When I was a kid, I hated vegetables. I used to eat meat and carbs and frown at everything else. The only exception was cucumber, and even that I was impartial to. It’s rather ironic, considering I’m vegan now.
Christmas day – once upon a time – consisted of eating my grandma’s roast turkey with rice and vegetables, and not much else. I used to find carrots and sprouts too sweet, broccoli too plain and vegetable gravy too boring. It’s pretty handy I like those things now – otherwise I really would be the vegan stereotype, eating nothing but bananas, tofu and the occasional cucumber stick.
But back to Christmas.
My family has never really done “traditional” Christmas. It’s “traditional”, in the sense that we all get together – uncles, aunts, cousins, the lot – and eat so much that we can’t move, and then keep eating and playing board games and cards way into the early hours of the morning. But it’s also never “properly” traditional because my family are (not particularly practicing) Muslims and Christmas for us bears no religious significance at all. We have always done presents and trees and Christmas crackers – but it’s more of a cultural thing because we live in the UK, rather than something that goes any deeper than just having a really chilled family day.
But there was always the turkey. Every year since I can remember, we would head to my grandparents’ house in London in the afternoon and my grandma would – practically single-handedly – cook the whole extended family a roast dinner. It would include many traditional components (sprouts, Yorkshire puds, etc.) and a few less traditional – like leaving out the pigs in blankets (we don’t eat pork) and filling the turkey with rice rather than stuffing. I’m never sure why we did the latter, but the rice cooked in the turkey fat always tasted delicious and I used to look forward to it all year.
That was, until I became a pescatarian in July 2013. I had just finished my GCSE exams and I made the leap while still living with my parents. Gradually I went from not eating meat, to not eating fish to not eating any animal derived products at all. By February 2015, I was vegan. Over the years I had to relearn how to eat, and even more challenging than that – I had to tell my grandma that I wouldn’t be eating her roast turkey anymore.
It went much better than I was expecting. My grandparents were raised in a small village in Cyprus, and they rarely ate meat growing up. It was a luxury for them – and so, after learning that I was vegan, my grandma cooked every meatless Turkish dish that she could think of. She even made non-vegan dishes vegan. Every time I visited, I was given something new. And even now, years later, she is still finding new things to cook or make vegan (my grandma is the best ever).
On my first Christmas as a vegetarian I just ate everything, minus the turkey. I boiled some rice so that I didn’t have to eat the rice cooked in fat, and I enjoyed the vegetables and everything else as usual. When I went vegan, I did the same, minus the Yorkshire pudding. And for the past two years I have filled myself up on incredible roast vegetables and potatoes. It might seem boring – but my grandma’s roast vegetables are so great they turned a vegetable-hating child into a veg-enthusiast.
Last year, I turned up to my grandma’s early and (cautious not to ruin her perfect vegetables) I did my own cooking. I baked a chocolate cake for after dinner, for everyone to enjoy. And I made mushroom gravy – a blend of mushrooms, veg stock, flour and (extra) garlic.
Despite thinking my grandma’s cooking really is the best in the world, I didn’t miss turkey the first year I stopped eating it at Christmas. The meat industry is cruel all year round, but it becomes particularly heartless at Christmas, when hundreds of thousands of turkeys are bred, overfed, then slaughtered on mass just so we can enjoy a turkey dinner. But my Christmas dinner hasn’t lost any flavour, happiness or sentimentality since I went vegan – the only thing it’s lost is cruelty.
This year, in the run up to Christmas, I’ve been trying lots of different vegan roast alternatives. I’m a big fan of Fry’s soy and quinoa country roast (don’t worry if you hate quinoa like me, it doesn’t taste anything like it). It’s got a great meaty texture and a really charming, hearty flavour. M&S’ butternut and beetroot filo parcels are also great. They’re really sweet and delicious.
A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I made our first mushroom nut roast following this recipe, with vegan Yorkshire pudding and the infamous mushroom gravy. I’ve also been thinking of making my own “parcels”. I was very excited when I found out jus-roll puff pastry is vegan – one sheet can make two-four (depending on the size) packages. I’d love to try the mushroom gravy inside that, with some Christmas veg!
Having lost two components of my family’s original Christmas dinner, I’m slowly learning to make many others. I just hope my grandma enjoys my cooking as much as I adore hers.
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