Have a merry veggie Christmas
Stuff your turkey, ban the ham, roll away the lard-laden roasties
Nut roast pairs well with the traditional Christmas side dishes and won’t leave vegetarians feeling left out
‘Ahh, would you not even have a small bit of ham?”
“Sure, there’s only a spoonful of turkey stock in that gravy.” “What do you mean, you can’t eat the spuds because of the goose fat? What’s wrong with them?”
If you are the vegetarian in a typical Irish family, you’ll be well used to hearing comments along those lines at Christmas. It’s okay, we’re used to being treated as the outcast. At best, we get the same sort of treatment around the dinner table as we do in most restaurants: our dining choices are an afterthought (the campaign to ban goat’s cheese anything as the veggie option starts here).
Luckily, we veggies have skins thicker than yams to deflect the sort of food-related guilt-trip than only an Irish mammy is capable of. But the days of baked, boiled and mashed potatoes, and sprouts served 12 ways, are fading. Stuff your turkey, ban the ham, roll away the lard-laden roasties – being vegetarian at Christmas doesn’t mean missing out, thank you very much.
Just ask musician Lewis Jackson, guitarist in the Irish band Enemies. A vegetarian since the age of 14 – when a friend gave him a copy of Peter Singer’s 1975 treatise on the meat industry, Animal Liberation. He agrees that it has become easier to be vegetarian over the years. “When I was growing up, there was hardly a vegetarian option in the supermarkets, other than vegetables, of course. Quorn was around, but wasn’t really available in the Republic, you had to buy it up North. Nowadays, you can get anything you could ever want for a Christmas dinner.”
That said, Christmas can still be a bit of an ordeal – at least in his house. “You end up having these ridiculous conversations with people,” he says, laughing. “The staple things that are said to me every year are ‘You can eat a bit of chicken, though, can’t you?’ and ‘I think I could be a vegetarian, I really only eat red meat and turkey’ – and my personal favourite, ‘But what do you eat every day?’” Jackson sticks to loading up his plate with something like a vegetarian lasagne or nutloaf with all the trimmings, and says that he has never felt like his Christmas has been lacking without turkey and ham. “I’ve never eaten a real Christmas dinner,” he shrugs, “so I’ll never know what I’m missing.”
Nadine O’Regan, who presents the radio show Songs in the Key of Life on Sundays on Today FM, comes from a similar place.
A vegetarian since the age of 19 – also sparked into action after reading Animal Liberation – she re-introduced fish into her diet after five years and has been following a pescatarian lifestyle ever since. It has been quite a while since her Christmas dinner featured anything turkey or ham-related.
“[At first], the news that I had become a vegetarian had to be hidden from visiting relatives at Christmas; it was a more contentious subject than my continuing inability to drive,” she laughs, adding that “bits of ham would be snuck into quiches” by her mother “on the basis that it was only a little bit of meat.”
“But I love Christmas dinner – and I love it for the vegetables,” she says. “At Christmas, we always have celery cooked in a delicious white sauce; Brussels sprouts; mashed potatoes; roast potatoes; cheesy potatoes; carrots, peas and, afterwards, usually five kinds of desserts. I do usually have some kind of white fish now on the day, but in truth, I only get the fish to make the cook happy; it’s the vegetables I’m after.”
Vegetables (all finely chopped): 1 large onion, 1 large carrot, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 red pepper, 2 stalks celery
100g red or green lentils
150g of chopped walnuts/cashews/hazelnuts
250ml vegetable stock
75g red or white Cheddar cheese
2 medium eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika Salt and pepper, to taste
This hearty nut roast is a cinch to whip up and it pairs well with the usual Christmas dinner trimmings, too.
Grease or line a 4lb loaf tin with parchment and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius/Gas 4. Sauté the onion, garlic, celery and carrot in the olive oil on medium heat for four to five minutes. Add the passata and leave to simmer for two or three minutes. Add the vegetable stock, along with the lentils and the diced pepper.
Bring to the boil then reduce the heat. Add the dried herbs and allow the mixture to reduce. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Lightly beat the eggs and add to the mixture , along with the breadcrumbs. Stir well, season with salt and pepper and transfer to the loaf tin. Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown. Allow the roast to cool slightly before turning out, slicing and serving.