Now, what to cook for Vegetarians on Christmas?
This has been my main concern for years. Being vegetarians, not very Christmas friendly affair. I scour after the recipes books and scores of Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith’s recipes to find some inspirations to cook a veggie Christmas lunch. I fall within the inevitable roast vegetables and nut roast’s recipes. Not always a welcome change. But while in the tropics, Christmas has been fun. Really different. Anyway, before I post on ways that Christmas is different in the tropics, I should carry on with the topic and mention this article I found by Tom Norrington:
On a busy Saturday in mid December, London’s Borough Market is no place for the squeamish. Game hangs from the girders, long-legged and feathered, sold by the brace. Whichever way you look, the view is likely to include eviscerated remains of Britain’s best-bred farmyard animals. Some produce is still on the move; shellfish stalls are piled with lobsters and langoustines clambering over one another. This is the herbivore’s vision of hell, best described by the neurotic duck in the film Babe: “Christmas is carnage!”
And yet not for everyone. Just yards from a stand selling wild beef from Dartmoor is The Veggie Table (theveggietable.co.uk), where a queue is forming for halloumi burgers in eco-friendly, cabbage-leaf wrapping and nut roasts in more conventional takeaway boxes. This is the busiest Christmas so far for Ana and Adam Robertson, who started the company in 2005. “We wanted to provide well-made ready meals for people who were uneasy about living on artificial ingredients or manufactured soya proteins,” says Ana. Ana’s mum inspired their first festive product. Faced with six vegetarians round her table one Christmas, she turned to an old Rose Elliot recipe and tweaked it. The 2008 version of “Mum’s mushrooms en croute” is now available to take home, and Mum herself has been drafted in from time to time to ensure that supply meets demand. “We are not busy because more people decide to become vegetarians at Christmas,” Ana tells me, but “because people are slowly but surely becoming better at accommodating their non-meat-eating guests over the holiday season.”
Christmas is an odd time for the vegetarian. Twenty-first century Britain is one of the most veggie-friendly countries in the world. Over the last 20 years the UK’s non-meat-eating population has remained at a fairly steady 2%. However, the choice of food available to them has gone through the roof, on account of the diversity of the modern British diet. But at Christmas we tend to revert to a very traditional model of eating, so what do you give a guest who doesn’t want turkey and all the trimmings?
This is a question I get asked year after year, not just because I cook for a living but also because my partner doesn’t eat meat. I have one golden rule for entertaining at home: I won’t segregate the food. So, despite the fact that I’m a carnivore at work, all my home cooking is meat-free. I want everyone tucking into the same thing so if there is a vegetarian at the table, the whole meal is meat-free.
If you need inspiration, Nigella Lawson’s latest book, Nigella Christmas (Chatto and Windus), offers a striking (and mildly camp) spread where a pumpkin stuffed with spiced rice takes centre stage. “Cinderella,” says Nigella (clearly referring to her veggie fans), “you shall go to the ball.” This is a recipe for a fairly large party, unless you are happy to cope with enough leftovers to rival those on a turkey carcass. But what is great about Nigella’s veggie Christmas is that it doesn’t attempt to apologise for being meat-free. It has unconventional confidence in spades.
There is no direct reference to Christmas in Denis Cotter’s book Paradiso Seasons (Atrium 2003) but the Irish author and restaurateur is seen by many as the best vegetarian writer on the planet, and I am constantly inspired by his recipes: his seasonal delights include baked portobello mushrooms with cashel blue cheese and pecan crumbs, and dolmas of savoy cabbage, wild rice, leek, egg and truffle oil.
The official site of the vegetarian society (vegsoc.org) has recipes and sensible advice for anyone with non-meat-eating guests. This ranges from checking that your mince pies don’t contain suet to reminding you that roast potatoes are not veggie if cooked in goose fat. But it also offers a slightly leftfield Christmas menu inspired by Turkey – the country, not the bird. Your table could be groaning with a spread including imam biyaldi (spiced stuffed aubergines) and spinach and potato börek.
But there is no need to eschew tradition. If the range of dishes on the table is well balanced, the meal can still feel communal even if it is based on a roast. The simplest approach is to add a nut roast to the spread instead of or as well as one of the stuffings. Nuts are both nutritious and a truly indispensable part of any Christmas. If nut roast seems too hippy-tastic, consider the famous Macsween veggie haggis (macsween.co.uk): I know meat-eating Scots who say this is as good as the real thing. It is spicy and toothsome, and great with mashed carrots. It sits happily among all the traditional trimmings and has a strong fan base who swear by it every Christmas.
You could also include a pulse-based dish. Chickpeas could be braised slowly or deep-fried in the form of falafel, which has a spicy, festive quality. You can even buy some very good pre-made falafel mixes at most supermarkets: try Orgran all-natural falafel mix, available through Waitrose and Ocado (ocado.com). But another excellent Christmas pulse is the French puy lentil. Quick cooking, with a smoky, wintry flavour, they are easy to prepare: soften celery, shallots, fennel and garlic in olive oil, then fold in tinned or vac-packed lentils (try Merchant Gourmet’s)
Well, I might as well go back to baking my cookies until some inspiring thoughts trickle down …