No Thanksgiving turkey? No Christmas ham? No turducken? For families consisting of mostly vegetarians, preparing a traditional holiday feast has its challenges. Today, an estimated 6–10% of Americans identify as vegetarian. That number seems a bit low considering how many meat-free menu options there are at local restaurants—a lot of them tasty enough to tempt meat-eaters. Also keep in mind that in the United States, 6% is about 20 million people.
Which brings us back to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even if you’re tasked with fixing a meal for a house full of vegetarians, you can still deliver something festive and traditional. Think in terms of a main course that’s a grand assemblage of tastes. In most cases, the animals we eat for food—beef, chicken, pork, turkey—come in large sizes that make them the meal’s obvious centerpiece. You can’t do anything spectacular with a single potato, a tomato or an ear of corn, but you can have a vegetarian main course that’s a striking mélange of flavors and textures. “I have a couple of vegetarian dishes that I’ve done like that—both rice dishes,” says Mark Eastman, owner of Chefs’ Haven in Hockessin. “One is wild rice with spinach, roasted Brussels sprouts, cipollini onions, caramelized onion broth and fresh herbs. Another is brown basmati rice with roasted fennel, braised leeks, red wine sauce and white truffle essence.”
When it comes to visual impact, there are two rules: Make it big and make it colorful. Think one large dish with individual servings doled out by the host at the table, whether it’s a huge salad, a steaming pot of soup or a fancy bowl of pasta primavera. One of my favorites is a goat-cheese soufflé baked in a colorful ceramic dish.
Whatever the dish or the format, colorful vegetables like fresh tomatoes, green beans, asparagus, and red and yellow bell peppers are great eye candy. Personal chef and Delaware wine importer Paul Cullen swears by his meatless frittata, with a yellow base of fluffy eggs served in a steaming iron skillet with milky cheeses, asparagus, multicolored small potatoes, bell pepper slices and tomatoes.
While a longtime vegetarian may no longer crave meaty flavors, what about guests who are still carnivores? “I use liquid smoke and soy sauce when I want something to taste like beef,” says Jason Barrowcliff, executive chef at Brandywine Prime in Chadds Ford.
People under 40 may not know that local mushroom houses only started growing those big, beefy portobellos in the 1990s.
Today, vegetable lovers swear by their meaty flavor and texture, especially when cooked on a smoking grill. Another way to have a faux-meat impact: Serve red wine sauces and reduced tomato sauces with entrees. Carmelizing some vegetables—especially onions—also adds depth and richness.
People under 40 may not know that local mushroom houses only started growing those big, beefy portobellos in the 1990s. Today, vegetable lovers swear by their meaty flavor and texture, especially when cooked on a smoking grill.
At Brandywine Prime, Barrowcliff recently offered his popular vegetarian chili, with vegan cheeses, vegetable broth, tomatoes and portobello schnitzel. My wife uses a ricer to make a portobello caviar lookalike.
Don’t abandon traditional side dishes over the holidays. Baked or mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, and sautéed spinach and kale can also be integrated into the entree. Of course, wine is also vegetarian—and, in most cases, vegan as well. Reds pairs especially well with savory vegetarian dishes, while whites work with greens and dishes with creamier sauces and texture.
And did we save room for dessert? Carnivores and vegetarians have plenty in common once the dinner plates are cleared and the sweets, cheeses, coffee and Cognac are passed around.