Meat-free alternatives for the holiday season

Vegetarianism and veganism are becoming more common life choices for many, even in Cayman, as evidenced by the rise in meat-free café’s on-island in recent years.  

While those who have made this choice may be well practiced in preparing plant-based festive meals, meat eaters hosting holiday dinners for those who are less meat-inclined may not know where to begin when planning their menu. 

Agata Kalicki, who with her partner Reno Ciantar owns popular vegan cafe Bread and Chocolate in the heart of George Town, offers advice for those catering for vegetarian or vegan guests this holiday season. 

What alternatives to turkey would you recommend to people preparing for vegetarian guests? 

There are plenty of nut roast or lentil roast recipes to be found online or in veggie cookbooks. The beauty of these is that they are super versatile when it comes to seasoning – using herbs and spices in different combinations to complement your side dishes.  

You can also go in a different direction and make something like a Portobello Mushroom ‘Wellington’ which still pairs well with all the trimmings of a traditional turkey dinner without being a straight-up meat substitute.  

Lacking time or motivation, there are several very good commercial meat substitutes available on island. Ultimately, your veggie guests will likely be thrilled you were considerate of their needs, and even a variety of veggie-friendly side dishes will make them happy and full. 

Is there anything that the chef should be mindful of, such as meat stocks, when preparing for a group that includes one or more vegetarian/vegan?  

Yes, definitely beef or chicken stock! So many perfectly veggie-friendly soups are ruined for the veggie diner only because of the stock used. The very traditional pumpkin soup can be delicious with veggie stock and coconut milk. Also, consider using vegan margarine instead of butter, coconut milk instead of cream, almond or rice milk instead of dairy, or perhaps leaving the cheese out of dishes like salad to make them vegan friendly without too much effort. Chances are you won’t even notice a difference. And skip the gelatin-filled marshmallows on those yams.  

Desserts will take a bit more work, as baking is such a precise science. I’d say the best bet there would be to do some research and find a tasty sounding vegan recipe to try, rather than trying to ‘veganize’ one of your family favorites. Fresh fruit and commercial vegan ice-cream are an easy stand-by. 

Are there any nontraditional side dishes that you think people should try for Thanksgiving? 

Quinoa salad with dried fruit and nuts is full of protein and colorful for the table, plus a savior for your veggie friend. Other options are any roasted vegetable. Just a big, lovely pile of roasted fall tradition; pumpkin, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, beets or carrots dressed up with sage and nutmeg. 

Slaw is another versatile option, is fresh and crunchy to break up the heavy turkey dinner, and can be made of just about anything. Think apples or pears, jicama, mango, broccoli, cucumber or bell peppers. 

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Agata Kalicki suggests substituting turkey with a nut or lentil roast. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

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A nut roast is great meat alternative for vegetarians and vegans.