Thursday, 22 December 2011

Vegetarian Christmas

As a veggie*, I've been served quite a wide variety of things as substitutes for Christmas dinner. If you're having veggie (or vegan) guests to dinner this year, why not follow my handy guide to a meat-free festive dining experience? Also includes the best gravy ever - developed with a friend of mine. 

Let's cook!

You will need:
1 roasting tin, at least 2 inches** deep
1 steamer with two tubs, or 2 medium pans
1 baking tray
1 medium frying pan
1 large pan
1 medium pan
1 small pan
Wooden spoon

Potatoes - 2 medium or 1 large per person, or more depending on your portion preference
Carrots - about 2 per person
Parsnips - 2 per person
Cabbage - 1 will serve 4-6
Brussels sprouts - 4 or 5 per person
Yorkshire puddings - 2 per person. I think making the freaking dinner is enough without making these from scratch, so I buy frozen
1 medium onion
2-3 cloves garlic
Vegetarian stuffing mix
Quorn streaky strips - veggie version of bacon, known as facon (FAKE-un, rhymes with bacon) in my circle. You'll need about 1 strip per person
Veggie redcurrant jelly
Veggie gravy granules
Quorn family roast - 1 will serve about 4, depending on how many slices people want
Red wine
Vegetable oil
Margarine (check this is vegan-friendly if you're cooking for a vegan!)

How do I know it's vegetarian/vegan?
A quick note before we begin: a lot of people get confused about what is and is not vegan or vegetarian. A handy way to check - if it doesn't specifically say it's suitable for vegetarians or vegans on the packet, then it probably isn't. Don't risk it. I'm a stickler for only having veggie cheese*** and vegans in particular tend to be committed to only eating vegan-friendly products. Veggie/vegan wine can be bought from sites like Veggie Wines; products like Quorn or own-brand vegetarian lines will state whether they are suitable for vegans as well as veggies; and it should say on the packet whether the food you're buying is vegan or veggie. Honey is never vegan - don't include this if you're cooking for a vegan. If in doubt, ask your veggie/vegan guest! Most of us have an encyclopaedic knowledge of what is and is not veggie/vegan friendly and we can always help you check.

Preparation is the key! It helps to have everything peeled, sliced and diced before you begin to cook. Peel the carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Cut the parsnips into strips; chop the carrots into rough circles; and chop the potatoes into quarters. Take the top couple leaves off the Brussels sprouts, wash them, cut off the stalk section and carve a little cross into the bottom with a sharp knife. Peel and finely chop the garlic; peel and roughly dice the onion. If cooking for two, save half the onion to use another day.

Put the potatoes into the medium pan, cover them with water, add a pinch of salt and boil them. While the potatoes are coming to the boil, set your oven to 220 degrees. Take the roasting tin and pour in the oil to a depth of about half an inch. If you're feeling generous, olive oil tastes great but vegetable or sunflower oil will do too. Carefully put the roasting tin of oil in the oven to heat.

While the potatoes are boiling, put the carrots in the steamer or boil them in one of the medium pans. You want them soft, so they can be left on the boil for a while.

After about 10-15 minutes, check the potatoes. You want them par-boiled, so you should be able to easily stick a fork in them no more than halfway before hitting resistance. When they're par-boiled, drain the water into a medium pan and use the fork to mess up the edges of the potatoes, so they look a bit fluffy. Carefully take the tray of hot oil out of the oven - I cannot stress this enough, the oil will be hot so you need to exercise a lot of caution. Put the potatoes into the oil - it will probably spit, so careful. Seriously. Put the roasting tin of potatoes in oil back in the oven on a middle shelf. Put the Quorn family roast on the baking tray and put that on the top shelf.

Leave for 5 minutes, then put the cabbage and Brussels sprouts into the top of the steamer, or boil them together in another medium pan. Steam/boil the cabbage and sprouts for 5-10 minutes, depending on how soft you want them.

Take the baking tray out of the over and put the parsnip slices on along with the roast. Drizzle honey over the parsnips. If you're cooking for a vegan, drizzle them some olive oil over them instead. Alternately, cut the parsnips into circles and boil them up with the carrots! If you are roasting the parsnips, pop them into the oven at this point.

Turn the potatoes in the oil - carefully.

Heat up some oil in the frying pan. Cut the facon into rough squares. Take the sprouts and cabbage off the heat - drain them if you've boiled them, again saving the water - add it to the water you've already got from draining the potatoes. Separate the sprouts and put the cabbage somewhere to keep warm. Add the sprouts, facon and garlic to the frying pan. Keep the mixture moving as much as possible; cook on a medium flame until the facon and garlic being to brown and the sprouts start crisping up. 

In the small pan, heat some more oil and fry up the chopped onion over a medium/high flame. Once the onion starts to brown, add it to the water you've saved from cooking the veg. Put the pan on a low to medium flame and heat. Drop in a tablespoon of redcurrant jelly, add a generous splash of red wine (about 1 pub measure for enough gravy for 2-4 people) and add the gravy granules - mix in a tablespoonful at a time until you get the desired thickness, then stir occasionally.

Mix the stuffing according to the packet - I follow the microwave option and it still tastes great! You'll need to cook the Yorkshire puddings about now, too; they generally take about 4 minutes to cook. You can pop them on the same tray as the veggie roast and parsnips.

Take the carrots out of the steamer/off the boil and put them in the pan you fried the onions in. Add a knob of margarine and mash them up. If you chose to boil the parsnips, you can mash them in with the carrots. Use a hand blender, masher or even a fork and smash 'em up until you're happy with the result. Add a small pinch of salt.

Turn off the oven, take the roast out and set it aside for a few minutes whilst you plate up everything else. Carve the roast last. All told, the roast takes 45-50 minutes to cook, the potatoes will need about 45 minutes in the oven, parsnips have 20 minutes in the oven, carrots take 20-30 minutes to boil soft, cabbage boiled for 5-10 minutes with the sprouts, then the sprouts should be fried for around 5-10 minutes, gravy takes 5 minutes, Yorkshires about 4 and stuffing usually 5 minutes standing, 2 minutes in the microwave.


My masterpiece.

*I'm actually pescetarian, which means I eat fish, but as no one ever knows what that is until I launch into a lengthy explanation I tend to just say "veggie" for brevity's sake.

**I don't often go metric.

**You read right - a lot of cheese isn't vegetarian. It's hardened with rennet, which is made from animal stomach. Parmesan cheese in particular is made from rennet and is literally never vegetarian, which has led to my on-going battle with restaurants that list Caesar salad as vegetarian - a dish covered in Parmesan cheese and featuring a sauce that includes anchovies, a fish. Sometimes I despair of people.