Modern families have all sorts of tastes to contend with. One day everyone eats everything: the next minute half the grandchildren don’t eat meat and the rest won’t touch sprouts. If you need to cater for vegetarians on Christmas day, you can get into a right old pickle. So relax, get a pre-December mince pie (if you haven’t noticed, they’ve been in the shops for a month already!) and a good slug of your favourite warming spirit: and explore my ways to make Christmas dinner easy no matter who’s coming round.
Two main dishes doesn’t mean twice as much work. Simply make your vegetarian option the day before and refrigerate – then you can concentrate on the turkey in the morning, and add the veggie dish when the time comes.
I’ve always made a roasted red pepper plait for my vegetarian grandchildren: it’s simple to prepare in advance and you can cheat by buying premade pastry. Plus the red of the pepper and the green of the spinach makes it look nice and festive!
Roast a large red pepper on a medium heat until the skin begins to come away from the flesh. This is usually between 20 and 30 minutes. Seal the pepper in a plastic bag for between 5 and 10 minutes then take of the skin and core it. Dice.
Toast 85g pine nuts for 3-5 minutes. Wash half a kilo of fresh spinach and cook in as little water as possible – I normally steam with just the water on the leaves from when it was washed. Leave to drain for as long as possible: you want to get as much of the moisture out as possible.
Chop one large onion finely, add a crushed garlic clove and 225g mushrooms, and then fry gently until they soften. Take off the heat and add the pine nuts, spinach and roasted pepper. Stir in three large, peeled, chopped tomatoes (plums are best) and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. Season with an inch of sea salt and a generous helping of black pepper. Add a small amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Roll out puff pastry until you have a rectangular piece around 10-12in square (ish). Spoon the filling into the centre of the pastry until you have a length of it covering around one third of the total area. Chop up dolcelatte in small pieces and place on top of the filling.
Cut the pastry either side of the filling into diagonal strips, and form a false plait. Brush with egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 20 minutes in a medium hot oven (gas 6/200 C/400 F).
If, like me, you love chestnut stuffing with your bird, you can make a separate lot for the vegetarians using packet mix. As for the rest – do all the vegetables separately from the meat and you don’t have to worry. Roast potatoes taste better (in my opinion) when you roast in vegetable oil and a little rosemary – so simply sequester the turkey in its own baking tray (along with pigs in blankets and the chestnut stuffing).
Be aware that Christmas pudding and mince pies may both contain meat derived ingredients (suet) – so if you’re catering for a mixed crowd you’ll need to buy or make sweets suited to a non meat eater.
Some links to help you start planning your festive cooking:
The Vegetarian Society – recipes for all festive occasions.
Good Food – the BBC guide to vegetarian festive cooking.
Ask Granny – the online guide for grandparents.