When Suzy Spoon started making vegan Christmas roasts, she didn't expect them to (literally) take off.
"People are always trying to smuggle them back into other countries!" she says. Her business – Suzy Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher – may be based in Sydney, but that hasn't stopped passport-wielding customers from packing her hefty creation onto long-haul flights to London, Singapore and various American cities over the last six years.
It's happened so often that Spoon even has advice for travellers who pray that customs will wave through the high-protein roast made from tofu, walnuts, mushrooms, miso and traditional herbs. "I recommend they freeze it for two nights, so it's really frozen; stick it in checked-in luggage and then declare it. Just declare it, so no one gets into trouble," she says. "Usually people are happy with it."
And in general, people are very happy with her festive vegan roast, which gets a strong savoury note from ingredients such as miso, soy sauce and garlic. "The first year, we did 200 and we were like, 'yeah, 200!'" she says. "This year we're going to be doing over 2,000."
Because it's prepared by hand, the roast-making process takes two days, and she has four people tending to roast orders alone. But all that crumb-stuffing and roulade-layering pays off because the result even converts meat-eating sceptics.
"I don't suppose you could bring two roasts, could you?"
The first time Spoon took a roast to her brother's house for Christmas, his response was: "grr, you're ruining my Christmas with your vegan things!" Fast forward to the next year, he pre-empted his sister's visit with a request: "I don't suppose you could bring two roasts, could you?"
"So this year, I think I'll bring three," says Spoon.
"Last year, my brother's friend rang him after Christmas and said, 'I love that turkey thing that your sister brought.' And my brother said, 'she only brought vegan things.' And he said, 'oh no, I ate the thing that your sister brought and it was definitely turkey, I was eating the skin of it'."
It took further convincing to prove to the friend that the tofu-based creation was meat-free (and turkey-less).
Spoon created the roast – which also comes in gluten-free and nut-free versions – so that diners can still enjoy a festive centrepiece, even if they don't eat Christmas ham or the other meaty staples that traditionally adorn a holiday table. Knowing that vegetarians and vegans can get picked on at big family gatherings, she designed the roast to make their dish the envy of meat-eaters.
You can find other Christmas-worthy items at her new storefront in Sydney's Newtown. Sure, her garlic and rosemary patties and her sun-dried tomato and basil sausages have been available at Harris Farm supermarkets, Carriageworks markets and her online shop. But it's been three years since she closed her previous Suzy Spoon Vegetarian Butcher eatery. Her new shop – Suzy Spoon Vegetarian Charcuterie, located further down King Street – has a more extensive vegan deli section.
There's pig-free pepperoni, 'Foney Baloney' (vegan devon) and plant-based pastrami, as well as an impressive selection of Australian vegan cheeses. The Sprout & Kernel cranberry and rosemary charcoal cashew cheese "is such a perfect blend of flavours for Christmas", she says.
Spoon, who hasn't eaten meat "since 1986", is so dedicated to a cruelty-free Christmas that she once created an eBook of festive vegan recipes featuring Rudolf the red-nosed fruit punch, coconut and cranberry snowballs, custard and berry pie, Yorkshire pudding and mushroom gravy.
For her, balsamic-glazed vegetables are a great Christmas addition, because vegans and vegetarians often miss out on "fun foods", and this sweet, sticky dish makes up for all the times they've seen a sizzling plate go by them in a restaurant. The smoky, charred flavours aren't the only appeal either – the recipe is quite easy to make, she says.
Add some glugs of balsamic vinegar to a tray of veggies dressed in olive oil, garlic and rosemary, mix it all through and shove it in the oven for half an hour. "Give them a bit of a spin, to get them all coated in the oil, balsamic and garlic again," she says. Then roast the veggies for a further 40 minutes.
The summer tradition of barbecuing can also be co-opted for a vegan Christmas. She suggests charring ingredients like tofu, mushrooms, capsicum (the red and green varieties conveniently fit into Christmas colour schemes) and using rosemary sprigs as skewers. "Think about the colours and how it all looks: it's got to be appealing to the eye because it's the Christmas table," she says. Another way to tap into the red and green theme is with fresh leafy salads – think cherry tomatoes and big green leaves – which are also summer-friendly and a handy counterpoint to the rich mountains of food often served on Christmas day.
"The best thing that has happened for vegans in the last few years, dessert-wise, is the discovery of aquafaba."
As for dessert, Spoon thinks nature's haul of summer fruits – think watermelon and peaches – are so innately delicious, they can be served as they are. "You don't need to jazz them up at all," she says. "But the best thing that has happened for vegans in the last few years, dessert-wise, is the discovery of aquafaba."
The leftover brine from canned chickpeas is a handy egg replacement that can also be the star ingredient of vegan pavlovas. "You can add a beautiful cashew or almond cream for the top of it," she says. Plus some sliced strawberries, to keep it sweet and simple.
"You don't have to miss out on anything."
Suzy Spoon's Vegetarian Butcher
397 King St, Newtown NSW (02) 9557 9762
Tue - Sun 10 am - 6 pm
Substituting a biscuit crumb for a macadamia and date one gives a nutty crust base for the rich caramel and chocolate layers.