To anyone who has chosen a vegetarian or vegan diet, Christmas celebrations are often not a time of loving family get-togethers, but the days of the year when a host of relatives ask you why you can’t eat grandma’s lasagne or the cotechino with lentils even just once because, according to popular tradition, they “bring money”.
And if you can easily relate to these words (or if have a cousin who has long since abandoned the omnivorous diet) and you always remember the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding in which the mother suggests lamb as a vegetarian option to Nia’s fiancé, here are a few ideas to counterpropose, so as not to turn Christmas dinner into a less virtuous Christmas brawl. Italian cuisine, which can count on infinite ingredients and equally infinite cookbooks, comes to our rescue even in tradition.
First, the best choice is to find recipes that are already vegan, that can be eaten during the holidays and do not turn dishes into gastronomic hazards, in which recreating the consistency of the egg often becomes a chemistry experiment.
Starting with hors d’oeuvres, here are five ideas to bring to the table with gusto, even for those who are ham addicts.
Mixed starters and polenta crostini become a vegetable mix
Every self-respecting Christmas dinner starts with trays of canapés and crostini: raise your hand if you are not one of those who get pâté and smoked salmon at the delicatessen. Bread, butter, and salmon is a timeless classic, but why not stretch the serving platter and add baked polenta crostini with mushroom pâté or some others with radicchio and hazelnuts. Or turn crispy polenta into pizzette with cherry tomatoes, oregano, and capers. No one will complain if there are plenty more canapés to choose from.
Meat tortellini become Ribollita
There are so many traditional Italian dishes, so all you need to do to find an alternative is to move from one region to another. In Tuscany, ribollita is one of the most popular dishes on family menus. Black cabbage (in season), cannellini beans, potatoes, crostini. A poor, simple dish that adds some vegetables to dinners that often exaggerate with meat ingredients. Besides, what is better than a dish that requires no modifications because it is already vegan? Perhaps the other diners will not realise that the broth in which the tortellini are floating is made from carrots and not beef.
Cotechino and lentils become Paccheri with lentils
Cotechino is the ever-present protagonist of endless family negotiations: some love it, some tolerate it and some just don’t want to hear about it. Not everyone likes it and, often, it is leftover. But in these cases, there is an alternative to the most famous sausage of the Holiday season: you can opt for paccheri with lentil ragout, or other types of pasta that are perfect to fill with the sauce, like for example with conchiglioni and mezzemaniche pasta.
Lentils have become one of the most widely used and processed pulses in recent years (from the ragout that seems almost meaty with a touch of umami, to tofu, and veg burgers). By cooking them with a nicely sautéed mixture, herbs, and spices, they can help us forget those boiled horrors we were fed in the 1980s. Lentils can be cooked the same way for everyone, then served with one or the other at will.
Fried cod becomes panelle or cauliflower fritters
The tradition of deep-fried cod is common in many regions (from Emilia Romagna to Sicily), especially on Christmas Eve. Both because the tradition in Italy is to eat “di magro”, i.e., not to eat meat, on the day before Christmas, and then because it is a very simple but delicious dish. And since you have to fry it anyway, why not make first some cauliflower balls or the classic panelle, the Sicilian chickpea flour fritters? Both options are great finger food even for non-vegetarians, who will surely end up stealing them from the plate of the veg side.
Pandoro and Panettone? No, Panforte
No, please, mercy. Butterless panettone? No way! Vegan panettone is something that is more like a punishment than a cake. So, let’s leave the Lombardy region for this one time and move to Tuscany: the Panforte di Siena is already vegan even if it doesn’t seem so, does it? This delicious almond and candied fruit cake has an intense flavour and does not take up too much room because jamming something more in the tummy after a Christmas lunch or dinner becomes a challenge we can all win, together.