Top tips for a vegetarian Christmas
- Credit: Archant
Martin Pilkington talks to some of our top chefs about festive food for vegetarians
Christmas traditions are great, but by the third appearance of the turkey even dedicated carnivores may wish for something different. So for some advice for veggies and non-veggies looking for a change, we sought out some of the people who have to do it for a living.
Simon Connolly, a director of Greens restaurant in Didsbury realises that without the ubiquitous bird it is difficult to create a Christmassy-sounding menu. ‘But we can use other ingredients like chestnuts and orange and walnuts and blue cheese that give big, wintry flavours,’ he says.
Sue Healey, chef-proprietor of The Coven in Wigan (and yes, she’s heard all the pie jokes) takes a similar approach, enlisting classic celebratory elements that give the lie to the old idea of pitying vegetarians for missing out at this time of year. ‘Chestnut pate is a winner, and festive fritters – things that incorporate the flavours of Christmas that you expect – cranberries, nice warm spices.
‘One of the big things last year was a Christmas lasagne, which had the basic lasagne structure but used Christmas dinner vegetables – sprouts, carrots and parsnips – with layers of stuffing and cranberry sauce, and mashed potato on top. That went down a storm.’ This December the same idea may take the form of a pie. Well, it is Wigan.
At this time of year what the roast bird is to meat-eaters the nut-roast is to veggies. Trish Rawlinson of The Whale Tail Restaurant in Lancaster offers several: ‘We have a white nut-roast that looks quite stunning with all the colourful vegetables that accompany it; a cashew version that has sage and onion stuffing through it, and we also do a hazelnut one which we stuff with parsnips, tarragon and a little bit of orange zest. We serve them with a cider gravy made with lots of vegetables which you cook down to enhance the flavour, and all the roast vegetables, spuds and chestnuts.’
Greens is a very contemporary place, but the mains on its special Christmas menu include a roast of carrot, pecan and hazelnuts served with all the trimmings. ‘The nut-roast is a little bit old-fashioned but it’s still really liked,’ says Simon, whose wine pairing for it suggests one excellent reason why. ‘With that I’d drink a nice big old heavy red, there’s plenty of flavour in there and you need a wine that will go with it, we have a Dão that is beautiful - smoky, brambly, and rich so it doesn’t get lost.’ Vinophiles condemned to sip something light with bland turkey breast may be a bit envious.
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The Christmas pud is something, once the suet is substituted, that lends itself to vegetarian cooking but maybe with a twist. Greens this year is serving a cheesecake version, and The Coven will intriguingly have a raw one. ‘It’s got lots of fruit and nuts and spices in there, and is really moist,’ says Sue Healy.
‘You can have it warmed as the threshold to qualify as raw is 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The textures and flavours you can get with raw ingredients like that are just amazing.’
Alongside the things that vegetarian diners have come to expect on the Christmas menu sits the bonus of more creative alternatives. Trish Rawlinson plans to offer a puff-pastry strudel filled with stilton, wild mushrooms and herbs. The festive selection at Greens has a main of aubergine, cauliflower and potato rogan josh, and a starter that catches the eye of oyster mushrooms with Chinese pancakes and plum sauce.
Meatless meals are clearly not only attractive to vegetarians. Simon Connolly reckons 75 per cent of Greens’ Yuletide clientele are omnivores. ‘Occasionally people will come here very sceptical, thinking they’re not going to be full up at the end because they aren’t having a big slab of meat. But 99 times out of 100 they leave having been convinced.’
‘It’s something different for people to try, getting away from the same-old-same-old at Christmas,’ says Sue Healy, who thinks at least half of those visiting The Coven are meat eaters: ‘I find that whole parties of non-vegetarians come in.’
Pity the vegetarian at Christmas? Not these days.
The pictures on this page have come from dishes created by The Vegetarian Society. If they’ve whetted your appetite you can find these and many more recipes at www.vegsoc.org