A very vegan Christmas

A very vegan Christmas

How to enjoy the holiday without butter, eggs, honey and cheese

By Amy Eddings

Jennifer Calvelage shows off pretty, vegan merengue cookies made with chickpea juice instead of egg whites.

A meatless loaf, topped with ketchup, and a cheesy sauce made with carrots and coconut oil instead of cheese.

Gravy without butter, flour or meat juices? Sure! This vegan gravy is made with raw cashews and cornstarch.

Vegetarians have to get creative this time of year.

Christmas feasting typically centers around a show-stopping animal dish, like a big, 20-pound turkey, a standing rib roast of beef, or a showy, stuffed pork loin roast.

Italians keep vigil on Christmas Eve, eating seven different seafood dishes for the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Even the fictional Whos in Whoville in Dr. Seuss’ classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” sat down at their Christmas table to enjoy a Roast Beast.

It takes some imagination in the kitchen to come up with vegetarian dishes that pull equal psychic weight in our collective holiday memories and imaginations.

Imagine, then, what it takes for vegans, who also don’t eat any foods that come from animals, such as milk, cheese, butter, eggs and honey, foods that vegetarians often rely upon to make those center-of-the-table holiday casseroles and gratins.

Jennifer Calvelage is up for the challenge. She’s got ways of replicating roast beef with gravy, cheesy veggie gratins, Parmesean-cheesy Caesar salad, eggnog and Christmas sugar cookies without the butter, eggs, dairy and meat.

“There are better alternatives. There are healthy cookies. There’s actually healthy eggnog,” she said. “Pretty much everything you can make, you can make vegan.”

Calvelage proves it by holding plant-based cooking demonstrations at church social events around northwestern Ohio and southern Michigan, where she’s from. On a recent Sunday evening at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Lima, she showed 25 attendees of a monthly supper club how to make a meatless loaf from beans, whole grains, chopped nuts, chopped vegetables and peanut butter.

“I do this because I want to get the message out that (vegan) food doesn’t have to be disgusting,” she said. “You have to make it taste good. You have to make it look good, too.”

In a vegan kitchen, ground chia and flax seeds act as binders in place of eggs. Coconut oil, like butter, is spreadable at room temperature and imparts a pleasing taste in baked goods. And the thick, cloudy juice from a can of chickpeas can be whipped like egg whites to create merengues for pies.

Calvelage, 34, has been a vegan vegetarian since becoming a Seventh Day Adventist 12 years ago.

“Not all Adventists are vegetarian, it’s not a doctrine,” she said. “It’s mostly because it’s healthy. Our bodies are the temple of God. I’m just using my body to glorify God and not put things into it that would harm it.”

While many of the attendees at the plant-based supper club enjoyed second helpings of their dinner of meatless roast, a baked potato with a cheesy sauce of coconut oil and carrots, a kale salad and gluten-free muffins made with flax seeds, coconut oil and almond milk, most said they were not ready to celebrate Christmas with an entirely plant-based meal.

“We could try it,” Nancy Kuhlman, 62, said with a throaty laugh. “I don’t know how it would go over with my family. I probably would just not tell them.”

Stephen Sites, 43, said he started his journey toward a plant-centric diet two years ago, when “I got sick and tired of being sick and tired.” He no longer eats poultry, fish or meat, and said that change has helped alleviate chronic depression. But he’s not yet willing to take the next step toward veganism.

“Eggs and cheese are still in my diet,” he said. “I like them. But that shouldn’t be the reason I continue doing something that I know is better not to do.”

Calvelage understands her audience’s hesitation. It’s easy to avoid meat, poultry and fish. It’s harder to avoid eggs, cheese, milk and butter, especially because they’re the foundation of so many other common foods. To commit to being vegan means a commitment to your kitchen, to making food yourself. And that takes time.

“There’s a learning curve, just like there is with any other type of cooking,” she said. “We didn’t all start out as good cooks. It takes years.”

But, she adds, “it’s totally possible.”

RESOURCES

Looking for more vegan recipes? Try some of these websites.

amychaplin.com: Amy Chaplin is the former executive chef of New York City’s renowned vegan restaurant, Angelica Kitchen, and the author of the award-winning cookbook, “At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen.”

manifestvegan.com: Allyson Kramer runs the vegan food site for about.com, writes cookbooks and takes mouth-watering photos of her dessert creations, which include pumpkin pecan cheesecake and peanut butter banana ice cream.

viveleveganrecipes.blogspot.com: Dreena Burton’s easy-to-use website provides several ways to search for recipes, including a “flipboard” that lets visitors scroll through photos of dishes from her popular books, “The Everyday Vegan,” “Vive Le Vegan” and “Eat Drink and Be Vegan.”

ohsheglows.com: This popular recipe blog includes Angela Liddon’s thoughts on motherhood (she recently had a baby) and a “Vegan 101” page with posts such as “10 Tips for Eating Out as a Vegan.”

Jennifer Calvelage’s Guide to Creating Your Own Meatless Loaf

Ingredients:

1 cup beans or soy protein, such as tofu

2 cups of a whole grain, such as uncooked rolled oats, cooked brown rice or quinoa flakes

1/2 cup chopped nuts or nut meal, such as cashews, almonds, peanuts or sunflower seeds

1 to 1 1/2 cups liquid, such as soy milk, almond or other nut milk, or vegetable broth

2 to 3 tablespoons of a binder such as peanut butter, soy flour, tapioca or potato flour

1 cup tomatoes, chopped

1 cup celery, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 teaspoon coriander

1 teaspoon oregano or basil

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons canola or olive oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine the protein, whole grain, chopped nuts or nut meal, liquid and binding. Add the chopped vegetables, seasonings, salt and oil. Mix well. Press into a well-oiled 9-by-15-inch loaf pan or 9-by-13-inch pan and bake for 30-45 minutes. Top with Country Style Gravy (recipe follows).

Vegan Country Style Gravy

Ingredients:

2 cups warm water

1/2 cup raw cashews or brown rice flour

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon tapioca starch, arrowroot or cornstarch

2 tablespoons olive oil (omit if using raw cashews)

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Braggs liquid aminos

1 tablespoon Nutritional Yeast Flakes

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions:

Blend 1/2 cup of the water and remaining ingredients until very smooth. Add remaining 1-1/2 cups water and finish blending. Pour into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick.

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