Written by Jan of Family Bites.
For me, Thanksgiving and Christmas are about coming together around the table to share a special meal with those you love. I’m sure it’s the same for most of you, and I’m certain you’d agree that when it comes to holiday entertaining, most celebration menus lend themselves to focusing on the meaty main dish. And for good reason too. What’s not to love about a turkey roasted to golden perfection, bacon-wrapped anything, and glazed hams? Turns out a lot, if you happen to be a vegetarian.
Meat-laden meals are great if you’re an omnivore, but are certainly less than appealing if you happen to be a veggie eater. All too often, those who opt for a plant-based diet leave a special occasion dinner feeling as though they’ve consumed nothing more than an assortment of side dishes for their feast. While this wouldn’t bother me (and I’m a meat eater) I know that not all vegetarians feel the same way.
After years of planning holiday parties at a catering company, I would often hear from 1) meat-free guests who wished there had been a main course for them to enjoy at the dinner/party they were invited to, and 2) hostesses who felt fatigued by trying to plan a menu that was welcoming and delicious for all, including those who eat a plant-based diet. In fact, when it came to planning Christmas parties, the number one question I received before the holidays was “what should I serve to my vegetarian guest(s)?”
I eventually came up with a few tips for welcoming herbivores to the holiday feast. Each suggestion is a small way to ensure that what’s being served for dinner can be eaten by whoever is lucky enough to be attendance, regardless of their dietary preference.
Find Out the Specifics of Your Guest’s Dietary Restrictions
I have yet to meet two vegetarians who eat the same way. Some enjoy fish, while others do not. Some eat seafood, but many pass it over. There are also some vegetarians who avoid all animal products, including eggs and dairy. Don’t be afraid to ask your guests some questions in order to make a meal that will work for both of you.
Offer (Mostly) Fruit and Vegetable-Based Appetizers
After spending days (weeks?) preparing for the big feast, I don’t want to see my guests filling up on platters of creamy cheeses, overflowing bowls of spiced nuts or sausages tucked inside a puff pastry parcel. I want those ravenous appetites saved for the meal I’ve been working on since last Saturday. Instead, I prefer to serve something simple, offering a small and satisfying bite, while leaving plenty of room in the tummy for the main meal.
My favorite appetizer is a small demi-tasse of soup. It can be prepared a few days in advance, is typically liked by everyone including the pesco/meat-o-tarians, and only takes a quick reheating before it can be passed around. Just remember to make your soup with vegetable stock so everyone on the guest list can consume it. Suggested recipes to try:
- Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
- Roasted Carrot and Cilantro Soup
- Endive with Blue Cheese and Toasted Almonds
- Cheddar and Hazlenut Stuffed Apricots
Make Your Side Dishes and Desserts Veggie-Friendly
If you substitute vegetable stock for turkey broth, and select side dishes that don’t contain any meat, you won’t have to make several special dishes for the vegetarians in attendance. When it comes to the stuffing, if you opt to put yours in the bird, reserve a few portions and cook them separately in a baking dish, away from the meat. Don’t forget to give some thought to the dessert as well. Most gelatin-based sweets contain animal products and pie crusts will need to be made with an all-butter base, as lard won’t be an option. Suggested recipes to try:
- Apple-Fennel Salad with Pecans and Pomegranates
- Butternut Squash Gratin
- Simple Roasted Vegetables
- Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Parsnips
Serve a Vegetarian Main Course Too
I can’t stress this point enough. Don’t just offer an assortment of sides, and hope your guests leave feeling sated. Plan to serve a meat-free main dish along with your turkey or other holiday protein. I like to prepare something hearty so I feel as though I’ve fed my guests a proper dinner. Suggested recipes to try:
- Twice-baked butternut squash
- Potato Rosemary Strudel
- Butternut squash whole-wheat mac and cheese
- Leek and mushroom bake with polenta crust
- Quinoa-stuffed artichokes
|Caramelized Onion and Root Vegetable Pot Pies|| || |
- 4 Tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium Vidalia onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 medium parsnip, peeled and diced
- 1 small sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 1 cup diced butternut squash
- 3 Tablespoons flour
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley
- 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper
- 1 – 9” unbaked pie crust
- 1 egg + 1 Tablespoon cold water (egg wash)
- Heat one tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the onion, season lightly with salt, and stir until evenly coated with the butter.
- Lower the heat and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the onions are soft, golden brown and slightly caramelized.
- Add the carrot, parsnip, sweet potato and butternut squash. Cook until softened about 8 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a clean bowl and wipe the pot clean (don’t worry about any browned bits that may stick – they will add flavour to the sauce).
- Return the Dutch oven to the stove and melt the remaining butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir until well combined, cooking for at least two minutes. Slowly stir in the broth, whisking as you go. Scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.
- Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly. Check the seasonings and adjust the salt and pepper if needed. Add the cooked vegetables, peas, parsley and thyme to the pot and stir well.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Divide the filling evenly between four ovenproof soup bowls. Set the bowls on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Divide the pie crust into four equal portions and roll each piece into a 6” circle.
- Brush the outside edges of each bowl with the egg wash, then place the pastry on top. Trim the circle to ½” larger than the top of the bowl, and fold over the underside of the dough, pressing it to the bowl to make it stick.
- Brush the dough with the egg wash and make three slits in the top. Place the pies on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filling is heated through.
Tell me, what is your favorite vegetarian dish for entertaining?