5 better ways to feed vegetarians at Christmas

Easy holiday dishes omnivores can make for vegetarians and vegans

vegetarian christmas recipesHam or turkey with all the trimmings isn’t a vegetarian’s idea of the perfect festive dinner. Neither is a meal made up of a few lame, meatless side dishes and a dinner bun. So what’s an omnivore to do when cooking for vegetarian or vegan holiday guests?

There are plenty of delicious options, says NAIT culinary instructor Ganesh Subra. While he isn’t vegetarian, many of his friends and family are. He feeds more than 40 of them at his annual Christmas Eve party.

“We do the endless meat dishes with all the turkey and everything. But it’s not hard to come up with choices for vegetarians and vegans too,” he says. Here are some of his suggestions for meeting the challenges non-meat eaters typically face at Christmas and for expanding a holiday meal to accommodate a variety of tastes. (Click here for all the recipes.)

Challenge: A hearty entrée

Soups and stews are easy, satisfying, and can be packed with beans, veggies and other good stuff, Subra says.

“We do a take on beef chili using soy protein, kidney beans and peppers, served with a savoury fried bread,” he adds.

Another staple for Subra is falafel, made with roasted, grated beets and chickpeas.

He also recommends a creamy-tasting corn and potato chowder made with vegetable stock and a bit of rice or almond milk. The starch in the corn helps make the soup rich and creamy without adding dairy, he says.

Challenge: Kids and picky eaters

Subra usually relies on at least one baked pasta dish, with or without cheese, to accommodate picky kids, as well as vegetarians. Another easy vegan choice is pasta aglio e olio – long pasta tossed in a simple combination of olive oil, garlic and chili flakes.

Challenge: Light on the carbs

Skipping the meat can mean loading up on the carbs, leaving vegetarians feeling stuffed but unsatisfied. “You want to have a mix of proteins, and the right kinds of proteins, without going too heavy on the carbs,” says Subra. He suggests a quinoa and chickpea salad with arugula.

Challenge: Be creative

“My guests are always look for something new that they can try on their own,” he says. “Instead of just doing a straight vegetarian curry with coconut milk, I’ll make a vegetarian stew using pumpkin and black-eyed peas, and then that becomes a conversation topic. I try to think outside the box, but still keep flavours that blend well together.”

Another popular dish is his chimichurri fried cauliflower, using chickpea flour to coat the cauliflower before frying it, then tossing it in a fresh, colourful chimichurri sauce made with parsley, cilantro, garlic and a splash of vinegar.

Challenge: Dessert

Vegan desserts can be tough, admits Subra. In the past, he’s made raspberry “ice cream” with coconut milk, as well as vegan brownies, but fresh fruit is always an easy and delicious option. “For me, butter’s my biggest friend in the kitchen, so if I don’t get to use that, I’m handicapped,” he laughs.


Vegetarian chili

(makes 4 servings)vegetarian chili recipe, nait


  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green and/or red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 7 ml (½ tbsp) chili powder
  • 2.5 ml (½ tsp) cumin
  • 2.5 ml (½ tsp) chili flakes
  • 1 ml (¼ tsp) cinnamon
  • 1 ml (¼ tsp) cayenne
  • 1 ml (¼ tsp) pepper
  • 1 ml (¼ tsp) oregano
  • 237 ml (1 cup) mushrooms, sliced
  • 177 ml (¾ cup) cooked or canned red kidney beans, rinsed
  • 177 ml (¾ cup) cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 473ml (2 cups) canned or chopped whole tomatoes with juice
  • 237 ml (1 cup) grated firm tofu
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped
  • 15 ml (1tbsp) tomato paste
  • 5 ml (1tsp) brown sugar
  • 237 ml (1 cup) water
  • 7 grams (¼ oz) bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 bay leaf


  1. Heat oil in a large pot. Sauté onions, peppers and garlic for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add chili powder, cumin, chili flakes, cinnamon and cayenne and let toast 2 minutes.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients except beans and chickpeas. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beans and simmer another 10 minutes.
  3. Serve hot.

Falafel with beets

(makes approx. 25 pieces)

Falafel ingredientsfalafel and beet recipe, nait

  • 450 grams dry chickpeas
  • 150 g grated candy cane or red beets (make sure to squeeze off the excess juice)
  • 50 g onion, finely chopped
  • 60 g fresh parsley, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 22 g rice flour
  • 10 g salt (to taste)
  • 10 g cumin
  • 5 g ground coriander
  • 2 g black pepper                               
  • 2 g cayenne pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying


  1. Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.
  2. Drain and rinse the beans well. Pour them into a food processor and blend until coarse. Mix with the grated beets, chopped onion, garlic cloves, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
  3. Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that, but don't over-process, or it will turn into hummus.
  4. Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.
  5. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  6. Form into 30-gram round portions and deep fry or shallow fry them until golden brown.
  7. Serve with pita bread, yogurt tahini sauce and a salad made with sliced onion, tomato and sumac powder.

Yogurt tahini sauce ingredients

(makes 12 servings)

  • 284 g tahini
  • 284 g plain yogurt
  • 8 g garlic, chopped
  • 71 g lemon juice
  • 28 g parsley, finely chopped
  • 28 g scallions
  • salt to taste
  • pinch of cayenne
  • pinch of paprika


  1. Mix all the ingredients together. Blend well.
  2. Refrigerate until needed. Correct seasonings.
  3. Serve at room temperature.

Corn and potato chowder

(makes 12 portions)potato and corn chowder recipe


  • 125 g butter
  • 180 g onion, diced
  • 50 g celery, diced
  • 60 g all-purpose flour
  • 1.75 litres vegetable stock
  • 500 g potatoes, diced
  • 650 g corn kernels
  • 125 ml cream or soy milk
  • salt to taste
  • white pepper to taste
  • chopped parsley for garnish


  1. Melt butter. Sauté onion and celery. Cook until translucent, then add the flour to make a roux. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes, then add stock.
  2. Add potatoes and simmer until vegetables are tender.
  3. Add corn.
  4. Stir in cream or soy milk.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Garnish with chopped parsley

Quinoa salad with chickpeas

(makes 4 to 6 portions)quinoa salad recipe nait


Salad ingredients

  • 750 g cooked chickpeas
  • 375 ml cooked quinoa, red or white
  • 500 g baby arugula
  • 375 g red pepper, diced
  • 125 ml dried cranberries
  • 45 g sliced green onion
  • a few sprigs cilantro or dill, chopped

Dressing ingredients

  • 150 ml (2/3 cup) sherry vinegar or apple cider
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 300 ml (1 1/3 cup) olive oil
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) honey
  • 2 ml (1/2 tsp) cumin 
  • a pinch of cayenne


  1. Toss the first group of ingredients together into a small bowl.
  2. Whisk all the ingredients for the dressing into a small bowl.
  3. Toss the salad with the dressing.
  4. Season with salt and pepper if required.

Fried cauliflower with chimichurri

Cauliflower ingredientscauliflower recipe, nait

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 250 g chickpea flour
  • 5 g cumin seeds
  • 5 g turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 2 g baking powder
  • oil for frying


  • Cut cauliflower into smaller florets and set aside.
  • Combine chickpea flour, cumin seeds, turmeric, salt, pepper and baking powder in a bowl.
  • Add water to flour mixture. The batter should be thick and should coat the vegetable.
  • Marinate the cauliflower with chimichurri sauce for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Coat with chickpea flour batter and deep fry until golden brown.
  • You can serve this with dipping sauce on the side.

Chimichurri sauce ingredients

  • 2 cups parsley
  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 2 sprigs mint
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic
  • 3 to 4 green onions
  • 125 ml olive oil
  • 30 ml red wine vinegar
  • kosher salt and red pepper flakes to taste


  1. Pulse the garlic in the food processor until finely chopped.
  2. Add the parsley, cilantro, green onion and mint, and pulse until finely chopped.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a separate bowl. Add the olive oil and vinegar, and stir. (Adding the liquids outside of the blender gives the chimichurri the correct texture. You don't want the herbs to be completely puréed, just finely chopped).
  4. Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste.
  5. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  6. You can make a dipping sauce by mixing 1 cup mayonnaise and ¼ cup chimichurri sauce.

Subscribe to receive more great stories every month

Find out more news about NAIT, stories about our alumni and their impact on their communities, and useful how-to content featuring our experts.

Sign up today »