Vegan family sharpens carving knife (and their teeth)

Vegetable side dishes are a key component of any Christmas dinner. Don’t be afraid to experiment with non-traditional festive vegetable choices: the key is in the preparation. / Courtesy of Creative Commons CC0

We all know a vegan. Especially on Vassar’s campus, they’re as common as getting a stomach ache from the Deece or staying up late in the library. However, if you venture with your politically correct laptop stickers and Depop jumper onto the edges of the Vassar campus and peer beyond the bubble, it’s a scary world out there for the lettuce inclined. In homes across America, friends and families are awaiting the return of their children for the Christmas holidays, preparing the turkey baste and goose fat, the buttered parsnips, the brandy sauce. It’s enough to make any vegan quake in their (non-leather) boots.

Imagine yourself in this situation for one moment. You’ve survived Thanksgiving and I don’t know how you’ve done it. Did you get a prepackaged meal? Prepare your own beans on toast? Or did (God bless their souls) your family put down the meat cleaver and whip you up an authentically vegan Thanksgiving delight? Most of us are not so lucky and stock-pile kale crisps from Juice Press before venturing home. My mother DID offer to buy me a prepackaged meal this year and she promised she won’t roast the potatoes in animal fat, and I greeted this last vow in particular with a surge of gratitude. However, it was when she offered to make me a vegan alternative to the traditional Christ- mas dinner that I had to put my foot down.

“It really wouldn’t be much trouble,” she lilted down the phone line in a saccharine voice. I could imagine her lying on her leather sofa in front of the leopard-print rug, stroking the fox fur around her neck as she ate a salami sandwich. The phone began to violently jolt in my hand as a vivid flashback assaulted me: the eggs in the “vegan” birthday cake she made for my 19th birthday. It was a complete accident, of course, but it put me on high alert. After the halloumi in my tofu dish, the beef in my soup and the honey in my granola (I let that one slide), my paranoia was getting out of control. With narrowed eyes and gritted teeth, I managed to muster a polite “No, thank you.”

My brain, powered by nutritional yeast and peanut butter alone, began to furiously roar. This was my chance to show off what I could do with a BOSH recipe and a whisk! Of course, the intricacies of my new stance immediately began to present themselves. I said casually, with a nonchalant, devil-may-care attitude, “Don’t worry, I’ll make my own meal.” My heart froze in terror as a vision entered my head: I was hunched in a corner of the kitchen wearing an apron stained with gravy and tears, whilst my family munched away on turkey legs and told me what I was missing out on. “Are you sure?” she asked, sounding relieved. “Oh yes,” I replied, “I’m sure.”

Dear reader, I wasn’t sure! I wasn’t sure at all! I made a trip to All Shook Up on Raymond Avenue to drown my sorrows in an açaí bowl with all the toppings, then it was down to business. A cursory skim-read of the Google search results for “vegan Christmas dinner” yielded nothing I hadn’t seen before. After the fifth mention of “roasted portobello mushroom” and “whole roasted cauliflower,” I turned my eyes in the direction of Malibu and asked my- self the immortal question: What Would Miley Do? I Googled. I Saw. I Sighed. No, dark corners of the Internet, Miley (vegan celeb for those not in the know) would not be eating a “twerky” this Christmas.

I directed my search elsewhere and found several good recipes. The Minimalist Baker in her article “126 Vegan Christmas Recipes” really excels at sweets, including gingerbread men, cookies and other delicious assortments. There were even some savory dishes at which I thought I’d try my hand, including the “vegan fall pot pies” and “crispy garlic brussels sprouts with sriracha aioli” (don’t worry, I don’t know what that is either). I couldn’t spot any mince pies, but fret not, as BBC Good Food had got me covered in that department. The mince pies could also serve as a Christmas Eve treat.

BOSH posted a great video to their Facebook page of a recipe for a full Christmas dinner with all the trappings, however I was seriously underwhelmed by their choice for the entrée (festive portobello mushroom wellington). What else would complement those scrumptious side dishes? All other search engines exhausted, I turned to YouTube. Recipes for a delicious “oil-free, gluten-free” Christmas immediately began to pop up. I even saw a recipe video for a raw vegan Christmas dinner, presented by an inexplicably cheerful chef. It would be the ultimate shame, snacking on a carrot stick tossed in garlic whilst my family munched on crispy sausage stuffing and creamy marzipan icing. I was starting to despair when I remember that nut roasts are hyped for a reason. A dish doesn’t become a staple of the festive vegan diet based on heresay alone.

Jamie Oliver and Oh She Glows offer two great nut roast recipes, and of course no roast would be complete without gravy. I found an easy-to-follow vegan gravy recipe on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube channel presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall called “How To Make Vegan Gravy.” With Simon Amstell’s video footage of Oliver from his vegan mockumentary “Carnage” playing on a loop in my head, I nevertheless bookmarked the recipe and sat back in my chair. I recalled my earlier conversation with my mother. Her innocent offer to prepare me a dish had released my inner vegan monster, who would eat anything (absolutely anything) labeled, without a shadow of a doubt, as vegan.

Shall I make a classic “vegan nut roast” or an “ultimate vegan lentil walnut loaf,” a twist on a classic favorite? My options are open. The world is my (vegan fish substitute) oyster. I can see it now: My roast on a silver platter in the middle of the table, drizzled in thick gravy, orbited by mashed-potato satellites. Then there are the maple-glazed balsamic parsnips, the brussel sprouts in a sticky glaze, the chestnut cranberry stuffing balls, the crispy thyme-roasted potatoes, the warm mince pies, the decorated gingerbread men…and not a lettuce leaf in sight!

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