Whether you observe Christmas, another religious or cultural holiday, or even just the opportunity for some time off, for most of us this is also a season for celebrating family, friends and — of course — food. Food plays a significant role in our observance of Christmas and seasonal holidays, with cherished traditional recipes and tantalizing displays of elegant dishes and treats, and from a special family breakfast through to the snacks passed around during the day and finally to a memorable dinner.
These are some of the most special treats, breakfasts and dinner ideas I've created for my own loved ones through Christmases of the past years, and they have become as cherished to them as to myself. Many vegetarians such as myself, or families who have one or more vegetarians, have had to forgo or add to earlier Christmas food traditions out of necessity. But this should be considered no loss as Christmas traditions have always grown throughout generations of family. One of the purposes of this food blog has always been to show that vegetarian food can be a rewarding experience, not just for everyday eating but also for the most important occasions. I hope that those of you who have followed me through the years can agree, and I hope that you will find an idea in these posts that will add to your own holiday eating and entertaining experiences. Most of all, I hope that each and everyone one of you — old friends and newcomers — have a very warm and blessed Christmas.
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Nigella's Christmas Pavlova
Like an enormous roasted marshmallow with a thick crispy caramelized-sugar exterior surrounding a light and creamy meringue, pavlovas have the same lumpy and carefree charm of appearance, sweetness and ease … or a charm that is actually improved by a jaunty slathering of whipped cream and a reckless scattering of fruit on top.
Christmas Rum Balls
A Christmas classic, these rum balls disappear in moments once they're served. Somewhat like truffles, but with a smooth chocolate interior flavoured with crushed vanilla wafers and — of course — rum. A dark Jamaican rum will add extra intensity to the taste. Crushed hazelnuts or macadamias can be substituted for the vanilla wafers for a nuttier sensation.
Tropical Christmas Fruitcake
Dark, rich, chewy and moist, this may be the best Christmas fruitcake you've ever had. Dried pineapples, lychees, mangoes, golden raisins and coconut, fresh cut citrus peels, and a splash of island rum — this fruitcake only improves with age. This year you can pass around a fresh and beautiful fruitcake instead of all the usual fruitcake jokes.
Tropical Christmas Steamed Pudding
The plumpness and fresh vibrant flavors of dried tropical fruits are the star qualities of this steamed Christmas pudding. Any kind of dried fruit that strikes your fancy can be used, but a mixture of tropical fruits — mangoes, papayas, pineapples and bananas — will let you imagine you and your family are sitting on a sandy island beach at Christmas-time surrounded by warm tropical breezes.
These little sweet and chewy bites of dried fruit and nut candy are a delicious addition to your holiday entertaining platter. Best of all this wholesome treat can be prepared weeks or even months ahead of time, as long as you can keep out of them yourself before Christmas.
Fresh Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Icing
Gingerbread is a classic Christmas treat, and this delicious, sticky and moist gingerbread cake made with fresh ginger has plenty of zing to satisfy the traditionalists in the family while adding a modern sweet lemon icing for the bolder and more adventurous crowd.
Cocoa Fruit Treats
Naturally sweet, these no-bake cocoa treats with pistachios, dried fruit and a hint of chili are entirely guilt-free and incredibly easy to make. A great Christmas treat for when you think you've been over-indulging but can't resist the festive platter.
Quick & Easy Healthy Peanut Butter Balls
These no-bake and guilt-free little peanut butter balls are so easy to prepare that you can make them over and over again over the holidays, and you may need to once you see them flying off the plate.
Eggnog & Rum Winter Spiced French Toast
The perfect wake-up on a Christmas morning, the scent of eggnog combined with the gentle hints of rum and winter spices wafting through the kitchen might just give these breakfast treats priority over the presents under the tree this year.
Ginger Molasses Pancakes with Mixed Dried Fruit
These simple pancakes have the same festive flair as Christmas fruitcakes but with a much lighter, fluffier and fresher taste and texture. Perfect for serving up on a Christmas morning with some warmed maple syrup without having to wait around for the store-bought treats to be set out.
Rum & Ricotta Fritters
Christmas mornings are the perfect time to put on a pot of hot coffee and stir up a batch of these simple little rum and ricotta fritters — like little pieces of the fluffiest and most delectable pancakes you can imagine. Dusted with icing sugar or dipped in maple syrup or a warm spiced chocolate sauce, the memory of the scents and flavors will linger gloriously in your nose and mouth for hours.
Spiced Pumpkin Waffles
These light and fluffy waffles practically spring out of the waffle iron and onto the plate. The heavenly aroma of baked pumpkin and spices dressed with a little warmed maple syrup makes the most fragrant and delicious Christmas breakfast imaginable. Best of all, the aroma lingers through the house for hours to keep the festive cheer in the air.
Baked Apple Pancake
This soft and sweet baked apple pancake feels like a soufflé in the mouth with the wonderful flavors and aromas of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. A delicious start to the day with a mug of hot coffee, it's good enough to serve as dessert or as a late-night treat with a mug of hot chocolate instead.
Indian-Style Fried Egg and Potato Cake
For hungry people who want a filling and nourishing breakfast to last them through the day until dinner, this hearty savory fried egg and potato cake with Indian seasonings will do just the trick. And the delicious aroma will linger in your kitchen for hours and keep you hungry for more.
Mushroom Nut Roast in Golden Puff Pastry
Rich, hearty, earthy and delicious, this gorgeous mushroom nut roast wrapped in a golden puff pastry is the centerpiece of any Christmas dinner, vegetarian or otherwise. Loaded with quinoa, different kinds of mushrooms and nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and plenty of spices and seasonings, it's extraordinarily nourishing and hearty as well.
It is often said that mushrooms are the meat of vegetarians, and after eating this mushroom bourguignon you just might be convinced yourself. Tender chunks of plump portobellos and chewy dried lobster mushrooms are simmered into a rich, thick and fragrant sauce highlighted by a robust red wine and served over a bed of steaming egg noodles. Even your carnivorous guests won't miss a thing.
Lentil Quinoa Nut Roast
This curried "meatloaf" made with lentils, quinoa, mushrooms and cashews is not only an attractive centerpiece for a vegetarian Christmas dinner, it's hearty enough to satisfy any appetite, vegetarian or otherwise. It might also be the healthiest and most nourishing Christmas dinner you've ever had.
Indian-Style Samosa Potpie
Savory pies on the holiday table are a terrific way to make an impression on the eyes, and this rich pie stuffed with a samosa-style potato, chickpea, spinach and vegetable filling in a flaky butter pie crust will make an amazed impression on the taste buds — and none of your guests will leave the table hungry.
Aloo Palak Paneer Pie
Another savory centerpiece pie, this open pie combines classic spicy and tangy Indian flavors in a modern take on "aloo palak paneer" by baking a spiced spinach and paneer cheese filling in a mashed potato crust — this will disappear as soon as people see it.
Mushroom and Spinach Lasagne
Classic dishes and flavors, this time from Italy, this rich and sumptuous lasagne with creamy ricotta cheese, spinach and a zesty homemade tomato mushroom sauce may not be traditional for Christmas but makes a fine crowd pleaser at any time of year.
Scalloped Potatoes with Best-Ever Mushroom Sauce
Scalloped potatoes are a tradition at many Christmas tables, and these soft, creamy and buttery potatoes get a special treatment worthy of the occasion with generous layers of a tangy and aromatic mushroom sauce that I maintain is simply the "best ever".
Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup with Rosemary
Fragrant and colorful, this simple but rich and flavorful bean and pasta soup will satisfy your guests in so many ways, from pleasing their tastes and filling their stomachs, to warming their bodies and cheering their souls. This soup is always a winner.
Roasted Butternut Squash & Cannellini Bean Soup
Butternut squash is a seasonal winter favorite, and this simple, warm and creamy soup made with sweet roasted butternut squash soup and puréed cannellini beans is spiced and then topped with toasted pistachios for a hearty, delicious and colorful starter for a lovely Christmas meal.
Quinoa Soup with Beets and Fresh Dill
This seasonal and spicy beetroot and quinoa soup has all the colors of Christmas, especially if you top off a warm bowl with a dollop of sour cream. Warming, nourishing and earthy, this soup will set the stage for a gorgeous and satisfying meal.
Vegetarian Cassoulet with Bread Topping
An updated vegetarian take on a classic French winter staple, this rich and savory baked bean and vegetable casserole with dried herbs and a baked bread and Parmesan cheese topping makes for a delicious side dish but is also filling and hearty enough for a main course.
Simple light and fluffy "egg-y" popovers are a single serving size version of the classic British Christmas Yorkshire Pudding bread. Slather with butter and sprinkle salt and pepper on top of a hot fresh cooked popover for an absolutely delicious dinner roll that will fly off the table — better make a couple of batches at least.
Curried Vegetable Soup
This Indian-style vegetable soup has long been one of my very favorite soups to serve to friends and families on special occasions. Healthy, but most importantly delicious, cooked fresh vegetables seasoned with Indian spices bursts with an astonishing array of flavors in one bowl. Your guests may just want to fill up on this before even starting the main course.
Curried Red Kidney Beans with Paneer
Looking for a spectacular Indian main course to try for a change this Christmas? This colorful red kidney bean chili-style curry served with tender pieces of fried paneer cheese is rich, earthy, spicy and incredibly flavorful, and never fails to blow people away.