Christmas lunch has come a long way. It would once have been unthinkable to pass up the roast meat and gravy but in recent years Australians have wholeheartedly embraced a more local, seasonal cuisine. 

At the same time there has been a small but significant shift towards a vegetarian diet in the community. A Roy Morgan report from August this year found that between 2012 and 2016 the number of vegetarians rose from 9.7 per cent of the population to almost 11.2 per cent or about 2.1 million people. 

There’s a growing likelihood that someone at Christmas lunch this year won’t want any turkey. This gives you a great opportunity to hone your vegetarian culinary skills, and it’s surprisingly easy to do.

1. Think fresh and tasty

To cater for a meat-free Christmas a good place to start is your mindset. According to Anthea Amore, whose cookbook Passion has become a vegan bible for many home cooks, simply go for what’s fresh and tasty. 

“The essence of Christmas is coming together with family and sharing food, and it’s getting distilled down to the real basics of that concept,” Anthea said. 

“Using red and green colours has that really Christmassy feel. I make polenta like a pizza slice that’s thin and crisp and baked, then topped with char-grilled red pepper, asparagus or green beans, chargrilled zucchini and eggplant and some caramelised red onion. I guarantee it won’t just be the vegans eating it,” she said.

vegetarian Christmas

Use fresh red and green vegetables for a Christmas feel.

2. Try a twist on the classics

Vegetarian dishes don’t have to be complex to be delicious. Abigail O’Neill, author of the Model Chocolate cookbook and a vegetarian since she was 12, is making sausage rolls with a twist. 

“My boys’ favourite is a vegetarian sausage roll, with mashed potato and walnuts and all these crazy spices and herbs wrapped up in a pastry,” Abigail said. 

“When you know what flavours to use, you can make things taste meaty without actually using meat,” she said.

vegetarian Christmas

Add a twist to classics, like vegetarian ‘sausage’ rolls.

3. Barbecue it

For many Aussies, Christmas lunch is all about the barbecue. Christine Black, director of public affairs and communications at Coca-Cola South Pacific, believes this time-honoured cooking method lends itself perfectly to vegetarian food. 

“What I love about Australia is that a barbecue is a really popular Christmas tradition. I also love that as a vegetarian, because there are so many great-tasting things you can put on the barbie,” Christine said.

“Everyone loves onion, tomato, potato, mushrooms, haloumi, a cob of corn. There’s so much stuff and it’s all delicious. Sometimes I’ll put on some marinated tofu, which goes beautifully with a Coca-Cola Ginger, and people will be just as happy to eat that as their chops,” she said.

Vegetarian Christmas

Crisp vegetables, and hard cheese like halloumi, is perfect on a barbecue.

4. The unifying power of dessert

Regardless of whether you prefer meat or vegetables, there’s one area where vegetarians and omnivores always come together – dessert

“I grew up with a dish called White Christmas. It’s cold, and you can make it in advance,” Anthea said. 

“The base is desiccated coconut, cacao butter, and coconut oil. You then throw in dried fruit and nuts including sour cherries, cranberries, pistachios for a green colour, goji berries, and macadamias. Add some agave or maple syrup to sweeten it, and a lot of vanilla,” she said.

Given the strength of your vegetarian menu, you might even make a few converts over the course of the meal. 

“I’m the daughter of farmers on both sides. I remember my Dad saying to me, ‘no member of the family has ever been a vegetarian’,” Christine said. 

“Now, as we all do, he’s mellowed a bit and he’s just as happy to have tofu as I am. Well, maybe not quite as happy,” she said.

There’s always next year.