What! You don’t eat meat?

Does the thought of entertaining a vegetarian or two send you into a panic? Planning holiday meals can be trying enough without having to make substitutions for meatless food styles. Yet, if you’re like many families across the country, there may be dinner companions who have opted for a diet devoid of meat. Concern over health, for environment or animal rights are a few of the reasons for the change in menus.

But while vegetarian diets can be among the healthiest, they can also be as fat-laden or short on nutrients as those containing big hunks of meat. Getting to know a few facts on healthy vegetarian eating will help in holiday and year-round menu planning for friends and relatives. It can also provide some guidelines on meat-optional meals for yourself.

Holiday meat meals
In many cultures, vegetarian eating is considered the norm. For religious or economic reasons, traditional meals are based on a variety of dishes that provided the right mix of nutrients. Here in North America, a vegetarian meal may consist of a dinner centred around a piece of grilled chicken or fish but with the fish or chicken simply left out. Try to imagine the holiday ciuit for vegetarians being entertained by meat eaters. The pickings can be mighty slim indeed.

Nowadays, with our desire to experience food from around the world, vegetarian meals can be tasty and palate pleasing, even for the flesh eaters among us. Bean dips or hummus, cumin-scented lentil soup garnished with a dollop of yogurt, a hearty pasta with tomato and bean sauce or a North African chick pea and couscous casserole are welcome offerings in homes across the country.

But if planning vegetarian meals has you stymied, take a look at the Vegetarian Diet Pyramid. Developed by the Boston-based Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, together with the Harvard School of Public Health (see Related site). It takes the mystery out of healthy vegetarian eating. It includes plenty of detail about the foundations for a healthy vegetarian diet, based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. And it’s the latter that’s often AWOL when vegetarians are being entertained, sometimes making meals less than satisfying.

This holiday season, why not think of offering palate-pleasing vegetarian meals as an opportunity to expand your culinary horizons? A terrific resource is the ever-popular Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Broadway) by Deborah Madison. With its 1,400 fabulous recipes, it’s chock-full of information and is a terrific resource for any cook, vegetarian or not.

Here are a few holiday appetizers that are sure to please all your guests.

These rolls, when made with tofu, are a great introduction for non-tofu eaters. They’re also super when made with chicken. Whatever your choice of filling, involve your guests by having them roll their own. Makes about 16 – 20 rolls or six to eight appetizer servings.

  • 1 tablespoon  (15 ml) honey
  • 1/3 cup (75 ml) hoisin sauce
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sodium -reduced soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons  (10 ml) vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons  (10 ml) minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons  (10 ml) grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) cooking sherry
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) hoist sauce
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 175 grams firm tofu, cut into matchstick-sized pieces. or 2 small chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cut into thin strips
  • 1 pound (500 g) shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) chopped green onion, tops only
  • 16 -20 large Boston lettuce leaves

    In a small bowl, mix together 1tablespoon (15 ml) honey, 1/3 cup (75 ml) hoisin sauce and 3 tablespoons (45 ml) sodium -reduced soy sauce; set aside.

    Place tofu or chicken in a medium-sized bowl and add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) garlic, 1 teaspoon (5 ml) ginger, cooking sherry, 1 tablespoon (15 ml) hoisin sauce and 2 teaspoons soy sauce. Mix thoroughly and marinate 15 minutes or up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.

  • In a wok or a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and add tofu or chicken strips. Stir-fry for three to four minutes, or until tofu is beginning to brown or chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove to a clean bowl and keep warm.

    Heat remaining 1 teaspoon (5 ml) oil in wok or skillet. Add remaining garlic and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sliced mushrooms and stir-fry until mushrooms are tender, about four to five minutes. Add tofu or chicken back to wok and heat. Add 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of honey-hoisin mixture and stir to coat. Place mushroom mixture in a large bowl; add green onions and toss to mix.

    To serve, make rolls by placing a heaping tablespoon of mushroom mixture in lettuce leaf. Drizzle 1 teaspoon (5 ml) sauce over and fold to enclose filling.

  • Per roll made with tofu nutritional information:
  • Calories: 40/Protein: 2 grams/Fat: 1 gram/Carbohydrate: 5 grams/Dietary Fibre: 1 gram
  • Per roll made with chicken nutritional information:
  • Calories: 45/Protein: 3 grams/Fat: 2 gram/Carbohydrate: 5 grams/Dietary Fibre: less than 1 gram

    Because the garlic is roasted, the puree is a milder version of the original.

  • To roast garlic, slice 1/8 in. / 0.3 cm off the top of the head of garlic.
  • Place on a double thickness of aluminum foil.
  • Drizzle 1 teaspoon/ 5 ml olive oil over garlic and wrap foil to seal.
  • Roast in preheated 400F/ 200C oven for 1 hour. 
  • When cooled, squeeze garlic out from cloves. Serve with whole grain pita triangles or
           vegetable crudités. (Serves 10 -12 Makes 3 cups/ 750 ml)
  • 6 large roasted garlic cloves
  • 2 19-oz./540-mL cans garbanzo beans (chick peas), rinsed and drained or 4
    cups (1 L) cooked
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml)  tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 3 tablespoons  (45 ml) light mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml)  – 1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Paprika (optional) as a garnish

    In a food processor, add garlic, chickpeas, tahini, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and cumin. Blend to a smooth consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add more cumin, if desired. To garnish, sprinkle with paprika.
  • Per serving nutritional information:
    Calories: 128
    Protein: 6 grams
    Fat: 5 grams
    Carbohydrate: 17 grams
    Dietary Fibre: 5 grams