Recipes: Have yourself a Vegan Christmas 

Looking for inspiration for a plant-based Christmas celebration?KATE RYAN talks to Nicky Smyth of Antiquity in West Cork
Recipes: Have yourself a Vegan Christmas 
Nicola Smyth, proprietor, in the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.Picture Denis Minihane.

IT is just a year ago that Nicky Smyth, with her family, opened Antiquity, a vegan café and bookstore in Skibbereen, West Cork.

Antiquity marries together Nicky’s two loves — books and food — and as anyone of a bookish disposition will know, this time of year thoughts wander towards those cherished stories of Christmas time, and gathering. Old books are once more taken down from the shelf, their pages opened to the world, and the stories held within them pour forth into the winter night.

So many of these beloved stories of Christmas centre on our seasonal fascination for food: it is the biggest feast of the year, after all!

But for Nicky and her family, their Christmas feast is less about spending endless hours in the kitchen cooking and more about keeping things fresh, quick and delicious.

Nicola Smyth, proprietor, pictured in front of vegan and mainly organic food products on sale in the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.
Nicola Smyth, proprietor, pictured in front of vegan and mainly organic food products on sale in the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.

Instead, spending time together talking, telling jokes and stories, reading, playing games and watching Christmas movies are what makes the day special for them.

As ever, the feast is laden with rituals and traditions, and in Nicky’s household, her traditions span two different cultures: German (where Christmas Eve is the big day) and Scottish (where Christmas Day is the big day).

“Astrid Lindgren’s story Christmas In Noisy Village tells of a sleepy Scandinavian village filled with the sounds of children excited for Christmas. It was a story my kids could relate to; that excitement of Christmas Eve, for them the longest day of the year.”

Nicky, her husband and their four grown-up children (two daughters and two sons), made the change to a vegan diet after years of vegetarianism; a way of eating that challenges what the traditional Christmas meal should look like. For them, it all starts with an aroma more evocative of Christmas than anything else: Cinnamon Buns.

“When the kids were young, we celebrated Christmas on December 24. They would open their presents and be so excited, they wouldn’t go to bed! But now that they are older, we have come up with a solution: we have something small to eat, we each open one present, and then we start to make our Cinnamon Buns, leaving them to rise overnight.

Nicola Smyth, proprietor, with her daughter Shawn and son Junah in the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.
Nicola Smyth, proprietor, with her daughter Shawn and son Junah in the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.

“In the morning, I bake them in the oven — the house fills with the scent of cinnamon, and then we eat them for our breakfast hot out of the oven.”

Nicky’s family tradition of making Cinnamon Buns is connected to one of her children’s favourite Christmas stories, Behind Enchanted Windows: A Mysterious Advents Story, by Cornelia Funke, about a little girl’s Advent Calendar that comes to life at night, when she slips through the doors of the calendar and experiences a magical adventure.

“After the buns were made, the cookies and gingerbread baked, we read the story together,” says Nicky.

For the Christmas Day feast, because there aren’t any meats to slowly cook and baste, there is less time spent in the kitchen. I’ve really noticed this since we moved over to veganism full time: the food we eat is not in the oven for hours: it’s very fresh, maybe steamed, even the roasted potatoes are only in the oven for 45 minutes, so there is no stress!

“I’ll start cooking at 11.30am and the food will be done by 1.45pm, so it frees up a lot of time and headspace for other things.

“We don’t really follow the starter, main, dessert structure of the typical Christmas dinner. Instead, our food is served in bowls down the middle on the table, and everyone helps themselves: roast potatoes, red cabbage, nut roast and a big selection of vegetables prepared differently: caramelised carrots or whatever tickles my fancy.

Nicola Smyth, proprietor, with her daughter Shawn and son Junah outside the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.
Nicola Smyth, proprietor, with her daughter Shawn and son Junah outside the Antiquity Bookshop Café, Skibbereen, Co. Cork.

“If we need a starter, it’s usually just a little nibble before everything else is ready: some pumpernickel bread topped with vegan cream cheese and some green herbs on top. There’s always room for dessert: cookies, my Snicky’s chocolate bars, a chocolate cherry cake, or avocado-vanilla ice cream and coffee affogato.

“We all take turns to say what we are happy for, it sparks conversations or remembering a past Christmas and people that visited. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy Christmas Day — just take the day for what it is. But there is something magical about it; everything falls silent as though everyone has relaxed.

“I love Charles Dickens’s Christmas stories because they always are so laden with lessons: my favourite of all, of course, is A Christmas Carol.”

I love the sound of Nicky’s family Christmas: in the spirit of gathering, sharing stories, spending time with people, slowing down and for feasting.

If you are thinking of removing meat from your Christmas table this year, or if you need to cater for a vegan guest, her recipes for simple, hassle free and delicious food will have you sorted this festive season.

CINNAMON BUNS

For the Dough

40g vegan butter

1 packet instant yeast

240ml Nut milk

12g brown sugar

1/4 tsp salt

400g all-purpose flour

For the Filling

40g vegan butter

50 g brown sugar

1½ - 3 tsp ground cinnamon (to taste)

Method:

  • For the dough — in a large saucepan heat the milk and vegan butter until warm and melted, do not boil.
  • Remove from heat and let cool to around 45 degrees Celsius. It should be warm but not too hot or it will kill the yeast.
  • Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle on yeast.
  • Next add in flour 70g at a time, stirring as you go (you may not add it all). The dough will be sticky. When it is too thick to stir, transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or so until it forms a loose ball (be careful not to overmix). Rinse your mixing bowl out, coat it with avocado or olive oil, and add your dough ball back in. Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  • For the filling — on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a thin rectangle. Brush with melted vegan butter and top with sugar and desired amount of cinnamon.
  • Starting at one end, tightly roll up the dough and place seam side down. Then with a serrated knife cut the dough into 1.5 – 2” sections and position in a well-buttered 8” square round pan. This should make 10 buns.
  • For the topping — brush with melted vegan butter and cover again with the damp cloth. Set on top of the oven to let rise again while you preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. I prepare the night before and put it in the fridge and bake it on Christmas Morning.
  • Once the oven is hot, bake rolls for 25-30 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes and then serve immediately.
  • Frost with a simple mixture of 110g organic powdered sugar and 1-2 tbsp almond milk.
Fresh Cinnamon Rolls. Picture: Stock
Fresh Cinnamon Rolls. Picture: Stock

SCOTTISH ‘VEGAN HAGGIS’ NUTROAST

1 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 small onions, minced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

300g chestnuts, finely chopped

220g granola or just oats

2 carrots, grated

270g kidney beans, rinsed

150g frozen cranberries, chopped (optional)

270g puy lentils, rinsed (optional)

1 1/2 tbsp tamari soy sauce

3 tbsp mixed dried herbs and chopped fresh herbs mixed

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the onion gravy:

Half a medium red onion (finely sliced) • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 tbsp coconut sugar or brown sugar

100ml red wine or grape juice

1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce

250ml vegetable stock

Rosemary, thyme and garlic

Method:

  • To make the vegan loaf, preheat oven to 170°C and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the chestnuts and carrot and cook for another five minutes until softened.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and use a masher to combine. Don’t over mash, just enough so that the mixture comes together. Add a drop of water if the mixture is too dry, if it’s too wet add more granola.
  • Transfer the mixture into the loaf tin and cook for 40-45 minutes until the outside develops a crust and the inside is firm.
  • To make the onion gravy, prepare half a litre of vegetable stock and set aside.
  • Add oil to frying pan and saute the onion with coconut or brown sugar, garlic and herbs for 10 minutes.
  • Once it’s caramelised and sticky in texture, pour in the wine, balsamic vinegar and tamari sauce and simmer until the stock is reduced by half.
  • Add vegetable stock and simmer again for 10 minutes until you are left with a thick, dark gravy.
  • We eat this with red cabbage, roasted white and sweet potatoes and caramelised carrots.
Stollen Christmas cake. Picture: stock
Stollen Christmas cake. Picture: stock

EASY TRADITIONAL GERMAN CHRISTMAS CAKE

500g flour

150g sugar

100g ground almonds

5g Stollen spices (a mix of ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom cloves)

7g dry yeast

1tbsp vanilla sugar

50ml plant-based oil

200g plant-based butter

8ml rum or almond flavouring (optional) • 150ml plant-based milk

50g candied orange peel

50g candied lemon peel

50g raisins

Icing sugar, to dust the cake with

Method:

  • Mix flour, sugar, ground almonds, dried yeast and Stollen spices in a big bowl.
  • Add plant-based butter, rum flavouring, oil, and plant-based milk. Use your fingers to form a dough.
  • Add candied orange and lemon peel, and raisins to the batter and fold in. Let dough rise for 20 minutes in a warm and dry place.
  • Place a baking sheet on a baking tray and preheat the oven.
  • Place the dough on the baking sheet. Bake for 60 minutes at 200°C.
  • Let Stollen cool down and serve with powdered sugar on top.

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