Google ‘vegan + Christmas dinner + France’ and you’ll get virtually zero results. I found only one mention, which was on TripAdvisor, asking for restaurant recommendations for a vegan Christmas in Paris. So, what do the French eat for their traditional Christmas dinner, and how easy is it to veganise? In the VV household, for the past few years I’ve picked a different country’s Christmas cuisine and turned it vegan. Last year it was Poland, the year before Sweden. Maybe this year it’s the turn of France? It’s trickier, but not impossible.
What do the French eat for Christmas dinner?
‘La Reveillon’ (the awakening) is a family meal that’s usually held on Christmas Eve and goes on late into the night. It can comprise as many as ten courses, and if you’re down in Provence there’s a tradition of thirteen desserts, too. The general consensus is that a traditional festive meal will include some, if not all, of the following, with regional variations: caviar or smoked salmon, oysters, lobster, foie gras, escargots, coquilles St Jacques, roast fowl of some type depending on region, bûche de noel, and lots of champagne. With the exception of the latter, that’s a challenging list to veganise.
Under starter’s orders
The French like to get the champagne flowing from the outset with a Kir Royale. That’s easy enough to do, and there are plenty of vegan champagnes, including my favourite Veuve Cliquot. Oysters are the big thing at Christmas. You’ll see them everywhere, in the supermarkets, on markets stalls and at the side of the road. There’s no easy vegan alternative, so forget it. But what about two other French favourite entrees – caviar on blinis and foie gras. I’ve mentioned the appalling fate of foie gras ducks in a previous post. Despite the fact that many countries have banned this product of abject cruelty (Austria, Czech, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Norway, Poland, Israel and now New York state), in France the anti-gavage movement is only just starting. Vegan alternatives are available like Jay & Joy’s Joie Gras from The Vegan Shop, and it’s also easy to make yourself. Check out the Bosh! boys’ recipe by French chef Alex Gauthier. If canapes are more your thing, then try using black olive tapenade rather than caviar. However, check the label carefully as this can contain anchovies. It’s another starter that‘s really easy to make; try this recipe from Lazy Cat Kitchen.
If you’re going for the full five or six courses, then next would be fish. Here, the traditional food would be lobster, scallops or maybe escargots. There’s no need to miss out. Take inspiration from the fabulous ‘seefood’ platter featured on the PETA website. A quick trawl of the internet will throw up lots of vegan seafood recipes for things like faux calamari and tempura oyster mushrooms that will make a great second course.
The big one
In France, the main course tends to be a roast, rather like the UK, with the variety depending on region. Unlike the UK, it’s served fairly plainly with potatoes, vegetables and a sauce. There’s no multitude of extras like bread sauce, sausages or anything in ‘blankets’, although chestnuts are a popular addition. The good news is that roti faux-meat alternatives are available, such as Tofurky’s famous holiday roast, or Cheatin’ Vbites various vegetal alternatives. You’ll need to order early though, as when I last looked all these were out of stock at the main online vegan retailers. You could substitute the roast with a vegan nutroast – the commercial varieties have come a long way since the 1970s. Alternatively, rustle up something luxurious like a mushroom wellington. There’s lots of inspiration online for vegans these days.
Don’t forget the cheese course
No French meal is complete without the cheese course. And don’t forget that its cheese before sweet in France, unlike the UK where the cheese course tends to conclude the meal before coffee. There’s no reason not to enjoy the cheese course nowadays with a whole host of vegan cheeses available online, in good bio shops or even to make yourself. And, as the festive season is the time to push the boat out a little, maybe it’s a good excuse to treat yourself to one or two artisan fauxmages.
The piece de resistance of the Christmas meal is the traditional bûche de noel. Essentially, these are just sponge roulades smothered in flavoured buttercream. Super sweet and loaded with calories. Few French actually make these, most buying from their local supermarket, the frozen food giant Picard or their local pâtissier. My research has not located any vegan varieties, although no doubt if you are lucky enough to live in Paris or a large city where there is a vegan patisserie you’ll be able to find one. Vegan buttercream is easy enough to make using vegan spread instead of butter, so why not make your own vegan chocolate log?
In Provence, the traditional meal ends with thirteen desserts said to represent Jesus and the twelve apostles at the Last Supper. As with any traditional there are local and familial variations, but the principal dishes are nuts, dried figs, almonds, dried raisins, fougasse (a type of flatbread) with olive oil, white nougat, black nougat, Calissons d’Aix (sweets), Pate de coing (quince cheese – jam), white grapes, clementines or mandarins and confit fruits (candied fruit). If you’re thinking of putting together a vegan spread more-or-less following this list then the things to watch out for are the calissons; these can contain egg white, as can nougat, but you could easily substitute them with an alternative vegan-friendly sweet.