Have yourself a plant based holiday

Header image for the article Have yourself a plant based holiday
The holidays can be a tough time for anyone trying their hand at a plant-based diet.

Food is at the focal point of the festive season which can be a point of stress for anyone on a restrictive diet. Thanks to COVID-19, many vegans will at least be spared the uncomfortable conversations with family members over what the deal is with Tofurky. But food can still be the focus of a socially distanced holiday, and plant-based eaters should be able to enjoy all the flavours of the season

Luckily, plant-based alternatives have come a long way since the aforementioned Tofurky. There are dozens of easy swaps out there that keep the holiday spirit alive, with none of the animal cruelty.

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In true holiday spirit, we’ll start with dessert. Baking vegan can be tricky, since baking is already such a refined science. Over the years, though, vegans have found ingenious ways to manipulate their favourite sweet treats into vegan masterpieces.

Becel’s plant-based butter has become a staple for plant-based baking. The texture and flavour is almost identical to real butter, and it performs nearly exactly the same in most recipes. The would-be margarine comes in a salted or unsalted variety, making it versatile for both cooking and baking.

If you want to avoid using processed items, coconut oil can also be an easy swap in most baking recipes. It acts especially well in cookies and quick breads like banana bread.

When modifying recipes for baked goods, most people run into problems when it comes to replacing eggs. There are some excellent vegan egg replacements on the market, like the one by Bob’s Red Mill, that work in almost any recipe calling for eggs. There are also natural options aplenty, like applesauce, bananas, and a vegan favourite: the flax egg. Just mix two tablespoons of water with one tablespoon of ground flaxseed and you’ve got your egg replacement. The ground flax will turn gelatinous in the water, creating a gooey, egg white-like consistency. It works as a perfect binder for any recipe that calls for an egg.

Milk is one of the simplest replacements for holiday baking, as there are now dozens of milk alternatives available to choose from at the supermarket. Looking for something creamy? Try oat milk or soy milk. Something with a nutty flavour? Almond milk and cashew milk are the best option for replacing milk and adding some extra flavour notes. Replacing milk in a recipe is usually a one-to-one swap, so you can really have some fun deciding which plant-based milk suits the flavour of your recipe the best.

So you’ve got holiday baking in the bag, but what about dinner? I would challenge carnivores not to knock the Tofurky till they’ve tried it, but they are finicky to cook and often come out of the oven a dry, salty log. We can do better than that.

A timely but well-worth-it entree is the almighty vegan nut loaf. It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: various nuts processed with lentils and vegetables, baked in a loaf tin with lots of spices and seasonings. This delicious holiday entree is best served sliced with some plant-based gravy or cranberry sauce.

If you are looking for something a little less laborious, the Gardein Holiday Roast makes for an easy turkey alternative that won’t hurt your wallet. These breaded and stuffed faux turkey roasts come as full-size centrepieces or mini single servings (but we won’t tell if you eat two). They even come with their own gravy and cranberry sauce, just to make your holiday cooking even easier.

Speaking of gravy, how do you get a full-flavoured, unctuous gravy without turkey drippings? While there are pre-made vegan gravies available at most health food stores, making your own is surprisingly simple.

You’ll need to start with a roux (flour and plant-based butter). This will help thicken the gravy and give it a smooth, buttery flavour. Next, slowly add vegetable stock until your gravy reaches your desired thickness. To this, you can add any flavour variations you like. Sage, rosemary and thyme are all familiar holiday flavours, but a teaspoon of miso paste will also give your gravy a salty, deeper flavour. Sautéing some mushrooms or onions in a pan before you start your roux will add some umami-like flavour to your gravy.

With these few simple swaps, you’ll be ready to take on the season and stick to your plant-based guns. There are so many alternatives out there to choose from, you’ll never feel like you’re giving anything up, even through the holidays. So break out the nut-loaf and bake a batch of vegan gingerbread, and have yourself a merry plant-based holiday.