A vegan, low-carb Christmas meal

Judith Wills / 04 December 2015

Our diet expert plans a vegetarian festive meal without carbs or dairy.

I'm having two Christmases this year, being greedy. My youngest son, partner and two little children are coming for a few days next week, so we're having an early celebratory dinner and presents round the tree. Then for actual Christmas we're going to stay with my stepson and his family and he'll be cooking!

But I won't be getting sick of turkey because for our festive meal next week, there won't be one in sight. Son and family are vegetarian bordering on vegan so I've decided that instead of cooking for them and separately for us, we'll all be eating meat-free*.

I've been cooking veggie meals for them for around 4 years now when they visit, but I've never been totally confident in producing tasty meat-free meals, having lived with a husband for the past 40 years or so whose nickname is Meat Man.

Related: Is it time to give up meat for your health?

About 20 years ago I wrote a cookbook called Virtually Vegetarian, which was fine as it included loads of dairy and also some fish. But son's partner, having recently had my first blood granddaughter, is trying to lose her baby weight and is not only avoiding cheese, so bang go the standby mornay sauces and grilled halloumi, but she's also on a low-carb diet, so I can't get away with a veggie pasta bake or baked potato with cheese, for sure.

The festive meal itself hasn't been stressing me because they adore a dozen different roast vegetables with a homemade nut roast (not difficult!), herb stuffing, sprouts with chestnuts, bread sauce and veggie gravy. But for the rest of their stay, I want to feel I've made a bit of effort, and to be sure I'm serving up something tasty.

Luckily, back in the summer one of my publishers asked me to come up with a whole bookful of 'free from' recipes – and that meant free from meat, dairy, refined sugar, wheat, gluten, artificial additives and low in salt. After the initial panic, I set to, did masses of research and testing and tweaking, and eventually came up with a set of recipes I was pleased with – and enjoyed eating.

So the borderline vegan, low-carb meals for the whole stay are sorted now. When they arrive they're getting my take on a Mediterranean Pizza with a quinoa base (quinoa is a high-protein seed) and using home-made cashew cheese instead of Mozzarella. I can assure you it's delicious. And for the last night of their stay, they'll have a vegan tagine.

Related: Visit our vegan recipe hub for lots of tasty ideas

As we get older and the kids have long left home we're supposed to get more 'set in our ways' and, apparently, we're happy to eat the sort of meals we've eaten for much or our lives. Indeed many of us, especially if we're alone, start buying ready meals rather than cooking much at all. My sister has surprised me with this – she was always a keen and great cook but now, on her own, she loves a meal for one from Sainsbury's most nights of the week.

That's fine, but I must admit I feel quite pleased with myself for embracing new ways of eating – I'll never get into kale or nettle smoothies as long as I live, but I feel proud that I can cook a quinoa pizza, a raw vegetable lasagne, and even a decent basket of savoury crackers made only from seeds and nutritional yeast! And that I can thoroughly enjoy them all, too. If they happen to be healthy and full of nutritious things, and suitable for dieting vegans, and good for the planet, then that is just a great bonus.

People who enjoy such a diet are no longer to be regarded as a bit cranky, a bit strange - you only have to look at the huge popularity of the new-wave cooks such as Ella Woodward, with her fastest-selling debut cookbook ever earlier in the year, to realise that 'clean' food is, surely, the food of the future.

Related: Can a vegetarian diet reduce your risk of cancer?

* Unless Meat Man refuses, in which case he can grill his own steak.

Photo shows a slice of Mediterranean Quinoa Pizza I made back in the summer.

Judith's vegan quinoa pizza

To make the 14-inch pizza base just soak 335g white quinoa overnight, then drain. Whizz in a blender with 150ml water, 5 tbsp olive oil, 1¼ tsp baking powder and 1¼ tsp salt until smooth and creamy then tip into a round 14-inch pizza tray (without holes!) and bake at 190C for 20 minutes or so in centre of oven until golden.

Top the pizza with thick tomato sauce (I did make my own but you don't have to!) and a generous selection of vegetables (such as sweet peppers, red onion, artichoke hearts, aubergine, courgette, fennel) all grilled or roast until soft and lightly golden, along with garlic, chopped herbs and semi-dried tomatoes. Finally dob on spoonsful of cashew cheese (made by whizzing 175g soaked cashew nuts in a blender with a little crushed garlic, 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes and the juice of half a lemon until smooth).

Bake at 190C for a further 10 minutes until everything is piping hot and the the cashew cheese is golden.

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