In just three weeks time we’ll all be sitting down to (or feeling replete from) one of the most planned-for meals of the year; Christmas Day. I love it! I especially love it now I’m fully committed to eating vegetarian.
Notwithstanding that I’m not getting the goodwill vibe of the ritualistic killing of 10 million factory-farmed UK turkeys immediately before Christmas, I’m actually somewhat bewildered by people’s obsession with eating a traditional turkey dinner. If you’re not an experienced cook (and all the feedback I get tells me they’re few and far between) roast turkey has to be be one of the trickiest, most labour intensive, time consuming meals to get right. Then there’s the expense of putting a decent, organic, free-range turkey on the Christmas table (albeit, in my opinion, nothing less will do).
Putting my money where my mouth is, four years ago I blew almost an entire week’s housekeeping (£120) on a medium-sized (6kg) organic Kelly Bronze turkey for our celebration meal. To meet my self-imposed lunchtime deadline of 1pm, I set my morning alarm call for 7:30am so I could switch the oven on at 8:00am. A pre-prepared bird that size (firstly you have to stuff it and lubricate it up-to-the-nines, inside and out, in butter) takes 4.5 hours to cook, including five essential clock-watching interruptions of rather more pleasant social interactions, such as opening presents and drinking Champagne, if you want to be certain of a ‘tah-dah’ moment and gasps of appreciation when you present your perfectly roasted and dressed bird at the table. In retrospect, all the effort required now seems a bit passé and Bah Humbug for my taste!
This year I will not be found up to my elbows in turkey early on Christmas morning, nor will I be on tenterhooks waiting for the kitchen buzzer to repeatedly call me to my basting duties. Instead, I will have pre-prepared for our delectation a leisurely, spectacular-looking, vegetarian lunch full of the flavours of Christmas, without the fuss.
The star of the show, a Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf, isn’t altogether my idea. The original recipe for Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf first appeared in Good Food Vegetarian Christmas magazine, December 2009 and, as you can see, I’ve borrowed its presentation (sort of!). However, being a Primal-phile, my version had to be grain-free (no breadcrumbs allowed), refined sugar-free (found lurking in their cranberry sauce) and, for my taste, much more umami-savoury. Without the addition of the mature Cheddar that I’ve added to my recipe, the original seemed boringly bland. I believe that this is why many people eschew eating vegetarian, especially on special occasions, because all too often what you end up with is second-rate stodge - pastry, pasta, potato or rice and other grain-based dishes - that in their mundanity simply don’t sing-out ‘celebrate’, or entice you to eat them, even if you could. Which, being staunchly Primal I can’t - though sometimes I could kill for a decent roast potato!
In reality, vegetarians do not need to be short-changed. Even followers of the Primal/Paleo diet, who don’t eat grains or potatoes and, for compassionate reasons are reluctant to eat meat, can feast just as well, if not better than, their carnivore counterparts. This is how Primal Plate’s Christmas lunch is shaping up (although the starter and dessert may still yet be subject to further flights of fancy!): A red, green and white starter of Red Pepper Rolls with Goats Cheese, which looks like Christmas on a plate. Then, today’s amazing recipe for Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf with Port Wine Sauce, accompanied by Braised Red Cabbage, Creamed Celeriac and Baby Brussel Sprouts. Followed by cinnamon-laced Horchata Ice Cream with Stuffed Baked Apples in Clementine Syrup. Maybe, a platter of cheese with seasonal fruit and finally, coffee and mince pies.
All this fabulous food with absolutely no added sugar, no grains, no legumes, no potato, no meat and, if everything goes according to my ‘get-ahead’ menu plan, definitely nothing to drive me into a cook’s frenzy on Christmas morning. In fact, I intend to spend less than an hour doing hands-on cooking on the day itself, and even that will largely involve primping the food so it looks its best on the plate!
This should help to make Christmas everything it promises to be - a happy, food-filled celebration that everyone, including the cook, can enjoy. Almost every component of this lavish, rainbow-coloured, festive vegetarian feast can be made oven-ready and/or stashed in the fridge/freezer and ready-to-go by Christmas Eve and, in most instances, well before. By my reckoning, that means the most exacting thing I’ll have to do on Christmas day is core and stuff the apples through a Champagne-induced haze of alcohol! As much as I love cooking, not spending almost the entire day in the kitchen sounds like the best-ever Christmas to me!
Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf (Serves 8)
45g butter, plus a little extra for greasing
3 onions, finely chopped
15g pack sage, 8 leaves reserved, the rest finely chopped
180g pack cooked chestnuts
100g ground almonds
1 tsp ground mace
100g good quality vegetarian Cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 eggs, beaten
600g baby parsnips, trimmed, peeled and cut in half lengthways (or choose standard parsnips - long, thin ones if you can - peeled then halved lengthways)
1 tbsp honey
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh cranberries and flat leaf parsley - to decorate
Boil a kettle of water. Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with some butter, line with a long strip of non-stick baking parchment to cover the bottom and the two ends of the tin.
Melt 15g butter in a non-stick pan, add the onions and gently cook with the lid on the pan for 10-15 mins over a medium low heat until very soft and just starting to turn golden. Stir in the chopped sage, cook for a further 1 minute, then tip into a large mixing bowl.
Pulse the chestnuts in a food processor until chopped into small bits, then tip these into the bowl with the onions and repeat with the walnuts. Now add the ground almonds, cheese, mace, beaten eggs, 1½ tsp salt and a generous amount of freshly grated pepper and mix everything together well.
Pour the boiling water from the kettle into the bottom half of a steamer. Put the halved parsnips in the top of the steamer, put the lid on and steam for 3 minutes.
Tip the parsnips onto a clean dry tea towel and pat them dry. Line up the best looking halves of parsnip (you’ll need about 10 halves) and lay them widthways, cut side down, along the bottom of the loaf tin. You will need to alternate the parsnip halves ‘thick ends to thin’ and pack them tightly side-by-side, so they fit snugly in the base of the tin. N.B. If you’re using normal-sized parsnips, cut off lengths of parsnip from the thinner ends and fit across the base of your loaf tin in the same way. Keep going until you have enough parsnip halves to snugly line the base of the tin.
Take the parsnip halves back out of the loaf tin and set aside. Chop all the leftover parsnip into small neat dice and mix into the nut mixture.
Melt the remaining 15g of butter in a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat. When it starts to foam add the honey and the reserved parsnip halves laying them cut side down in the pan. Fry gently in the butter (on the cut side only) for about 5 minutes or until they are lightly browned - they should be just turning golden. Take off the heat and set aside to cool.
Heat oven to 180℃ (160℃ fan) / 350℉ Gas mark 4
When the fried parsnip are cool enough to handle, fit them back into the loaf tin, as before (cut and browned side down). Top with ⅓ of the nut mixture – pack it down well and smooth the surface.
Spread the cranberry and orange relish on top, leaving a small space around the edges.
Top with the remaining nut mixture and pack down as before. Cover with tin foil.
The loaf can be made up to 24 hrs ahead, then covered and chilled, before continuing.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 hour. Take the loaf out of the oven and remove the foil, then put back in the oven for a further 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining 15g butter in a small frying pan and sizzle the reserved sage leaves for 1 minute.
Loosen around the sides of the loaf with a round-bladed knife if you need to, then turn the loaf out onto a warm serving platter. Peel off the parchment paper.
Brush the top of the loaf with the hot sage butter then decorate with cranberries, fried sage leaves and sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.
Serve in slices with extra Cranberry Orange Relish and Port Wine Sauce.
Carbohydrate 30g Protein 12g - per portion
Port Wine Sauce (Serves 6)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
600ml (1 pint) soft, fruity red wine (I used McGuigan Estate Merlot)
1 dsp Marigold organic vegetable bouillon powder
2 tsp arrowroot powder
3 tbsp port wine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g cold butter, cut into small pieces
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, add the onion, cover and fry over a low-medium heat for 10 minutes until it is tender but not browned.
Stir in the bouillon powder and then pour in the wine, bring to the boil, and leave to simmer, without a lid, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it has halved in volume i.e. reduced to 300ml (½ pint). Take off the heat and strain through a sieve into a small clean saucepan
Put the arrowroot into a small bowl and mix to a paste with the port. Add a tablespoon of the hot wine mixture, stir, then quickly pour the slaked arrowroot into the saucepan with the rest of the wine mixture and stir briefly until it has thickened slightly (just below boiling point).
Stir in the redcurrant jelly. Taste, then add salt and pepper, if necessary
You can make the sauce up to this point in advance. Either freeze and defrost overnight the day before you need it, or keep in the fridge until you want to serve.
Just before you want to serve the sauce, re-heat in a small saucepan to just below boiling point, then quickly whisk-in the cubes of cold butter to make it glossy.
Carbohydrate 5g Protein 0g - per portion