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Taking the Stress out of Meat-Free Holiday Meals

By Brittany Jones
The Truth Contributor

With the passing of Halloween, the holiday season is in full effect as our daily surroundings beginning to transform with lights, fall colors, Christmas decorations, and of course, holiday commercials. The three F’s of the holiday: Family, Food and Fun, are prioritized as families begin to plan the festivities, with a huge emphasis on “what are we going to eat?”

Turkey, ham, greens, potatoes in every style imaginable, dressing and gravy, casserole—the list goes on and on as these have become a staple in most households. However, with the growing number of those practicing plant-based lifestyles, these classics are often substituted or revamped.

Overall, meal planning can be a hassle, especially if you are the lone veggie soul in the family. Whether this is your first holiday season as a freshly-minted vegetarian/vegan, or you have been in the game for several years, holiday meals are a chance to show that you can be plant-based and cook satisfying meals for all to enjoy.

As some may know, I have almost 10 years of this lifestyle under my belt and have prepped my fair share of meals for gatherings. Over that time, I have learned some tips that can relieve anxiety and leave everyone basking in the holiday spirit.

 

Research dishes on various vegetarian/vegan websites

Unless you are America’s Best Chef and have the time to create a whole dish from your mind, the internet is your best friend when it comes to searching for ideas. Just Googling “vegetarian holiday meals” produces thousands of websites with recipes galore for whatever cuisine your taste buds desire. Although there are many widely known sites like Martha Stewart and The Food Network, I prefer personal blogs and other small scale sites that lay out the author’s experience before, during and after making the dish-- it just seems more personal.

Some sites that I have come across over the years are the VegetarianTimes.com, Ohsheglows.com (this was where I learned to make tofu “ricotta” stuffed shells—still need to master it), Vegkitchen.com, and Theveggietable.com (my first encounter with making lentil “meat” loaf). The easiest meal I have prepared was a veggie lasagna. It’s well-known and you can just load up on the vegetables, cheese (or veggie cheese (Daiya brand or nutritional yeast)), and noodles—now you can add veggie crumbles to resemble ground beef. Do not be overwhelmed, but know that there is lots to explore and be adventurous with the drinks, desserts, appetizers, salads, soups, and entrees!

 

Be prepared to answer questions, especially if you are just beginning the lifestyle

When I first started this venture, I usually ate only side dishes or whipped up something simple like a salad, green beans or greens without the meat. Tofu was, and still is, a feat I have yet to conquer, but over time, I began adding this ingredient to more meals—the key was seasoning of the tofu.

The more complex the dish, the more questions I had to answer about ingredients, what benefits they give the body, and how it was prepared. I did not mind this, and, coincidentally, heightened the curiosity to learn more about certain ingredients, spices, and international dishes. I’ve even loaded my personal library with vegetarian cookbooks and reference books that expand on the use of particular vegetables and seasonings. Become an expert on not just cooking, but also the lifestyle overall.

 

You cannot please everyone

I was my biggest critic of my dishes when I had to share with anyone besides my husband. I want people to enjoy what I prepare and especially since it’s already expected for it be unappetizing due to the lack of meat, there was extra pressure to make sure it’s just right. You may have the highest appreciation for your meal, but differing opinions exist, and depending on the relationship, it can be harsh.

Luckily, I have not experienced this type of judgment, but the angst still remains. What is learned is that taste buds differ. Keep in mind that if a person has not tried a particular ingredient, it may not be a pleasant experience, but that should not stop you from attempting other dishes, which leads to the next point of advice….

 

Try to challenge your cooking skills

The tofu “ricotta” stuffed shells and lentil “meat” loaf were challenging dishes to make, not to mention time-consuming. Finding the ingredients alone was a hassle, fortunately Kroger’s and Bassett’s Health Foods had majority of them, but once it was all done, there was pride of stepping out of my cooking comfort zone.

Focus on one dish, maybe something as simple as a stir-fry or the lasagna mentioned earlier would be a good start, and then move up the difficulty as the holidays pass. Be creative and try new cuisines like Asian or Greek food, but add your signature touch. If you want to stay within the soul food category, I would suggest Afro Vegan by Bryant Terry. This book goes in-depth about Caribbean, African, and Southern ingredients that holds on to the traditional family recipes, but with a veggie twist. Cooking brings joy and if your heart is truly into making people happy through food, then have faith and reach your culinary potential!

Most importantly, Have fun!

There is always something new to explore when it comes to the food landscape. The holidays are meant to bring families together and celebrate this crazy thing called life. Cooking is a staple in these affairs. With that in mind, also look at the holidays as a way to drop some knowledge about begin plant-based and your experiences thus far (just don’t let it grow into a holiday clapback session. It’s not that serious). For the new veg-heads this holiday season, it’s just one step at a time. Again, have fun and relax! There is always next year to make your food statement.

Brittany Jones is a local foodie extraordinaire and founder of Growing Back to Your Roots whose mission is to create an environment of conscious consumers, where individuals understand their right to a racially and economically equitable food system, while also practicing healthier lifestyle habits. She can be reached at gb2yr419@gmail.com.

 

 
   
   


Copyright © 2017 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 12/07/17 11:39:58 -0800.


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