Experts share their best plant-based Christmas tips

By Jess Spiro, 20 December 2021

Christmas might be a time for festive feasting, but it’s not always known for being the most plant-based or vegan-friendly. Whether you’re someone exploring this way of eating or you’re hosting plant-based guests, we chatted to a few expert about what to serve.

No, you don't have to cook two separate menus

The first thing to note here is that you don't need to have an entirely separate plant-based menu. If you make a few careful substitutions, you'll be able to have a couple of dishes that serve both vegans and meat-eaters. Chef Nicola Kagoro says that by using plant-based alternatives, you'll get a similar plant-based result. "Easy vegan substitutes for gravy include adding plant-based milk to make a veggie gravy thicker or use vegan cheese grated into cheese sauces." This way you can still have things like cauliflower cheese to serve both diets. Parusha Naidoo, food writer and newly minted cookbook author (find her digital cookbook, Least Effort Most Reward here) also suggests using vegan-friendly stock to make the gravy. "Try making cauliflower wings as a side or even potato salad with vegan mayonnaise is good!" Jo Richter of Summerhill Estate in Durban shared his epic formula for a flavourful, vegan-friendly jus that comprises dried mushrooms, miso paste, soy sauce, Ponzu, tomato, gochujang and ketchup. "I'll add these in when caramelising my mirepoix and then depending on how rich and dark I want it, I add red wine that I reduce and then allow the mix to start caramelizing again." He continues this process until everything is deeply-coloured and rich before adding water, a bit of corn starch and a bit of oil, such as macadamia or cashew to add a bit of weight and creaminess. "These complex flavours are something that I often miss in vegetable-based cooking," he adds.

How to save your gravyGet the recipe for mushroom-and-tarragon gravy here.

Plan a smart menu, with these quick wins

While Christmas is often steeped in tradition, every year's menu has doesn't have to be the same. If you really want to make your plant-based guests feel welcome (and honestly, why invite them if you don't want them to have a good time?) put together a menu that includes vegan-friendly dishes that meat-eaters will love, too. "My favourite festive main would be a biryani or pilau," says Parusha, "It's a perfect party rice for any special occasion." Jo says that his Christmas menu often includes fondue for the whole table, which solves everything. "On Christmas, we eat fondue, it’s interactive and goes on forever so it just makes sense," he says. "For those that are plant-based we simply set up a separate pot of hot oil and buy an array of tender veg that doesn’t need long to cook!" Nicola Kagoro says she often serves dishes such as collard greens, sweet potatoes, lots of roast veggies and mujarada (a spiced rice and lentil dish) because "I know that everyone, meat-eaters and vegans, will love them!" Linda Engelbrecht, founder of The Honest Grazer, says that variety is key. "A harvest table spread is always a great idea when catering to many diets." She adds that roast root veggies will always be a hit because "who doesn't love garlic-roasted baby potatoes?"

Get the recipe for roast pumpkin wedges with Swiss chard and quinoa pilau here.

What are some good plant-based dishes to serve?

A quinoa-and-legume-based dish is another nice way to include a plant-based protein option that can be enjoyed by the whole table – Woolies' Heat and Eat brown rice and quinoa is a great choice that can be spruced up easily with some nuts and dried fruit," says Linda Engelbrecht. "And don't forget to add some greens – roast Brussels sprouts and asparagus are my festive favourites for sure." If done properly, plant-based mains can be as impressive as meaty ones, says Nicola. "My favourite vegan main dish to make over the festive season is beet Wellington with a balsamic reduction," she explains. "I like this easy dish because it's a good sharing option that brings people together and is easily enjoyed by meat-eaters, too." When it comes to dessert, Linda says that you can't go wrong with ice cream. "I love chocolate and vegan ice cream! My favourite is Woolworths' vegan caramel coconut ice cream, topped with fresh berries and chopped Lindt chocolate  – add some gold dust for festive flair!"

Roasted Pineapple and coconut Vegan Ice creamGet the recipe for roasted pineapple-and-coconut vegan ice cream here.

What other advice do you have?

"I would only advise against making things with 'a little egg' or 'a little cheese' or 'a little milk' and expecting vegans to eat it," says Parusha. "I think if you want to replicate the meat options, Beyond Meat and nut roasts are great," Linda says, "My advice would be to provide a variety of options, to make sure their plates won't only have potato on it." "My go-to rule for a balanced plate is to make sure I have something red, yellow/orange and green on the table," she continues. "However, if the host is unsure of what to cater, simply ask the guest what they'd like to eat. I love the concept of a sharing party, each guest contributes a meal to the table – this way everybody has something they actually want to eat." Parusha says that sometimes sticking with tradition is best – and that it's pretty easy to replicate the classics. "I like doing what creates the most joy," she explains. "Sometimes replacing meat with readily available meat alternatives, mushrooms or brinjals and keeping it classic is best as it connects to memory. I know my family and friends like traditional meat dishes and that will never change."

Vegan-Christmas-stuffed-butternut-roastGet the recipe for stuffed butternut roast here.

Find more vegan recipe ideas here.

Jess Spiro

Article by Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.
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