What to eat as ‘the main event’ for Christmas Dinner can be an annual dilemma, trying to find something suitably festive, with a bit of wow-factor, that the turkey-eaters won’t scoff at.
We’ve tried all sorts of recipes over the years – moroccan-spiced filo affairs, gooey baked cheesey pies, nutty patties, mushroomy wellingtons, aubergine stacks, chestnutty bites which were fondly nicknamed ‘reindeer poo’…. the list goes on. I often wonder if I will stumble upon a veggie option so good it will become an annual event, just like turkey? It would certainly take some of the frantic last-minute rush out of trying to decide what to make, and sometimes things we eat only once a year can feel like such a treat – like pancake day. But I don’t think I’ve found that special dish just yet.
This got me thinking about what makes the “ultimate vegetarian & vegan Christmas Dinner”. It was really interesting to read your feedback on my roundup of Vegetarian Sunday Lunch Recipes a few months ago – what people think does and doesn’t go with gravy and roast potatoes, whether you want something very quick and easy to throw together, or to spend a while in the kitchen making something really special you wouldn’t usually have for a weeknight supper.
I think Veggie Christmas Dinners should:
Be full of festive flavours and ingredients
I’ve seen all sorts of veggie options on over-priced Christmas lunch menus from local hotels and restaurants, including recently ‘Penne with a tomato and Mediterranean vegetable sauce‘, and ‘Asparagus and sun-dried tomato risotto‘. These are not Christmassy!! Delicious, I’m sure, but I’m pretty sure December isn’t asparagus season, and tomatoes and Mediterranean vegetables just aren’t festive. Give me cranberries, walnuts, nutmeg, stilton, port, rosemary and sage any day.
Create some theatre at the table
So the turkey turns up at the table to oohs and ahhs, and is ceremoniously carved, whilst you plate up your sorry looking nut roast to pitying looks from around the table…. sound familiar? This Christmas, make some drama with your veggie option too – make it extra-tall, decorate your pie with pastry holly leaves, slice it at the table, add plenty of colourful and festive ingredients so it looks and smells amazing too.
Avoid all the veg you will be eating with it
I’ve had some really tasty spiced winter root vegetable pies as the main event for Christmas dinner, but realised that I was eating potato, parsnip and carrot in a pastry crust, with potato, parsnip and carrot next to it as side dishes. Don’t overdo the root veg at Christmas!
Similarly, if something isn’t going to work well being slathered in oniony gravy, I don’t want it on my plate for Christmas Dinner! Remember this centrepiece is going to be sitting alongside potatoes, sprouts, carrots, parsnips, red cabbage and lots of gravy.
Indulgent, but not too heavy!
Christmas lunch should definitely be a time of indulgence… a bit too much bubbly, just one more roast potato, and an extra slice of pudding. Though I’ve seen some Christmas dinner recipes for two featuring a whole baked camembert wrapped in all-butter puff pastry, and thought…. would I ever be able to get up from the table?! Its great to have some naughty-but-nice ingredients in a festive main course, but if your Christmas dinner is anything like ours with nibbles, substantial starters, every vegetable known to man with oodles of gravy and three different sauces, followed by homemade pudding and custard then a cheeseboard, half a baked camembert is a pretty high-risk strategy as a main course option!
Relatively simple to make-ahead – you will have enough to do!
I’m a great believer that everyone should enjoy Christmas Day from start to finish, including whoever is doing the cooking. Getting as much prep out of the way in the days beforehand means maximum champagne-sipping. present-unwrapping, charades-playing enjoyment for everyone on the big day itself. So choosing a veggie option that can sit happily in the fridge for a day or two then simply be re-heated 10-15 minutes beforehand is a very good idea.
Taking all these into account, here’s a festive little idea for you which I cooked this week for our Christmas celebration with my husband’s family. It went down very well indeed, and certainly looks and smells Christmassy!
- 1 large butternut squash
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed or finely chopped
- 100g puy lentils
- 100g fresh cranberries
- 2 stalks fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
- 2 stalks fresh thyme, leaves stripped
- ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 150ml red wine
- 150ml vegetable stock
- 80g fresh spinach, finely chopped
- 50g pistachios, roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4. Slice the butternut squash in half lengthways, and scoop out and discard the seeds. Brush or spray with a little oil, then bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until the flesh is tender enough to scoop out with a spoon. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or frying pan with a lid, heat the olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes until softened.
- Add the lentils, cranberries, rosemary and thyme leaves, nutmeg, red wine and vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then cover and lower to a gentle simmer. Cook for 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, (but still have a little bite to them). NB you may need to add a little more water near the end of cooking time if the lentils have soaked up all the liquid - keep an eye on them and stir regularly.
- Take one half of the butternut squash and scoop out most of the flesh with a spoon, leaving a little all the way around so that the squash holds its shape. Be careful not to tear the skin if possible, (though the occasional hole won't be disastrous!). Add the squash flesh to the pan of lentils, and mash it into the mixture with a fork. Repeat with the other squash half. Taste the mixture, and add salt as necessary.
- Stir the spinach and pistachios into the lentil mixture, and mix well to combine, then spoon the mixture into both halves of the squash until it is level, (see picture above) - there may be a little left over, but keep this aside to serve separately - don't over-fill or you will lose the nice, neat circular shape of your roast. Place one half on top of the other, then tie with string every 3-4 centimetres.
- Return to the oven for 10 minutes until piping hot throughout.
For a full Christmas Day menu, why not take a look at:
- Starter: Porcini & Sherry Soup (pictured)
- Main: Festive Butternut Roast
- Dessert: Christmas Pudding Toffee Sauce with ice cream
- Cheeseboard with Figgy Christmas Chutney
For more ideas, take a look at my recent post 34 Vegetarian Sunday Lunch Recipes You Need to Know About,
or hop over to my Pinterest Board Sunday Lunches and Roast Dinners: Vegetarian & Vegan:
Thanks for stopping by, and have a very Happy Christmas and fun-filled 2016!
And don’t forget that my new book Vegan in 15 is now available to pre-order on Amazon, (whoop!) – publication date is 5th January 2017. Many thanks for your support!