As Paul McCartney recalls, the centerpiece of his family’s first vegetarian Christmas dinner in the late 1970s was a slice of macaroni and cheese.
“I wanted something to cut,” he said in a phone interview last week. Mary McCartney, his daughter, said the “macaroni turkey” was an early success: cooked in advance, rolled into a roll, and ceremonially put on a platter.
Mr McCartney grew up in Liverpool in the 1950s on a traditional meat-and-two vegetarian diet. But as young parents, he and his American wife Linda McCartney famously came to believe that eating animals was unethical—then a fringe belief in Britain, in the same counterculture as mindfulness, yogurt, and pacifism. Still, a Christmas without its meaty centerpiece of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding seemed a little absurd.
“We had to find something to put in the middle of the board,” he said.
Nearly 50 years later, the center of the plate has changed shape. Instead of a central protein surrounded by veggies and starches, a plant-based spread can easily fill any plate.
And Mary McCartney, a lifelong vegetarian with a leaning towards vegan, has developed a knack for recipes that satisfy all types of eaters, including her four young adult sons. Her cooking show ‘Mary McCartney Serves It Up’ on Discovery+ focuses on entertaining: her guests include uncritical friends like Reese Witherspoon and Oprah Winfrey, who gleefully announces that despite her late 60s, she’s never taken a dip.
mr. McCartney said in the interview that his taste buds first opened up in London in the 1960s, where restaurants served food he had never encountered in Merseyside. He was exposed to ethical vegetarianism in 1968, during the Beatles’ short but influential time studying meditation in Rishikesh, northern India. Ahimsa, the principle of not harming fellow creatures, underlies the vegetarian traditions found in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. (Ringo Starr, Mr. McCartney said, had brought a suitcase full of British baked beans in case he didn’t like the food.)
In 1980, the strict vegetarian diet of Mr. McCartney so well known that while he was in detention in Japan pending his deportation on charges of possessing 7.7 grams of marijuana, DailyExpertNews assured readers that he was being fed vegetarian food.
Ms McCartney said she and her three siblings (all vegetarians) raised the next generation the way they were raised: vegetarian at home, but free range to explore outside. (Of course, it’s easier to stick to a plant-based diet for fabulously wealthy families who own an organic farm.)
She said she never missed the meat at Sunday dinners or holidays: the big treat was crispy, lofty, custardy Yorkshire pudding.
“It’s the pinnacle of the Sunday Roast,” she said. Tradition calls for a small amount of flour, bound in eggs and milk, and fried in the same pan used for roasting a piece of beef. No raising agent is used: the sizzling hot beef fat and high oven temperature cause the pudding to set and then collapse again into a crunchy but custardy mass, ideal for soaking up gravy.
To achieve all that without eggs, milk or animal fat, Ms. McCartney turned to aquafaba, the liquid in which chickpeas are boiled and canned and a main ingredient in modern vegan baking because it can thicken, bind and foam, just like egg whites. That led to chickpea flour, which not only browns but also produces thick batter that retains moisture well. She added baking soda for the lift, vinegar to react with the baking soda, and generous amounts of oil for each muffin cup. The result is a crunchy, savory little muffin with an airy, soft interior and a dimple on top to hold the gravy.
It’s a long way from the McCartney family’s early experiments with vegetarian entrees like stuffed vegetables and cloudy ragouts, Ms. McCartney said. “I thought I would never be able to eat ratatouille or vegetable couscous in my life again.”
Recipe: Vegan Yorkshire Puddings