Yes, you can even have ‘turkey’ with all the trimmings. Prudence Wade meets Gaz Oakley, author of a new vegan festive cookbook.
The meteoric rise of veganism isn’t exactly new news anymore. Between 2017 and 2018 participants in Veganuary (people pledging to go plant-based for the month of January) grew by 183%.
Since then, the animal-free movement has gone from strength to strength, with shops and restaurants rushing to offer more meat and dairy-free options than ever. But there’s one time of year that has remained firmly meat-full in many of our minds: Christmas. Pigs in blankets, roast turkey, egg nog… the endless list of festive delicacies is far from being plant-based.
That’s why chef Gaz Oakley has created a special festive cookbook. “Christmas is quite a difficult time to be vegan,” he explains. “Maybe you’re going to a house where people really don’t know what to cook for you and it gets awkward, or you’ve just gone vegan and used to really enjoy cooking a big dinner. It’s easy to get stuck for ideas and just go to the supermarket and get a nut roast, which isn’t very exciting.”
What started as a few plant-based festive recipes soon grew into a long list of alternative dishes, and Oakley knew he had to put it all together into a book.
Replacing the classics
December 25 is steeped in tradition, and changing the things we’re used to seems almost unconscionable. With this in mind, surely a vegan Christmas is no Christmas at all?
People tend to fall into three broad categories: Grinches, those who quite like Christmas and those who absolutely adore the festive season. A few minutes into our conversation, it’s clear Oakley firmly falls into the final section, and could probably wax lyrical about Christmas for hours on end. This is why he’s tried his hardest to find a way to enjoy the festive season with all the trimmings, while still being plant-based.
The first thing he did when creating this book was coming up with his own versions of the classics. Take the centrepiece of any festive lunch: The turkey. “That was the first thing I really needed to master,”
“I managed to come up with a recipe using wheat gluten, also known as seitan,” he says. “It’s actually very popular in Asian cooking and has been picked up by the vegan scene, but I’ve never seen anyone make a stuffed vegan turkey before.”
Because seitan doesn’t actually have much of a flavour (if anything, you want to mask its flavour), Oakley had to work even harder to make it Christmassy.
“I’ve tried to make sure that every flavour and element I’m adding to my recipes has a traditional taste – my dinner last year tasted more Christmassy than any non-vegan Christmas meal I’ve had in the past,” he laughs. “I made sure it had all the
traditional elements in it like cranberries, rosemary, sage and chestnuts.”
It’s all about the side dishes
There’s no doubt the centrepiece is hugely important to Christmas dinner, but the sides are an essential supporting act. Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, cabbage – it’s all delicious, and Oakley argues these are key to making or breaking a good meal. His advice? If this is your first vegan Christmas and you don’t quite have the confidence to tackle seitan yet, focus on nailing the accompaniments.
“If you have rubbish potatoes you’re not going to enjoy the meal,” Oakley says. “Or if your vegetables aren’t cooked right it could ruin everything.” Sure, it might sound a bit hyperbolic, but this the biggest meal of the year we’re talking about – its importance can’t be over-exaggerated. Even if you’re not vegan or even vegetarian, you can work towards making a few more of the dishes on your table cruelty-free.
Christmas is a time for peace
Oakley is coming up to his fourth Christmas as a vegan, and for him it’s a particularly poignant time of year to be plant-based.
“I really do think Christmas should be a peaceful time,” he reflects. “And hopefully people’s dinner tables start reflecting this by having no animals on them.”
So many of us aren’t yet fully committed to a vegan diet but are increasingly eating more plant-based meals. Even if you aren’t ready to take the meat-free plunge this Christmas, you can still do your bit for both animal welfare and the environment by replacing the old classics with the same dishes – but cruelty-free.
Vegan Christmas by Gaz Oakley is published by Quadrille, priced £15. Available now.
Words by Prudence Wade, Press Association
PICTURED ABOVE Vegan chef Gaz Oakley | PA Photo/Peter O’Sullivan
Vegan Boozy Mince Pies, Makes 12
For the filling:
300g mixed dried fruit
2 eating apples (such as Braeburn), grated
Juice and zest of 1 orange
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
120ml agave nectar
60ml vegan-friendly brandy
For the pastry:
250g plain flour
125g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
Pinch of ground cinnamon
125g vegan spread
2tbsp almond milk
Thoroughly combine all the filling ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover the bowl and leave the mixture overnight, or for at least 12 hours, stirring every now and then, if possible. Spoon the mince pie filling into sterilised jars – it will keep for two months in the fridge.
Now make the pastry. Combine the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together in a mixing bowl. Add the vegan spread and rub into the dry ingredients with your fingers until the mix is a breadcrumb-like consistency. Pour in enough milk to bring the mixture together to form a ball of dough and pick up all the bits from the bowl. Give it a slight knead for two minutes, then wrap the dough in cling film and pop it into the freezer to chill for 25 minutes.
When you’re ready to make the mince pies, grease a non-stick bun tin and preheat the oven to 180°C. Sprinkle a little flour onto your work surface and roll out the pastry to around 3mm thick.
Cut 12 circles of pastry to fit your bun tray, line the holes and pop a teaspoonful of pie filling mixture into each one. Cut out the tops for each one – in shapes if you wish – and place over the filling, pressing the edges gently to seal. Sprinkle over some caster sugar and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden. Let the mince pies cool before serving or packaging up to give to friends and family.
PICTURED ABOVE LEFT Vegan Christmas by Gaz Oakley, published by Quadrille | PA Photo/Peter O’Sullivan
PICTURED ABOVE RIGHT Vegan mince pies | PA Photo/Simon Smith
Vegan Stuffed Squash Roast, Serves 6
1 large butternut squash, washed
A little olive oil
For the glazed onions:
2 red onions, finely sliced
3tbsp balsamic vinegar
5tbsp organic coconut sugar
For the Christmas rice:
150g wild rice, cooked
150g whole cooked vacuum-packed chestnuts, roughly chopped
75g dried apricots, chopped
150g mixed nuts, chopped
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of paprika
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of sea salt and pepper
Pinch of dried sage
For the sauteed mushrooms:
160g fresh mushrooms (I used girolles)
1tsp roasted garlic powder
Sea salt and pepper
5tbsp cranberry and orange sauce
4 peppers, roasted, skin removed
6 sun-dried tomatoes, re-hydrated
2 handfuls baby spinach
Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).
Split the squash in half lengthways, place cut-side up onto a baking tray and bake for 45 minutes, or until just soft.
Meanwhile, make the glazed onions. Heat three tablespoons of water in a non-stick saucepan, add the sliced onion and sweat for five minutes.
Add the vinegar and sugar, then cook for a further 10 minutes over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Set aside.
Mix the Christmas rice ingredients in a mixing bowl until fully combined, then set aside.
Saute your mushrooms. Heat two tablespoons of water in a non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the mushrooms, garlic powder and seasoning. Saute for five minutes.
When the squash is cooked and cooled slightly, scoop out the seeds, then scoop out a 2cm (1in) channel of flesh and mix that into the Christmas rice mixture. Spoon the cranberry sauce into one of the squash halves, followed by the rice.
Top with the peppers, onions, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Place the other squash half on top, tie together in three places and roast for a further 15 minutes. Carve and serve straight away.
PICTURED ABOVE Stuffed squash recipe | PA Photo/Simon Smith
Vegan Jaffa Cakes, Makes 24
For the sponge layer:
Coconut oil, for greasing
120ml soy milk
55g vegan spread
1tsp orange essence
120g plain flour (can use gluten-free)
100g unrefined caster sugar
1tsp baking powder
1/4tsp fine sea salt
1/4tsp ground cinnamon
1/4tsp ground nutmeg
For the orange jelly:
2tbsp agar agar flakes
120ml cold water
240ml freshly squeezed
2tbsp caster sugar
For the chocolate topping:
2x 100g bars dairy-free chocolate, finely chopped
Pinch of sea salt
Make the jelly first as it needs two hours to set. Line a baking tray with cling film. Heat the agar agar and water in a saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, whisk until the flakes disappear, remove from the heat and add the orange juice and sugar. Whisk until combined, pour onto your lined baking tray and place in the fridge until set.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F). Grease two non-stick muffin trays with coconut oil.
Put the soy milk, vegan spread and orange essence into a saucepan and set over a low heat until the spread has melted and everything has mixed together. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and spices in a mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the orange-milk mixture. Stir well until you have a thick batter. Spoon a couple tablespoons of the batter into each hole in your greased tray. Smooth the mixture level, then bake for eight minutes until lightly golden.
Allow to cool slightly in the trays before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Put the chocolate into a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. When melted, lift the bowl off the pan, allow the chocolate to cool slightly, then stir in the salt.
Remove the set jelly from the fridge and use a round cutter (just smaller than the cake bases) to cut the jelly. Lift the rounds onto the top of each cake base, then spoon over the chocolate. Spread the coated jaffa cakes out on a plate and allow to set completely in the fridge. It should take about one hour. They will keep for two to three days in the fridge.
PICTURED ABOVE Jaffa Cakes from Vegan Christmas by Gaz Oakley | PA Photo/Simon Smith