I like Christmas as much as the next glutton, but if there’s one thing that brings out my inner Scrooge, it’s the seasonal sandwich. Jesus is not, if I remember those nine lessons and carols correctly, believed to have arrived on this earth wedged between two damp slices of malted brown, yet with all the hype around the annual “release” of the turkey sarnie, you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Why you’d want to spoil your appetite for the big day by eating cold stuffing at your desk for a month beforehand is a true Christmas mystery.
Bah humbuggery aside, it’s hard not to take twinkly cheer from the unprecedented number of vegan sandwiches on offer this year. Pret A Manger, Caffè Nero, Tesco, M&S, Eat, Paul, Leon and Boots are among the high-street names to have realised they need to offer more than a mere Brie and grape baguette in the meat-free department. The Boots parsnip fritter and butternut squash is my top pick so far, mostly because it’s the one that bears least resemblance to an onion and jam sandwich, but I’m still diligently working my way through the list.
In fact, this is set to be the easiest Christmas yet for plant munchers and those catering for them. Sainsbury’s, M&S, Tesco and Co-op have all included vegan main courses in their festive ranges, though I must observe that making your own really great nut roast, plump with parsnips and savoury mushrooms, is much less stressful than cooking a giant bird, mostly because it can be prepared the day before, and then shoved into the oven along with the vegetables while you get on with the serious business of drinking (vegan) fizz.
Alternatively, a whole baked cauliflower, rubbed with saffron and spices, or a squash stuffed with wild rice, dried fruit and nuts, makes a centrepiece every bit as impressive as a golden goose. Pair it with olive oil roasties, sautéed sprouts with chestnuts, oat-milk bread sauce, fresh cranberry relish and a rich port and shallot gravy made with really good-quality vegetable stock and a few dried porcini.
Afterwards, Waitrose’s Duchy Originals organic Christmas pudding also handily happens to be vegan, though it’s not advertised as such – serve with vegan soy-milk custard or make your own by thickening dairy-free milk with custard powder, or a mix of cornflour, sugar and vanilla extract. Waitrose, Asda, Costa and Caffè Nero all have what is known as “accidentally vegan” mince pies (check the labels), and Costa also boasts vegan Christmas cake. Meanwhile Sainsbury’s has started selling a “dairy free and vegan platter”, which seems designed to fill a cheese-shaped hole with blu (sic), cranberry and mature “blocks” that would no doubt go very nicely with a misleadingly named cream cracker and a dollop of chutney.
Lastly, I’ll let you into a little secret: vegans aren’t immune to slumping in front of the telly with an after-dinner drink, just like the rest of us (why, it’s almost like they’re ordinary people). To help with this, Baileys has just launched an almond-milk version, though brandy fans may prefer its nuttier Spanish rival, Besos de Oro, available online, or indeed just a glass of brandy. Happily, I believe almost all spirits are vegan.
So, if you’ve decided to bypass the big bird this year, or have a guest who has suddenly announced their intention to, there’s absolutely no need to panic: Christmas really is about more than meat. Enjoy it, whatever you’re eating.
This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special