In the past few years, vegan dining has gone from the domain of a few obscure restaurants to a significant and creative driving force within the culinary world. And with Australians showing the greatest interest in plant-based eating (we recently topped the poll in Google's worldwide searches for the word "vegan"), the chances of having vegan or vegetarian seated at your table this Christmas are greater than ever.
This might seem a tad daunting during the festive season – when meat reigns supreme – but it doesn't have to be. With a bit of preparation and a few easy ingredient swaps, plant-based guests can leave the table as full and satisfied as everyone else.
1. Vegan ain't gluten-free. There isn't a plant eater on the planet who, on asking for vegan options at a restaurant, hasn't been told, "Oh yes, we have lots of gluten-free dishes". Yes, this happens. A lot. Be smarter than the average hospitality worker and don't confuse the two. In fact, most of the time, a big hunk of crusty ciabatta (partnered with a fruity olive oil or dairy-free butter) will win you big points with your vegan guests.
2. Don't fudge it. Remembered after the fact that you cooked the potatoes in duck fat? Or dolloped some butter into the peas? 'Fess up. Not only is it pretty darn immoral to serve animal products to a vegan without their knowledge, but many vegans and vegetarians, especially those with a few years of animal-free eating under their belts, have developed sensitivities to animal products. They might not know at the time that you're pulling the faux wool over their eyes, but they will pay for it come Boxing Day.
3. Hummus where the heart is. Remember in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the dad sprays Windex on everything, to cure all ills? Many vegans feel exactly the same way about hummus – it can fix everything. If you are unsure about what type of sauces, butters, dips, or dressings to serve, make or buy some good quality hummus and you're bound to keep them happy. Guacamole will have the same effect.
4. Don't forget the booze. Lurking alongside the fermented grapes in the wine you're serving might be ingredients as unexpected as isinglass (from fish bladder), gelatine, and egg whites. These are often used to filter the wine's impurities, but also contribute to making them unfriendly for vegans. Check the label, or pop into a knowledgeable bottle shop to find cruelty-free options. If all else fails, Barnivore is a great reference site for vegan wines, beers and spirits.
5. Easy swaps. These days, there are vegan substitutes for pretty much every food item imaginable (yep, even a big juicy steak), so it's easy to swap out a Christmas staple with one that is vegan-friendly. Making a cheese platter? Just add one or two nut - or soy-based cheeses alongside their dairy counterparts. Vegan gravies, ice-creams, custards and puddings are all available at major supermarkets and there are plenty of recipes out there for home-made versions, too. You can offer up a separate vegan option, or take a chance on making a new take on an old favourite. You just might like it better than the original.
6. Mock meats. There are plenty of meat-free roasts on the market, from supermarket freezer options right through to gourmet versions from speciality vegan 'butchers' such as Suzy Spoon. But, just like their meaty counterparts, they're not cheap, so check with your guests if it's something they're keen on – some vegans love a good 'ol mock meat, but others can't bear the thought. Don't waste your time and money if it's only going to go uneaten.
7. Hold the honey, honey. It's less obvious than meat, dairy and eggs, but honey comes from an animal, so vegans don't eat it. Maple syrup, brown sugar or agave are delicious substitutes. Oh, and forget the gelatine – if you want to make a panna cotta or jelly trifle suitable for all your guests, swap gelatine made from animals' skin, bones and connective tissues, with agar agar, made from seaweed.
8. Try the food. Omnivores are often heard saying, "I won't eat that, it's vegan" – usually with a curl of the lip. Well, so is an apple. Make your guests feel comfortable and welcome at the table by trying the vegan dishes on offer, and if they're good, feel free to say so.
9. Bring on the veg. Great vegie sides and salads will keep all your guests happy at the Christmas table this year. But to make sure they're vegan friendly, roast the veg in olive oil – and in a separate tray to the turkey. If you're serving salad dressings containing dairy, eggs or honey, serve them to the side for people to add later, and pop an animal-friendly alternative such as balsamic vinegar on the table as well.
10. Accidentally vegan products are your friend. These products are not specifically designed as vegan alternatives, but just happen to be free of animal products. On this list you'll find goodies of all sorts – from chips, to chocolate, to biscuits. Oh, and even one household brand of mayonnaise… which leaves traditional mayo connoisseurs suitably horrified.