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I must confess that I’m a little bit on the carnivorous side, and despite giving vegetarianism a good go on several occasions over the years, I can’t really imagine a future where I’m 100% meat-free.
I love thick roast turkey gravy and fancy ham stuffed with cloves, and so find it very difficult indeed to imagine Christmas without all the meaty trimmings.
However, this year, things will be a little different for me, given that I’ve found myself romantically entangled with a vegan.
Now, I doubt I will actually give up meat full-stop, but like many carnivores with herbivore partners, I’m keen to experience some aspects of their Christmas and maybe even gain new favourites of my own.
Admittedly, I’ve always assumed that vegans simply chuck out all the fun meaty bits and go for a big, virtuously healthy bowl of carrots and sprouts. As someone with quite a hearty appetite, especially at Christmas, the very thought made me shudder.
However, a bit of research shows that this absolutely isn’t the case, and there’s quite a lot of tasty, naughty vegan treats to try without feeling as though you’re missing out on the good stuff.
Cheese and a glass of port
The stretch of time between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day should really be called Cheesemas in my house, given that it mostly involves me chomping my way through a posh cheeseboard.
From stinky Stilton to Wensleydale stuffed with cranberries, I love it all and absolutely don’t want to miss out on sharing a decadent little mouse evening with that special someone.
Admittedly, I’ve always found vegan cheese to be a little bit hit and miss, and am still very much haunted by the memory of a ‘mac and cheese’ side that had all the taste and texture of a pair of welly boots.
Luckily, my other half is a very good cook, and has previously served me up one of the nicest ‘cheddar’ toasties I’ve ever had, as well as a ‘mozzarella’ pizza that I ate in more or less one gulp. I therefore know that there are some very decent vegan cheeses out there, many of which I would happily pop on my crackers.
Now, what festive gathering would be complete without a steaming wheel of camembert, crusty bread at the ready? When I spotted a box of Mouse’s Favourite Camembert-style cheese, I could already picture myself cosied up, snow falling outside.
Despite having won a tonne of awards, I was a little sceptical about it ever living up to the real deal. Made from cultured cashew nuts, it also doesn’t melt so – to my initial dismay – I couldn’t bake it in the oven.
But after slicing it cold and slapping it on a decent slab of bread, I was far from disappointed. Not only could you have fooled me into thinking this was a true dairy product, it reminded me somewhat of brie, my all-time cheeseboard favourite. Reader, I ate the whole wheel by myself and have no regrets.
Another good shout is Applewood, which makes a very yummy smoked cheese that will leave you sneaking slices out of the packet.
A stroll around the Christmas markets
What new romance would be complete without a trip to the Christmas markets, gazing into each others’ eyes over a mug of Bailey’s and hot chocolate?
Unfortunately, my trips to the markets usually make for a meaty affair, and will usually see me opt for a beefy Yorkshire pudding wrap or – if I’m feeling particularly bloodthirsty – a hog roast.
However, if you take the time to look beyond your usual stalls, there are plenty of vegan-friendly places to fill you up with all the joys of the festive season.
The Manchester Christmas Markets are getting pretty good at this, with beloved Manc eatery Vertigo offering the likes of ‘Cheezy Bratwurst’ and ‘Katsu Curry Bratwurst’, all served up in a pretzel bun.
I myself decided to opt for Panc, purely based on the intriguingly bright colours of the buns. This plant-based stall offers five different types of ‘Brat Dawgs’, and I – naturally – went for the ‘Festive Dawg’ so as to get the most Christmassy experience possible.
Fun appearance aside, I was left running my finger around the packaging to mop up any sauce residue like the dignified lady I am. This made for a very tasty and filling lunch, which didn’t give me that uncomfortable meat-overload aftermath I’ve had in previous years. Absolutely banging stuff.
Having gone to the same old stalls year after year, it was genuinely refreshing to try something a little bit different, which still made for a very satisfying winter warmer.
Of course, it isn’t just us Mancs who are getting on board with vegan Christmas market stalls. The Filthy Kebab at Nottingham’s stall of the same name sounds absolutely lush, while dedicated vegan Christmas Markets can be found up and down the country on the Vegan Markets website.
Pigs in blankets
Pigs in blankets are a bit of a must-have for me at this time of year, whether it be in crisp flavour form or in a big sharing bowl at Friendmas.
I treated myself to a packet of Wicked Kitchen’s Choriz-no Bangers in Duvets, with the heat of the Choriz-no bringing a nice little kick for low-key spice heads like myself.
I will confess now, I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I first threw a pack in my basket, with the pea protein bangers looking rather different to the bacon-wrapped treats I’ve come to yearn for, year in, year out.
Turns out, I had nothing to fear. These are very moreish, snacky little numbers, and I could happily spend an afternoon munching through a whole plate of them in front of a good Christmas movie.
As I was juggling present-wrapping and food-testing simultaneously, I accidently singed my bangers a little, and it’s testament to the zingy flavour that I still enjoyed them. Thoroughly recommended.
However, if chorizo isn’t your thing, then you really are spoiled for choice when it comes to faux pigs in blankets, with Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Ocado all stocking well-rated vegan piggies.
Or, if you fancy channelling your inner Nigella, there’s plenty of recipes out there to try at home, with this Quorn recipe looking simple and quick enough to slip in around your other culinary preparations.
The full shebang
For me, being able to cook a cracking roast dinner together makes for an important milestone in any relationship, and not one that I wanted to miss out on.
This is especially true at Christmastime. Although my relationship is fairly new, I was keen to know what it might be like to one day share out Christmas cooking tasks together, and how well we’d work together as a festive kitchen team.
Turns out, we smashed it, and put together a very decent roast to share in front of Jingle All The Way, if I do say so myself.
Personally speaking, I’ve never been all that keen on nut roast, finding it too similar in texture to stuffing. I mean, I love stuffing, but I like to have a range of different ‘mouth feels’ on my plate, to put my wannabe cheffy hat on.
With this in mind, we decided to grab a Linda McCartney’s vegetarian chicken roast from Morrisons, which I was really very pleasantly pleased with.
There was enough of an authentic chickeny flavour here to sate my carnivorous appetites, and it went very well with a hefty pouring of vegetarian gravy.
Although I’d usually douse my roasties with goose fat, we cooked up a yummy batch with veg oil, plenty of salt and pepper, and a good rummage around in the spice cupboard. Rosemary, garlic salt and onion salt made for a lip-smacking combo, and I was left picking from the tray until fairly late on the next day.
Vegan Christmas dinners have come a long way from your standard nut roast or stuffed pepper. I’ve personally heard good things anecdotally about Sainsbury’s new No Gammon Roast with Maple Glaze, and having being won over by my ‘fake’ roast, wouldn’t hesitate to give it a go.
If you find yourself dating a vegan this Christmas, approach your festive feasting as a good excuse to try out new and interesting staples.
Much like hearing a brand new Christmas song for the first time, swapping an odd vegan item into the mix can freshen up your Christmas celebrations no end, and – as my own research shows – this absolutely doesn’t have to be a sacrifice.
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