How to cook Christmas 2023: Show-stopping vegetarian and vegan recipes by Nigel Slater, Lilly Higgins, Paul Flynn and more

Savoury cakes, tartes Tatin, nut loaf and a Chinese favourite reimagined

Not every festive dinner table on December 25th will have a turkey as its centrepiece, or even a beef Wellington, or a side of salmon. In many households, plant-based dishes will be on the menu for Christmas, and given as much thought and care as the animal proteins are.

Lilly Higgins has a neat trick to maximise the visual appeal of a whole roasted cauliflower - wrap it in buttery puff pastry and apply flat leaf parsley leaves to the egg wash for a very pretty finish. Her cauliflower en croute with roasted red pepper sauce has the potential to become a family favourite.

As a vegetarian showstopper, chef Paul Flynn’s parsnip, sesame and red onion cake, with minted cranberry yoghurt, is hard to beat. His other very impressive vegetarian savoury cake, with potato, Parmesan and red pepper, could also be a contender for the festive feast.

A whole baked cauliflower with grapes, almonds and mushrooms, as suggested again by Paul Flynn, would make a strong statement as a vegetarian main course, and with a couple of small tweaks (vegan butter and vegan red wine instead of Port), would keep the vegans happy too.


Similarly, a whole baked celeriac can take on a satisfyingly “meaty” texture and can be carved tableside to add to the sense of occasion. JP McMahon bakes whole celeriac in hay, which would be sure to bring a bit of drama to the Christmas table.

If you want to go all out with the celeriac theme, and throw in some beetroot for good measure, this restaurant-style plated dish by chef Gary O’Hanlon is vegetarian friendly and can also be veganised with a couple of simple substitutions. Celeriac tasting plate of poached, remoulade and puree, with candied spiced walnuts and beetroot is fancy enough to put turkey in the shade.

Lots of brands of chilled or frozen puff pastry are suitable for vegans, check the labels, and having a few blocks in the freezer could be a saving grace if a plant based diet has to be catered for unexpectedly. Tarte Tatin is your friend here, and vegan-friendly options might include filllings of red onion and thyme; beetroot and cumin, or Nigel Slater's suggestion of shallot and apple (using vegan pastry rather than the deliciously cheesy version he makes here, along with vegan butter and nutritional yeast flakes instead of Parmesan).

If it has got to be a nut roast for your feast, then you might like to try Lauren Murphy's recipe for one that pairs well with the traditional Christmas sides and trimmings "and won't leave the vegetarian feeling left out".

Lily Higgins always includes lots of vegetarian and vegan recipes in her weekly Irish Times Magazine column. She shares lots of useful tips on how to cook tasty, simple vegan food here. Her recipe for mushroom loaf feeds a gang, and with its tahini sauce and pomegranate garnish, has just enough seasonal sparkle too.

Let’s not forget something sweet. Here is Vanessa Greenwood’s recipe for cute little vegan mince pies. And later in the festivities, when something different is called for and the meat-eaters are tucking in to turkey curry, the vegans can enjoy this amazing recipe for General Tso’s chicken goes vegan, from Ching-He Huang.