It’s that time of year again for vegetarians, when we brace for interrogations on our lifestyle choices and get ready to load up on a few extra servings of mashed potatoes at holiday gatherings.
In my meat-and-potatoes kind of family, the turkey missing from my plate has caused plenty of explaining about my life-style choices and personal philosophy. It has also inspired a handful of concerned relatives to become novice dietitians, bombarding me with well-meaning but questionable nutrition advice.
All of this is par for the course as a vegetarian. So, while you may not be able to avoid being the punch-line of a few herbivore related jokes, being vegetarian does not mean you need to miss out on the host of delicious food the holiday season has to offer.
In the past, I have been guilty of making up for a lack of vegetarian options at holiday gatherings by eating obscene amounts of Christmas cookies. While I never had a problem with this arrangement, desserts are just the icing on the cake to the plethora of hearty vegetarian possibilities—yes, pun intended.
For me, holiday fare is all about comfort food. So, there is nothing like thick creamy soup to stave off the bleak December chill. Traditionally, clam chowder has been a Christmas Eve favorite in my family. Since I do not eat seafood, I started bringing roasted-red pepper soup to the gathering.
Flavorful, rich and smoky, red pepper soup is not only delicious but very simple to prepare. To make, sauté half an onion and 2 cloves of garlic. Add a large can of tomatoes, a jar of roasted red peppers and one large teaspoon of each dried basil, oregano and fennel. Let everything cook together for 10 minutes and then add three-quarters of cup of heavy cream and puree until smooth. If the soup tastes bitter, add a teaspoon of sugar. Garnish generously with black pepper. If you are feeling lazy, you can cheat by mixing roasted red pepper marinara sauce with cream to your desired consistency— no one will ever know the difference. Serve with fresh bread. Bonus: the aroma may even make your meat-eating family members jealous.
Another vegetarian delicacy everyone can get on board with is fondue. My grandma’s cheese fondue has become a New Year’s Eve Tradition in our family. My grandma shared her recipe with me, which has been used so much over the last 50 years that the writing is barely legible. To make, warm two cups of wine to bubbling in a saucepan. Add two cups of Gruyère cheese and six cups of Swiss. Incorporate cheese one handful at a time, stirring continuously. It is crucial to stir diligently to avoid ending up with one massive glob of cheese. Mix one-quarter teaspoon of nutmeg and one teaspoon of cornstarch into a quarter cup of sherry. Add black pepper to taste. Serve warm with cubes of crusty French bread for dipping. *The original source of this recipe is unknown.
Another holiday potluck strategy is to steal the show with fantastic sides. As the resident vegetarian, you are tasked with assuring that vegetables get their fair representation. ‘Tis the season to embrace root vegetables, and I encourage you to think beyond the basic potato. While sweet potatoes, winter squash, rutabaga and beets may be a step away from the traditional, they bring festive color to holiday dishes.
Its up to you how fancy you want to get, as the countless vegetarian and vegan bloggers have proved, the skies the limit. The internet can provide inspiration for re-creating vegetarian versions of practically any dish imaginable. Its time to get creative. Happy cooking and happy holidays!