Vegan yule: plant-based Christmas recipes from Zacchary Bird | Australian food and drink

Christmas time for vegans has long been a day of heaping up your plate with any side dishes they can find that aren’t directly touching the poultry roast, but that’s no longer the case. It’s easier than ever to create a spectacular plant-based addition to your holiday table for your non-meat-eating guests, who deserve more than just the potatoes.

Whether you need an umami packed hors d’oeuvre (like plant-based bacon-wrapped maple brussels sprouts or mushroom-based faux gras); a much-less-fussy-than-the-original beet wellington, or seek to impress with realism in the form of a whole lamb chop formed from store-bought meat alternatives, moving plants from sides to the spotlight doesn’t take much extra effort.

Those looking to find out just how impressive plant-based meat can really be are invited to tackle the centrepièce de résistance – The Bird roast – neither a mock-turkey, chicken nor duck, but a roast shaped like the author himself, to appease those sick of vegans making all their food look like traditional animal products.

Beet wellington

Beety not meaty: Bird’s beet wellington
Rare creation: Bird’s beet wellington. Photograph: The Vegan Butcher

Boot the beef for some beet!

Serves 6

5–6 small beetroots
3 tbsp olive oil
2 frozen dairy-free puff pastry sheets
, thawed
2 tsp soy milk
2 tsp aquafaba

For the filling
4 French shallots, diced
200g mushrooms
, chopped
1 tbsp
rosemary, chopped
2 tsp
garlic, minced
2 tsp
thyme, chopped
2 tbsp white wine or sherry
200g tempeh
150g brown lentils
, cooked
2 tbsp psyllium husk
1 tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp
nutmeg, ground
½ tsp liquid smoke

Sea salt and black pepper

For the gravy
80g dairy-free butter
40g plain flour
1 tbsp beef-style stock powder
3 tsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Vegemite or Marmite
1 tsp black pepper

Preheat the oven to 225C. Place the beetroot in a casserole dish. Coat in 1 tablespoon of the oil, then roast for 1 hour, until soft. Peel while warm and set aside.

For the filling, place the shallot and another tablespoon of oil in a saucepan over low heat and gently sauté for 10 minutes. Add the mushroom and cook for 10 minutes, adding splashes of water intermittently so they are sitting in a shallow pool of boiling water until they begin to brown. Add the rosemary, garlic and thyme to the pan, then deglaze with the wine or sherry. Transfer to a food processor, add the remaining filling ingredients and pulse until well combined.

Lay a sheet of plastic wrap on a work surface and place a sheet of puff pastry on top. Evenly spread the filling over the pastry, leaving a 2cm border. Place the beetroot along the centre of the wellington to fill most of the length. Use the plastic wrap to help you roll the filling and beetroot into a log, rolling the mushroom and pastry around the beetroot until both sides of the pastry meet. Flip the wellington over, then transfer to a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Tuck in the ends of the pastry to seal the log, then cut the remaining puff pastry sheet into thin strips and create a lattice on top of the wellington. Place in the fridge for an hour to firm up. Preheat the oven to 200C.

Combine the remaining olive oil, soy milk and aquafaba in a jug, then brush all over the wellington. Transfer to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until lovely and golden.

To make the gravy, heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbling. Sift in the flour and stir constantly for 1–2 minutes until you have a roux, then stir through the stock powder. Slowly stir in 500ml (2 cups) of hot water, then add the soy sauce, vinegar and Vegemite and simmer for 5–10 minutes until thickened. Taste and don’t skip the pepper as it makes a great difference.

Allow the wellington to rest for 15 minutes, then slice into portions and serve with the good old gravy.

Bird roast

Named after Zacchary Bird, esteemed author of this sentence, this bird roast isn’t quite meant to be a chicken and it’s definitely not a turkey. It’s me! A plant-based alternative to roasting your favourite vegan cookbook writer at Sunday lunch. I might taste a bit like chicken, but apparently who doesn’t? Tuck into my succulent rump this holiday season, or fight over a piece of my breast. Just be sure to serve me with gravy and a bit of roast veg.

300g (2 cups) vital wheat gluten
2 tbsp torula yeast or mushroom seasoning
300g firm tofu
350ml aquafaba from tofu or tinned cannellini beans or chickpeas (or water)
1 tbsp white vinegar
200g vegan stuffing mix
2 tbsp dairy-free butter
4 large, wet yuba skins
(refrigerated, soft bean-curd sheets)
Vegetable oil

For the stuffing
1 packet stuffing mix

For chicken-style flavouring
2 tbsp white miso paste
2 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp chicken-style stock powder
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp ground white pepper

For turkey-style flavouring
2 tbsp white miso paste
1 ½ tbsp Maggi seasoning
4 tbsp canola oil (knead in last)
1 ½ chicken-style stock powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp liquid smoke
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground nutmeg

For the Bird glaze
3 lemons, zested and juiced
6 garlic cloves, minced
15g (1⁄2 cup) finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 ½ tbsp dijon mustard
2 ½ tbsp olive oil
1 ½ tsp sea salt

To season
Black pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
2 rice paper sheets

Combine the vital wheat gluten and torula yeast or mushroom seasoning in a bowl. Add your choice of chicken or turkey-style flavourings.

Place the tofu, aquafaba or water and vinegar in a blender and blend until smooth, then transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the vital wheat gluten mixture, then knead on medium speed for three minutes to bring the dough together and form gluten strands. Remove from the bowl and use your hands to smooth the seitan dough into a 24cm x 18cm rectangle. If the gluten resists, let the dough rest for 10 minutes to convince it to cooperate. The edges of the rectangle will remain thicker, so tear them off (about one-quarter of the total volume) and mould these into two drumsticks.

Fold a piece of foil in half so it is a little wider than the dough and lay the dough on top (do not wrap). Transfer to a steamer and place the drumsticks on top. Cover and steam for 30 minutes, then set aside to cool. Feel free to forget what you were doing until tomorrow or proceed below!

While the dough is steaming, prepare the stuffing mix as per the packet instructions. Incorporate the butter, then form the stuffing into a log and set aside for a few minutes to firm up. Lay the seitan dough over the stuffing log.

Use a sheet of plastic wrap to forcefully wrap the seitan around the stuffing, shaping the sides and stretching it as needed. Wrap a second sheet of plastic wrap from top to bottom of the roast and use it to tuck the ends under, making a rounded shape.

Add a third sheet of plastic wrap, further shaping the roast as desired. Firmly place your hand down on one end of the roast, and allow the other end to balloon out, mimicking the shape of a poultry roast.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a large roasting tin.

Combine the glaze ingredients in a bowl. Unwrap the moulded roast and carefully place in the prepared tin. Stab the roast vigorously with a skewer for extra glaze access points. Use a pastry brush to baste the roast with one-third of the glaze. Lay one yuba skin squarely over the roast and tuck underneath to seal in the stuffing. Spread over more glaze and press the two drumsticks down on the flatter end of the roast (they may shift while cooking – this is okay!)

Lay another yuba skin over the flatter part of the roast to secure the drumsticks, tucking under again. Cut the yuba left hanging off the roast up the middle and twist each piece tightly. Tie them together to create a bow – the ‘legs’ – at the back of the roast. Spread more glaze over everything.

Lay another yuba skin over the other half of the roast and tuck under once more. Brush over more glaze. Place the last sheet squarely over the whole roast, tucking underneath and bundling the leftover yuba at either side to make two loose ‘wings’. Stop, glaze and glisten. You should have one-third of the glaze left for basting. Use a knife to carve a cloaca into your roast for dramatic effect (you can think of it as a stuffing access point if that helps) and make a small slice in the yuba on the inner side of each drumstick. Tuck the yuba under the drumsticks to define them further. Pour 125 ml (½ cup) of water around the roast, cover with foil and roast for 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven, baste with half the remaining glaze and pour another 125 ml (½ cup) of water around the roast. Recover with the foil and roast for another 30 minutes. Baste again, remove the foil and roast for another 20 minutes. Brush oil over any parts that need to catch up on browning and dab water over any parts that have begun to blacken more quickly than the rest of the roast (i.e., the ‘legs’) and roast for a further 10 minutes. You may like to cover some of the darker parts with foil so that the skin browns evenly.

Remove from the oven, rest for 20 minutes and serve.

Faux gras

It’s no secret that force-feeding geese and ducks is fauxed up. This creamy, buttery and savoury mousse clone is the good twin of foie gras, politely turning down the use of torture in its method and instead doing a bang-up job with plants and a food processor. Hold the liver, please. Serve with charcuterie accoutrements and either crackers, toasted bread or vegetables cut into batons to dip with.

Serves 2-4

160g firm or hard tofu
300g mixed mushrooms

Cooking oil
, to spray
140g (¾ cup) walnuts
2 tbsp sun-dried tomato oil
4 small French shallots
, finely chopped
½ small carrot,
finely diced
3 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp garlic cloves
, minced

1 tbsp shoyu or soy sauce
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1 tbsp tahini
2 tsp beetroot (beet) powder
2 tbsp dairy-free butter
2 tsp chopped sage leaves
Smoked salt and black pepper

Wrap the tofu in paper towel and press under a heavy weight for 20 minutes.

Prepare a steamer basket. Steam the whole mushrooms for 3 minutes. Pulse the mushrooms in a food processor into rubble, then tip into a large bowl.

Lightly spray a frying pan with cooking oil and crumble in the walnuts. Toast over medium heat for 2 minutes, then transfer to the food processor and process until fine. Add to the mushroom rubble.

Add the sun-dried tomato oil to the pan, then add the shallot and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes until starting to brown. Add the sun-dried tomato, garlic, booze and shoyu or soy sauce, then remove from the heat. Transfer the mixture to the food processor, add the nutritional yeast and pulse until a chunky paste forms. Add to the mushroom mixture and give everything a good stir.

Unwrap the tofu and place in the food processor. Add the tahini, beetroot powder, butter and sage and process on high until you have fine pink crumbles. Return the mushroom mixture to the food processor and add loads of smoked salt and black pepper. Process on low until just well mixed. Don’t over-process! Scoop into a small shallow bowl, upend onto a serving plate and mould into a homogenous shape. Cover and refrigerate until needed and serve as cold as the heart of anyone who would pick real foie gras over this version that leaves the geese and ducks to be.

Bacon-coated brussels sprouts

Bacon-coated brussels sprouts
A decadent dinner party starter: bacon-coated brussels sprouts: Photograph: The Vegan Butcher

Brussels sprouts get a bad rap from people who haven’t let them blossom from little green caterpillars into delicious butterflies by cooking them right. Give brussels sprouts a good wrap by covering them in plant-based bacon and dousing them with maple syrup. People will start inviting you to parties solely on the merit of your hors d’oeuvres game.

Makes 24

24 brussels sprouts
1 tbsp dairy-free butter
, melted
Sea salt and black pepper
, to season
2 tbsp smoked maple syrup or maple syrup
12 pieces store-bought vegan bacon

Preheat the oven to 170C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Cut the hard end off each brussels sprout, then make a slice from the top to almost halve the sprout, leaving the base intact. Transfer to a plate and microwave for 1 minute on high.

Place the butter in a mixing jug and whisk in the salt, pepper and maple syrup. Gently prise open the sprouts and use a pastry brush to drizzle in the maple syrup mixture, then treat the sprouts by brushing the outsides with even more.

Halve the bacon pieces lengthways. Prise open a sprout again and feed one end of a bacon piece into it as though the sprout is Pac-Man. Gently rotate the sprout along the bacon strip to wrap it up, then secure with a toothpick. Glaze with a little more maple mixture and place on the prepared tray. Repeat with the remaining sprouts and bacon.

Bake for 45 minutes, flipping halfway through, until the outside is crispy. Remove from the oven and drizzle over the remaining maple syrup while the sprouts are still hot.

Serve with other delicious finger food as a decadent dinner party starter.

Herb-crusted lamb chops

Herb-crusted lamb chops
Tastebuds rejoice at these ‘lamb’ chops. Photograph: The Vegan Butcher

Makes 4 jumbo chops

Despite its deceptive looks and meatiness, this recipe also celebrates all the extra flavours brought to the table by delicious veggies! Get a load of this line up: beautifully spiced and perfectly cooked “lamb”; a leek bone; soft, marbled eggplant fat; a herby breadcrumb coating; and kalamata olive caramel to drizzle on top. Eyes light up, tastebuds rejoice and minds open to veganism when this dish hits the dinner table. Choose your favourite store-bought, plant-based mince to substitute in this recipe for an impressive creation that’ll be done quicker than two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

You’ll want to serve your chops with a potato-centric side dish.

1 leek, white part only
2 small eggplants
450g seitan beef mince
, or use store-bought vegan mince
3 tbsp
mint leaves, chopped
3 tsp
oregano leaves, chopped
1 tsp
rosemary leaves, chopped
2 tsp
garlic, minced
1 tsp
sumac, ground
½ tsp
cumin, ground
½ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp Dijon mustard

Cooking oil, to spray

For the crust
½ bunch flat-leaf parsley
¼ bunch mint
1 lemon
, zest finely grated
50g (½ cup) dry breadcrumbs
1 bunch chopped rosemary leaves
1½ tbsp
olive oil

For the olive caramel
75g pitted kalamata olives
125ml (½ cup) kalamata olive brine
5 black garlic cloves
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
110g (½ cup) granulated sugar

Cut the leek in half lengthways and wash thoroughly, taking care to keep the leek halves intact. Cut each half lengthways again to create four long “bones”.

Peel the eggplants, then cut a thin slice lengthways off each side of the eggplants to create two flat sides, then halve lengthways to create four roughly rounded “chop”-shaped slabs.

Use a paring knife to carve out the centre and the majority of the eggplant flesh, leaving rough irregular sides to imitate marbled fat. Out of the removed eggplant flesh, carve irregular squiggles (keeping them the same thickness as the eggplant slabs) to make more marbled fat pieces.

Cut the smaller end off the eggplants to create a space for the leek “bone”. Depending on the size of your eggplant, you may need to whittle some of the smaller end to imitate the shape of a lamb chop. In a large bowl, mash together the mince, herbs and spices. Divide the mince mixture into quarters for each chop and clear a work surface. Grab an eggplant chop and begin to fill the hole with the mince.

Add some of the reserved eggplant marbled fat and secure with more mince mixture. Insert a leek bone, white end first, and secure with more mince.

Firmly squeeze and smooth everything into a lamb-chop shape. Level off the mince and smear it over the leek bone to hide it inside, making sure the marbled eggplant is exposed.

Place on baking paper, then repeat with the remaining eggplant, mince and leek ingredients to make four chops. Transfer to the fridge for an hour to firm up.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease and line a baking tray. Blend or combine the lamb chop crust ingredients in a food processor until fine, then tip into a shallow bowl. Whisk the mustard with 2 tablespoons of water in a separate shallow bowl. Carefully roll the edge of the chops in the mustard, then roll in the crust mixture. Use your hands to firmly secure the crust, then place on the prepared tray. Spray cooking oil over everything and bake for 40 minutes or until cooked through and the eggplant is soft to touch.

Cover of The Vegan Butcher by Zacchary Bird
‘Moving plants from sides to the spotlight doesn’t take much extra effort,’ says Zacchary Bird. Photograph: Simon & Schuster

Meanwhile, to make the olive caramel, blend together the olives, brine, black garlic and balsamic vinegar. Mix the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water in a saucepan and cook over low heat without stirring. Watch closely and take a meditative moment as it slowly changes colour over the course of 10–15 minutes. Snap out of your reverie just as it reaches a dark amber – it can darken quite rapidly towards the end. Immediately remove from the heat and carefully stir in the olive mixture – be careful as it may splatter. Allow to cool.

To serve, divide the crusted lamb chops among plates and serve with the olive caramel on the side. Leftover olive caramel will keep in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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