Stepaniak and Aronson, Healthy Living Publications, 2004)

The simple yet elegant dish pictured here is perfect for the holiday season and adds colour and a festive touch any time of the year. Furthermore, it is nutritious, being an excellent source of vitamins A and C plus a good source of calcium, iron, potassium, and vitamin B6.  Made with flaxseed oil, a serving becomes an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Steamed white rice can be heaped in the center of the wreath to give a snow-like appearance.

Kale and Red Pepper Holly Ring

Deep green kale tossed with bright red bell peppers, resembles a holly wreath when presented in a circle on a plate. As this way of serving greens is likely to have broad appeal, you may want to double or triple the recipe for larger groups.

6 cups              thinly sliced kale greens

1/4 cup            diced sweet red pepper

2 tbsp              flaxseed oil or olive oil

1 tbsp              balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp              tamari or soy sauce

Fold kale leaves in half lengthwise and remove the rib. Then slice thinly. Place kale in steamer, sprinkle with red pepper. Cover and steam over medium-high heat until the peppers are tender-crisp. Drain. Combine oil, vinegar and tamari in a bowl large enough to hold kale. Toss kale and peppers into vinegar mixture and place on warm platter. Create a wreath shape by pushing the seasoned kale toward edges of platter, leaving an open space in center. If desired, heap steamed rice or place a rounded nut loaf in the center of the ring.

Makes about 4 servings

Vesanto Melina, is a Registered Dietitian and consultant who lives in Langley BC. She is co-author of seven food and nutrition classics. Web: www.nutrispeak.com Email: vesanto@nutrispeak.com ; Phone: 604-882-6782.  

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