Many of us are trying to add more veg into our diet – for the planet and our health – but festive food seems to be one area where vegetarian and vegan food hasn’t come very far.
It tends to be a time of excess (and that often means a whole lot of meat), leaving veggie dishes to be a bit lacklustre and dry.
That’s why Heather Thomas has written The Veggie Christmas Cookbook, saying: “There aren’t a lot of books out there dedicated to Christmas for vegetarians, and I think vegetarian people ask: ‘What can we cook, what can we do that’s special? How do we get away from a nut roast, all that traditional brown and beige food people used to eat?'”
Thomas’ recipes are colourful and vibrant – suitable for veggies, vegans and meat-eaters alike.
Here are some recipes to make your Christmas meal vegetarian-friendly...
Parsnip tarte tatin
2tbsp olive oil
450g small to medium parsnips, peeled and cut into long wedges
200g whole shallots, peeled
2tbsp soft light brown sugar
2tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
2tbsp cold water
100g vacuum-packed or cooked chestnuts, chopped
375g pack of ready-rolled vegan puff pastry
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/400°F/gas 6.
2. Heat the oil in a 23cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan set over a medium heat. Add the parsnips and shallots and cook for eight to 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are tender and golden brown. Remove the parsnips and set aside.
3. Add the sugar and vinegar to the shallots, along with the water, and cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, or until they start to caramelise. Remove from the heat and return the parsnips to the pan, arranging them in an attractive pattern if liked. Season lightly with salt and pepper and scatter the chestnuts over the top.
4. Roll out the pastry if needed, to be able to cut out a circle that’s a little larger than the pan. Lay it loosely over the top of the pan and tuck in the edges.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown, and the caramel juices are bubbling at the edges.
6. Remove from the oven and let the tart cool a little for five minutes. Then, using an oven cloth to prevent you from getting burnt, place a plate upside down on top of the tart and carefully invert the pan to turn out the tart onto the plate. Serve hot.
Butternut squash festive wreath
900g butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into small cubes
2 red onions, thinly sliced
2tbsp olive oil
2tbsp maple syrup
4 unpeeled whole garlic cloves
2 x 375g packs of ready-rolled puff pastry
100g baby spinach leaves
85g shelled pistachios
1 red chilli, deseeded and diced
100g grated Cheddar cheese
4tsp green pesto
4tsp cranberry sauce
1 medium free-range egg, beaten
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan)/400°F/gas 6. Line two baking trays with baking parchment.
2. Place the squash and red onions on two other baking trays and drizzle with the olive oil and maple syrup. Tuck the garlic cloves in between, season lightly with salt and pepper and roast in the preheated oven for 30–40 minutes, or until tender and starting to caramelise.
3. Meanwhile, roll out the pastry sheets, if needed, until they are about six millimetres thick and big enough to cut a large round from. Place each one on a lined baking tray. Using a 27cm flan tin or dinner plate as a guide, place it on top of each puff pastry sheet and cut round it to make a large circle. Set aside the pastry trimmings. Next, use a smaller plate to lightly score out an inner circle in the centre of each round. Use a sharp knife to cut through the pastry of the inner circle, first lengthways, then widthways, and again through the quarters to create eight sections.
4. Squeeze the garlic out of the skins and stir into the hot roasted squash and onion mixture. Add the spinach and leave it to wilt slightly and soften. Place spoonfuls of the mixture in a ring around each pastry disc, avoiding the outer edge and the central star.
5. Sprinkle with the pistachios, chilli and grated cheese. Drizzle alternately with pesto and cranberry sauce around the ring on top.
6. Work your way round each disc, raising the outer edge a little and pulling the point of each cut inner section over the filling towards the pastry edge. Pinch them together with your fingers to seal.
7. Lightly brush the pastry with beaten egg and, if using, attach some pastry stars (see below). Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until puffed up, crisp and golden brown.
Note: To make decorative pastry stars, roll out the pastry trimmings and stamp out some stars with a star-shaped pastry cutter. Attach to the pastry wreath with beaten egg before baking.
Panna cotta with cranberry coulis
1 vanilla pod
300ml double cream
2tsp agar agar powder
6tbsp caster sugar
For the cranberry coulis:
200g fresh cranberries
100g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
4tbsp orange juice
1. With a sharp knife, slice open the vanilla pod lengthways from end to end, and scrape out the seeds. Set aside.
2. Place the vanilla pod and seeds in a pan with the cream and milk. Add the agar agar and whisk well. Leave to stand for 15 minutes.
3. Add the sugar and set the pan over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar and agar agar dissolve and, when the mixture is very hot and nearly at boiling point, reduce the heat to low and cook for three minutes.
4. Turn off the heat and remove the vanilla pod (don’t discard it, see tip). Strain the mixture through a sieve into a jug.
5. Pour the mixture into six dariole moulds or six-centimetre ramekins, then cover and chill in the fridge for at least three hours, or until the panna cotta sets. Don’t worry if it’s not super firm – it should be a soft set with the slightest hint of a wobble.
6. Meanwhile, make the cranberry coulis: put all the ingredients in a saucepan and set over a medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves and then increase the heat and bring to the boil.
7. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15 minutes, or until the berries burst. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing it down with a spoon, into a bowl and leave until cold. Discard the cranberry solids in the sieve.
8. Unmould the panna cottas onto six serving plates. Carefully run a thin knife around the edge of the ramekins or moulds and invert them onto the plates. If the panna cotta doesn’t drop out, quickly dip the moulds or ramekins into a bowl of hot water and try again. Pour the cranberry coulis around each panna cotta so it sits in a pretty scarlet pool. Serve immediately.
Tip: Don’t throw away the used vanilla pod. Wash and dry it thoroughly and then pop it into a jar of sugar. Cover with the lid and leave for the vanilla flavour to infuse the sugar. You can use it in baking, or even in tea!
The Veggie Christmas Cookbook by Heather Thomas is published by HarperNonFiction.