Five favourite Christmas veggie dishes
We are quickly approaching the day that offers the most memorable feast of the year. Start checking the oven’s reliability and make sure the roasting tins are big enough and, most importantly, that there is enough space for half-uneaten turkey in the freezer.
The time has come for the Christmas preparations to begin. Although this special day captures the nostalgia of hundreds of traditions past, it is well-renowned to be one of the most stressful days of the year. Friends, in-laws, an early morning start and an overheated kitchen is a recipe for a disaster anyway; throw in a turkey carrying the threat of disdainful faces by overcooking, or food poisoning by undercooking, and the day can become a nightmare.
So how about we take away the turkey from the table? Would it still taste of Christmas without the meaty centrepiece?
Chef and vegetable dish genius Yotam Ottolenghi is a keen advocator for pushing the lowly vegetable into the forefront of our seasonal feasts. With statistics finding in 2008 that Britons ate a whopping ten million turkeys on Christmas Day, it is understandable to see why there has been a shift of focus from the traditional meat fest. For why should veg be shunned when there is so much variety, texture and flavour to experience?
Here, vegetables and their meat-free mate take centre stage!
Crunchy, golden and glorious – get them right and they act as numero uno of the Christmas spread. Part boil, then add to a dish of hot oil or goose fat. Sprinkle with semolina or plain flour, pop into a very hot oven and turn at intervals. Eaten for the last four centuries, these rough spuds of the earth turn into proper diamonds when covered with liberal amounts of gravy.
Whether you love them or hate them, these controversial oddballs are high in folic acid and vitamins A and C. These surprisingly versatile veggies can be shredded, boiled, steamed or even puréed. A dash of cream or crème fraîche and a healthy scraping of nutmeg add a different texture to your plate. Perhaps you could even add a sprinkling of toasted almonds. If, however, you are boiling your sprouts in the traditional way, the fine line between squashy sprouts and “budgie heads” is all in the attention to timing…
Medieval Britons, the inventors of the traditional Christmas feast, would have been disgusted at their roast goose, boar or peacock replaced with pig fodder (otherwise known as nuts and vegetables). A homemade labour of love, good nut roast is not just a bigger portion of stuffing. It can be jewelled with cranberries, tangy with stilton, crunchy with chestnuts, sweetened with parsnips or even curried like Delia’s; there is no end to the flavours that nut roast can offer. Tailor it to suit your guests’ tastes and it can even be made in advance.
Almost as important as the plate itself, gravy has the power to destroy or make your Christmas feast. There is absolutely no point in making the crispiest roast potatoes, the perfect brussel purée or a flavourful nut roast, if you smother it in thick, globular gravy. The thicker does not always mean the better! Bay leaves, star anise, rosemary and sage are good starting points – and a good glug of red wine or cider doesn’t hurt either!
At Christmas, it really is all about the condiments. Bread sauce, mustard, chutney, horseradish and the seasonal favourite – cranberry sauce. The list goes on and on and not a bone or a giblet in sight! Unlike the American inspired cranberry sauce we can easily buy in shops, European cranberry sauce should be slightly sour with the zest of oranges and lemons, a hint of ginger and a healthy slug of port to get the little berries bursting with flavour! Simple to make, and much tastier when made ahead, homemade cranberry sauce is an easy way to put the festive fire to a Christmas table. The other fantastic thing about going homemade is that many commercial cranberry sauces often contain non-vegetarian gelatine. An unwanted present on this special day!
Veggie or unveggie, make enough space on your plate for these flavour-filled and terrifically textured additions. Given a bit of love and concentration, the humble vegetable and its side-ordered companions will demand to be put centre-stage, making your day as stress-free as it can possibly be. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly!