The Ultimate Guide to Vegan Christmas Catering

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I love Christmas. Of course, my Christmas catering is made easy by the fact that everyone in my immediate family, who comes to my Christmas lunch, is vegan. No arguments about the food there!

The second thing that makes Christmas lunch stress-free for me is that we ditched the traditional Christmas meal with the pressure to provide a vegan Christmas alternative to turkey. Every year in about September we gather to argue about what 'theme' we'll have for Christmas this year. (Cue my husband protesting, "'Christmas' is a theme!") In past years we've done Mexican food (twice), a tiki theme with blended cocktails served in pineapples, Mediterranean on the terrace by the pool, Indian, Greek and that one year that we had to put mango in every course. This year we're aiming for a Spanish feast complete with a trifle layered in red and yellow to look like the flag.

I know Christmas can be a seriously stressful time for vegans and their non-vegan families. If you're newly vegan, you might have no idea what to cook yourself for Christmas lunch. Or you might be facing the prospect of a large family gathering where everybody criticises your choice and comments on your food. You might face not being catered for and going hungry, ironically, on the one day of the year where you'd otherwise be guaranteed to overeat.

And if you're a non-vegan hosting a vegan friend or family member, you're probably freaking out too! You've got enough stress at Christmas without having to worry about special dietary requirements. What if you get it wrong? What if you cook something experimental and it turns out horrible? 

I've had so many people express these worries to me over the past few weeks. You're not alone. So I've put together a quick guide to EVERY stage of Christmas catering, from drinks to dessert. It's really not as hard as you think. Try something new, and enjoy!

Drinks

Many people don’t realise that wine, beer and cider aren’t always vegan. Don’t panic—heaps of readily available, conventional options are perfectly fine and it’s relatively easy to find out what’s what.

Wine. At time of writing, in Australia it’s a requirement that allergens (including milk, egg and fish products, which are sometimes used during the fining process) are declared on the label. Check on the back, near where the alcohol content is declared—if any of those products have been used in the production of the wine, they’ll be noted there. If it doesn’t say anything, you’re fine. And many wines are actually labeled as vegan-friendly, if that makes you feel better.

Beer. Beer is most likely to be vegan: the basic ingredients are water, hops, yeast and malt (all vegan) and the production method doesn’t involve animal products. Asahi, Coopers, Carlton, Hahn, Corona, XXXX, Stella Artois and James Boag beers and James Squire beers and ciders are all vegan to my knowledge. If your taste runs more towards craft, you’re fine with 4 Pines, Mountain Goat, Feral and Little Creatures (although Little Creatures ciders are not vegan). Small batch and seasonal beers can be iffy, because the Australian brewing scene is off the hook and brewers are experimenting with adding everything from Snickers bars to bacon. If it has an obviously non-vegan ingredient in the title or description I avoid it, of course, but everything else is a judgement call.

Cocktails. Many spirits and liqueurs are vegan, unless there’s an obvious non-vegan component (like creamy Baileys or egg-based Advokaat). If in doubt, you can always check Barnivore. If your cocktail calls for a non-vegan ingredient, try substituting: here’s a guide to using aquafaba instead of egg white for a great whiskey sour, and here’s a great article about vegan cocktail substitutes including 23 recipes. (Note: this article mentions the use of animal bone char to refine sugar, which is not the case in Australia.)

My favourite cocktail to make around Christmas time is this version of the Santorini Sunrise—the recipe suggests using agave nectar instead of honey,  but I actually prefer to just leave it out altogether.

Nibbles

You don’t have to go to any special effort to find vegan snacky things; your local supermarket has plenty. The vast majority of original, unflavoured potato chips, pretzels, pringles, rice crackers, water crackers, popcorn and corn chips are vegan. Just skim the labels for any mentions of milk, cheese, lactose or anti-caking agent (which often contains dairy). Many dips are vegan, but if you can’t be bothered reading the ingredients: I’ve never seen a non-vegan salsa, plain hommus is also always a safe bet, and if in doubt, just mash an avocado with some lemon juice and salt. Roasted nuts, dried fruit, olives and Indian bhuja snack mix are also easy options for vegan nibbles. And raw vegetable sticks, OBVIOUSLY!

Canapés and Hot Snacks

If cooking vegan canapés feels too intimidating, you’ll find that many vegetable spring rolls, dumplings and vegetarian pastries in the freezer section at the supermarket happen to be vegan. I like to make simple tomato tarts—combine halved cherry tomatoes, finely chopped red onion, fresh basil, balsamic and a little salt, then spoon into squares of puff pastry and pinch the sides to create a rustic tart. (Many puff pastries are vegan, just check the label and avoid butter or animal fats.) If you live somewhere that's summery at Christmas time, like I do, cold canapés like veggie sushi and rice paper rolls are a winner. For the ambitious, here's a recipe for vegan mozzarella, cherry tomato and basil skewers. But if that's all too much, just put a slice of avocado on a water cracker and grind some black pepper over it. 

Centrepieces

The traditional vision of a whole roast turkey or ham in the centre of the Christmas table is a bit anxiety-inducing for vegans. There’s really nothing we can make that compares as a giant centrepiece for the Christmas meal. But if you or the vegan in your life would feel happier with some ‘meat’ on the plate, there are lots of vegan ‘roast’ options available to buy at this time of year. Check the vegetarian section of your supermarket fridge, or if there’s a vegan shop in town, you’ll be spoiled for choice.

A lot of vegans are perfectly content to make a meal out of side dishes, but if you’re set on a home-made traditional centrepiece dish, try this ultimate vegan lentil walnut loaf, Jamie Oliver's vegan nut roast or this vegan Christmas tofu turkey

For a different take on a vegan centrepiece, try stuffed capsicums, a whole roast cauliflower, a festive pie or a dish of stuffing (I also love to roll it up and make stuffing balls).

Side dishes

This isn’t rocket science—if you’re making salads or vegetable sides, just avoid doing or adding anything non-vegan to them. If you’re hosting a vegan for Christmas, you could roast the veggies in olive oil in a separate pan to the meat, so they stay vegan-friendly. Make sure there’s at least one salad or vegetable side on your table that doesn’t have cheese, mayo or other non-vegan ingredients added. Vegan doesn’t have to mean plain or boring; jazz up veggies and salads with toasted nuts, dried cranberries and fresh herbs. If the only vegan options are sides, make a salad that includes rice, pasta and/or legumes, so that it’s more of a meal than just leafy greens. Here's some inspiration:

Broccolini and Asparagus with Almonds
The Best Vegan Pasta Salad 
Roast Vegetable Rice Salad
Balsamic Rosemary Roasted Vegetables
Kale Salad with Apricots and Almonds
Chilli-Charred Brussel Sprouts
Vegan Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Crispy Roast Potatoes

Desserts

Converting your Christmas cake or pudding to a vegan recipe will make literally no difference to the taste or end product, and nobody will know it’s vegan unless you tell them. Replace dairy milk with plant milk, butter with Nuttelex and just leave out the eggs (seriously, the idea that cakes need eggs to bind is a lie - just add a similar amount of extra liquid to make up for the volume of the eggs). Conventional custard powder is vegan so you can quickly whip up some vegan Christmas custard with powder, soy or almond milk, a little bit of sugar and some brandy if you’re into that. Supermarkets carry a small range of soy, coconut and almond-based ice creams; in our family we have an addictive Christmas ice cream pudding recipe that is made by simply mixing dried fruit and nuts soaked in A LOT of alcohol through a semi-melted tub of So Good vanilla icecream, then re-freezing. Jars of fruit mince are often vegan; make your own mince pies with a vegan short crust pastry that happens to be vegan (Borg’s brand is labelled as vegan on the front). 

Here are some vegan holiday dessert recipes for inspiration:

Egg-free Pavlova
Vegan Gingerbread People
Christmas Boozy Fruitcake
Vegan Fig and Custard Tart
2-ingredient Dark Chocolate Truffles
Vegan Summer Trifle Cups
Vegan Christmas Pudding

Guys, I hope all this has helped you feel inspired, not intimidated. Vegan Christmas cooking doesn't have to be hard or even that different than what you'd normally cook. If in doubt, keep it simple. If you're hosting a vegan, they'll be super appreciative that you went to the effort to make something for them. If you're a vegan going to a non-vegan Christmas gathering, take along a couple of these dishes, be generous with sharing and wow your family.

Mixed Christmas meals can be awkward on both sides; remember the season, be gracious to each other and just R-E-L-A-X. Merry Christmas!