A Very Veggie Christmas

How to satisfy guests at a green holiday feast.

Like as not, your family (like mine) celebrates the holidays with a heaping platter of carnivorous delights. In my Deep South clan, this ritualistic meat consumption takes the form of ham on Christmas Eve and turkey on Christmas Day (rounded out by fried ham and bacon Christmas morning). Since I became a vegetarian eight years ago, what to eat on Christmas has been an ongoing dilemma. Should I bring my own? Subsist on sides and pie? Feed it to the dog and starve?

Fortunately, there’s another solution to the annual food ghettoization that awaits most herbivores each holiday: Quit your whining and serve Christmas dinner yourself.

I don’t mean nut loaves the size and heft of your head. Nor those strange veggie roulades that taste like a mixture of bread stuffing and cottage cheese. These days, vegetarians have a fantastic array of options that are festive but won’t put meat eaters off tofu for good. But there are a few rules. Stay away from recipes that include quotation marks, as in tofu “turkey” or veggie “ham.” (Ditto on the “un-” recipes, as in “un-chicken” and “un-meatloaf.”) Also to be avoided at all costs are recipes that call for nutritional yeast, liquid aminos, or any other so-called dietary supplement. Your skeptical relatives aren’t interested in expanding their horizons. Got it?

The next step is to pick dishes that are flavorful, seasonal, and reasonably simple to prepare. The Internet is a good place to start, if you can weed out the good from the garbage. Most sites found using the phrase “vegetarian Christmas” turn up old-school concoctions like savory tofu dinner loaf and permutations on good old tofu turkey.

But a few stand out, like the International Vegetarian Union’s holiday site (www.ivu. org/recipes/holiday), which has 60 simple holiday recipes for vegetarians. Epicurious (www.epicurious.com) has links, if you can find them on this messy site, to hundreds of vegetarian recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appetit magazines.

Recipezaar (www.recipezaar.com) has a great search engine that allows you to search by season, ingredient, preparation time, and course (among other options) to whittle down its vast archive of more than 6,000 vegetarian recipes. Allrecipes’ vegetarian site (www.vegetarianrecipe.com) has a large searchable archive of recipes, many provided (and rated on a five-star system) by readers.

Then there’s the grandma of all vegetarian publications, Vegetarian Times. While the magazine itself has opted for a silly, soft-focus Better Homes and Gardens vibe of late, the Web site (www.vegetariantimes.com) still has a decent-sized archive of recipes; a search for “holiday recipes” turned up a wildly rich-sounding Wild Mushroom Spinach Roulade with Red Chile Sauce, among other options. And vegsource.com boasts an exhaustive, if overwhelming, archive that contains some good stuff—and a lot of crap.

After all that searching, a trip to the bookstore might seem like a calming antidote to the blinking come-ons and pop-up ads. And although the cookbook section, too, can be overwhelming, a few favorites outshine the rest of the pile.

The vegetarian Joy of Cooking is Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway Books, $40), a comprehensive, hulking tome with 1,400 imaginative vegetarian recipes, many of them festive enough to serve at a holiday meal.

The New Vegetarian Epicure (Knopf, $19.95), an update on the still-in-print 1972 Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, is divided into seasons and occasions, and includes Christmas-y “celebration” recipes such as a hefty polenta torta with roasted squash.

Myra Kornfeld’s The Voluptuous Vegan (Clarkson N. Potter, $18), as its name suggests, is a collection of rich, intensely flavored vegan recipes, organized as a series of seasonal menus; the pumpkin, sage, and pecan ravioli would make a nice first course.

Other solid standbys (which also make great gifts for vegetarian cooks) include the Essential Vegetarian Cookbook by Diana Shaw (Clarkson N. Potter, $24.95), with recipes such as Pumpkin Squash and Sweet Potato Souffle; The Vegan Gourmet by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay (Prima publishing, $16.95), a pithy little book whose highly spiced recipes are all extremely simple to prepare; and Low Fat Favorites (Clarkson N. Potter, $24) and New Classics (Clarkson N. Potter, $25.95), two of the cookbooks by the Moosewood Collective.

Another exhaustive (though at times overexuberant) new cookbook, Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian (Workman Publishing, $35), has a ton of information, hundreds and hundreds of recipes, and would be a great gift (or doorstop).

Whatever you prepare, keep in mind that your aunt from Boise might not take to a turkeyless table no matter how lovingly your sweet-potato flan is prepared. If all else fails, just remind the carping carnivores: It’s the company, not the menu, that counts.