A feast fit for everyone

Choice menu … chef Simon Bryant says there are only two types of food - good and bad.
Choice menu … chef Simon Bryant says there are only two types of food - good and bad.

These days, it is no longer a given that everyone sitting around the table at Christmas wants to eat turkey, pork or ham. But catering for guests who prefer plants on their plate does not mean hosts have to hunt down recipes for nut roast. The trick is to serve a mix of dishes that brings people together rather than setting them apart, Adelaide-based chef Simon Bryant says.

''It's knowing how to assemble an inclusive meal that works for everyone,'' says Bryant, author of Simon Bryant's Vegies, a guide to cooking vegetables in inspirational ways.

When Bryant feeds his friends, he likes to serve food by grouping each meat dish with a vegetable-based dish, which works both as an accompaniment to the meat and a stand-alone option.

''You just plonk a lot of dishes down and everyone helps themselves,'' he says. ''It's about breaking down barriers and not singling people out because of their preferences.''

Bryant is not keen on slapping labels such as ''vegetarian'' on food. He thinks there are just two types of food: good food and bad food.

''When you group dishes on the table, you just need to think about what flavours work together,'' he says. ''Turkey marries really well with a stuffing made of sourdough breadcrumbs, celery, walnuts and sage, for instance, but you don't have to serve it inside the bird - you can serve it beside the bird as a separate dish that everyone can enjoy.''

Roast pork goes well with tart fruit, he adds, suggesting fresh berries with feta, roast almonds, pieces of torn sourdough, and a bunch of mint and coriander, tossed together with balsamic vinegar or aged sweet red vinegar. And his warm potato salad is a twist on a Christmas favourite, made more substantial by combining cooked potatoes with chickpeas sauteed with spring onions and chat masala (an Indian spice mix), baby spinach and coriander.

''Last Christmas when my father came out from the UK, I cooked a goose but there were so many other dishes on the table, no one noticed I didn't eat any of the meat,'' Bryant says. ''I'm not a vegetarian but I don't eat meat when I cook for myself at home - but I'd never enforce vegetarian food on anyone.''

It is a similar picture when Lisa Chalk, communications director for Animals Australia, gets together with her Hungarian family at Christmas.

''I became a vegetarian last year after working on the live export issue. It involved watching a lot of footage of animals being killed - and if you watch enough of that you really don't want to eat meat,'' she says. ''I had a light-bulb moment when I realised for the first time that eating meat is a personal choice, not a necessity.

''At Christmas, it's about designing a meal that includes dishes everyone can enjoy. Last year, there was roast stuffed mushrooms, pan-fried asparagus, roast beetroot, couscous with chickpeas, potato salad and felafel, as well as free-range ham and turkey.

''Because I work in animal welfare, my family have always been supportive, even though they're Hungarian and meat is traditionally the hero of the meal.

''My grandmother panicked at first about making meals without meat, but she's very inventive and found there were plenty of traditional recipes that didn't use meat, because meat wasn't always as plentiful as it is now.

''Although I don't think there'll ever be a time when there'll never be turkey on my family's Christmas table, it will never be factory-farmed turkey.''

Simon Bryant's Vegies is published by Lantern, $39.95.

Paula Goodyer blogs at smh.com.au/chewonthis.

This story A feast fit for everyone first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.