NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina
During the holidays, young people return from college, relatives arrive from near and far and we connect with seldom seen friends. For an estimated one family in four – the number is growing – festive holiday meals must be adjusted to accommodate at least one vegetarian.
These include young people with concerns about animal rights and environmental issues, as well as older individuals who have had a cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular concern. Year after year, people of all ages, who are reluctant to gain a pound, or five, and who want meals that won’t overstuff them, often turn to vegetarianism.
There are many ways to extend the fare for our celebration meals that go far beyond a dreary, little veggie burger for the lone vegetarian. Moreover, accommodating vegetarians can make our holiday spread both prettier and more colourful. The menu ideas below are also suitable for the vegetarians (and vegans) we love and also accommodate people with food sensitivities or celiac disease.
A large squash stuffed with seasoned cooked grains, then baked, makes a spectacular centrepiece. The stuffing can include basmati rice, quinoa, onion, parsley, walnuts or pecans, sun-dried tomatoes and seasonings, such as basil and oregano. You can create your own stuffing combination, or use the recipe for sensational stuffed squash and good gravy in Raising Vegetarian Children (Stepaniak and Melina, McGraw-Hill, 2003).
Another seasonal menu item is hazelnut paté, a delicious appetizer. As an entrée on wintry days, vegetarians, as well as vegans, will enjoy shepherd’s pie, which is made with vegetarian “ground round” instead of hamburger. German chocolate cake with coconut squash icing may well become everyone’s favourite chocolate dessert. Ask your guests to guess which vegetable is part of the icing; likely, no one will guess correctly. (See recipes for these in Becoming Vegetarian by Melina and Davis, Wiley Canada, 2003)
For those whose family gathering includes people with food sensitivities, squash stuffed with grains is a welcome offering and may be served with one of several excellent gluten-free gravies. Another popular choice, and my favourite in the world of gluten-free baking, is pumpkin spice bread. Ultra-fudge brownies and heavenly date squares are good too. All are made without a scrap of eggs, dairy or wheat. (See recipes in the Food Allergy Survival Guide. Melina, Stepaniak and Aronson, Healthy Living Publications, 2004)
The simple, yet elegant, dish pictured here is perfect for the holiday season, but it can add colour and a festive touch any time of the year. Furthermore, it is nutritious, providing an excellent source of vitamins A and C, plus a good source of calcium, iron, potassium and vitamin B6. Made with flaxseed oil, a single serving is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Steamed white rice may be heaped in the centre of the wreath to give a snow-like appearance.
Kale and red pepper holly ring
Deep green kale tossed with bright red bell peppers resembles a holly wreath when presented in a circle on a plate. As this way of serving greens is likely to have broad appeal, you may wish to double or triple the recipe for larger groups.
6 cups thinly sliced kale greens
¼ cup diced sweet red pepper
2 tbsp flaxseed oil or olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
Fold kale leaves in half lengthwise and remove the rib. Then slice thinly. Place kale in steamer, sprinkle with red pepper. Cover and steam over medium-high heat until the peppers are tender-crisp. Drain. Combine oil, vinegar and tamari in a bowl large enough to hold kale. Toss kale and peppers into vinegar mixture and place on warm platter. Create a wreath shape by pushing the seasoned kale toward edges of platter, leaving an open space in centre. If desired, heap steamed rice or place a rounded nut loaf in the centre of the ring.
Makes about four servings.
Vesanto Melina is a registered dietitian and consultant and co-author of seven food and nutrition classics. She lives in Langley, BC. (firstname.lastname@example.org)604-882-6782. (www.nutrispeak.com)