A feast to fit everyone

Now that it's no longer a given that everyone around the Christmas table will be a fan of turkey, pork or ham, what's cooking for the guests who'd rather have plants on their plates?

There's no need to hunt down  recipes for nut  roast - the trick is to combine a mix of dishes that bring people together, not set them apart, says Adelaide-based chef, Simon Bryant.

When Bryant feeds his friends, he likes to serve food by grouping each meat dish with a vegetable-based dish – this means the vegetable dish can then work both as an accompaniment to the meat as well as a dish for those guests who prefer to stick with veg.

"You just plonk a lot of dishes down and everyone helps themselves. It's about breaking down barriers and not singling people out because of their preferences," says Bryant, who isn't keen on slapping labels like 'vegetarian' on food. He thinks there are just two types of food – good food and bad food.

"When you group dishes on the table you just need to think about what flavours work together. Turkey marries really well with a stuffing made of sourdough breadcrumbs, celery, walnuts and sage, for instance, but you don't have to serve it inside the bird – you can serve it beside the bird as a separate dish that everyone can enjoy.

Roast pork goes well with fruit with sharp flavours, he adds, suggesting fresh berries with fetta, roast almonds, pieces of torn sourdough, a bunch each of mint and coriander all tossed together with balsamic vinegar or aged sweet red vinegar. His warm potato salad is a new twist on a Christmas favourite and made more substantial by combining cooked potatoes with chickpeas sautéed with spring onions and chaat masala (an Indian spice mix), baby spinach and coriander (recipe below).

"Last Christmas, when my father came out from the UK, I cooked a goose but there were so many other dishes on the table that no one noticed I didn't eat any of the meat," says Bryant. "I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat meat when I cook for myself at home – but I'd never enforce vegetarian food on anyone."

It's a similar picture when Lisa Chalk, communications director for Animals Australia, gets together with her Hungarian family at Christmas.

"I became a vegetarian last year after working on the live export issue. It involved watching a lot of footage of animals being killed – and if you watch enough of that you really don't want to eat meat. I had a light bulb moment when I realised for the first time that eating meat is a personal choice, not a necessity," she says.

"At Christmas it's about designing a meal that includes dishes everyone can enjoy and last year there were  roast stuffed mushrooms, pan-fried asparagus, roast beetroot, cous cous with chickpeas, potato salad and falafel, as well as free range ham and turkey.

"Because I work in animal welfare my family have always been supportive even though they're Hungarian and meat is traditionally the hero of the meal. My grandmother panicked at first about making meals without meat but she's very inventive and found there were plenty of traditional recipes that didn't use meat - because meat wasn't always as plentiful as it is now. Although I don't think there'll ever be a time when there'll never be turkey on my family's Christmas table, it will never be factory farmed turkey.

"People feel guilty about overeating at Christmas but with more plant-based food it's a guilt-free meal."

Serves 4

1 cup chickpeas soaked overnight in cold water (Bryant suggests kabuli chckpeas which are the larger, paler variety)

500g potatoes (he suggests a slightly waxy variety like Nicola)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 tablspoons extra virgin olive oil

2 small onions diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons chaat masala (the Herbies Spices range includes chaat masala)

5 large handfuls baby spinach

1 good sized bunch coriander, stems and leaves roughly chopped

1 long green chili, scliced, seeds and all

1 bunch spring onions, green parts cut in 2.5 cm lengths

Salt flakes

Juice 1 lemon

This story A feast to fit everyone first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.