Anyone dreaming of a light Christmas?


Some of Ireland’s top chefs have put together seasonal delights which won’t pile on the pounds

While it may be the season to eat, drink and be merry, many people will be watching their waistlines and hoping the extra pounds lost in time for the office party won’t be regained during the biggest feast of the year.

We asked some of Ireland’s best known chefs to give some healthy options to the traditional Christmas fare – something tasty, and with a “wow factor” to keep everybody happy over the festive period.

Derry Clarke

Derry Clarke of l’Ecrivain restaurant in Dublin says a spicy fish dish followed by a warming fruit dessert will tickle the taste-buds, and allow room for a slice of Granny’s Christmas cake in the evening.

Spiced Monkfish, Carrot Orange Puree, Shredded Carrot Ginger Salad

4 x 160g monkfish portions (trimmed)

1 tbsp vegetable oil

Sea salt and cracked black pepper

For the Spice Mix

1 tsp cumin seeds (crushed)

1 tsp coriander seeds (crushed)

Pinch of five-spice powder

¼ red chilli (deseeded diced)

1cm piece of root ginger (peeled and finely diced)

1 clove of garlic (crushed)

For the Carrot Orange Puree

4 large carrots (peeled and chopped)

2 shallots (peeled and diced)

1 clove of garlic (peeled and crushed)

2 oranges (juiced)

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

For the Carrot Ginger Salad

2 large carrots peeled and grated

5cm piece of ginger (peeled and grated)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp chopped fresh chervil

Salt freshly ground white pepper

Mix all spice ingredients together in a large bowl. Toss the monkfish on all sides in the spice mix. On a hot pan, add the vegetable oil. Brown the fish on all sides.Finish in the oven for five minutes. Remove and rest for a few minutes before serving.

Next, prepare the puree. In a heavy sauce pot, add the olive oil and gently cook the shallots and garlic for two minutes. Add the carrots, season and cook for three minutes. Add the orange juice.

Cook very slowly for 20 minutes or until very tender: strain and keep the liquid. Liquidise the remaining mixture in a food processor until smooth; add some of the liquid if the puree is too thick.

Finally, prepare the salad. Toss the carrots, ginger and chervil in a large bowl. Season and drizzle with olive oil.

Spoon the carrot puree onto warm serving plates. Place monkfish on top, add carrot and ginger salad on top of the monkfish.

Pears Poached in Port Wine

6 firm, green, slightly under-ripe pears with stalks

120g caster sugar

280ml red wine

140ml port

8 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

2 vanilla beans

Zest of 1 lemon or 1 orange

Peel the pears and take a thin slice off the bottom of each so you can stand it upright. Place the pears into a high-sided saucepan that will hold them tightly: it should not be deep enough for them to float.

Put all the other ingredients into the saucepan and top up with water to reach just below the pear stalks. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Poach for 30-45 minutes, or until the pears are tender. How long this takes will depend on their variety and ripeness.

Leave to cool slightly, then carefully move the pears to a shallow dish. Bring the syrup to the boil again and reduce until it is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon.

Allow the syrup to cool and pour it over the pears. Chill, spooning the syrup over the pears from time to time. Serve with crème fraiche, or whipped cream if you are feeling decadent.

Neven Maguire

Neven Maguire of MacNean House says if you don’t want a big meal on Christmas Day but would like a nod in the direction of tradition, cook some turkey breast and jazz it up with a little spice. Keep starters simple with a light seafood salad.

Prawns with Mango and Avocado

8 tbsp rapeseed oil

Juice and rind of 1 lime

1 small ripe avocado

2 small ripe mangos

300g cooked large prawns

1 tbsp coriander (chopped)

Wild rocket

Mix the oil, lime zest and juice with the coriander in a bowl to make a dressing. Season and set aside.

Peel, stone and slice the mango and set aside. Half, stone and peel the avocado, discarding the skin. Slice the flesh and divide between four plates along with the mango and prawns.

Drizzle each plate with the coriander dressing. Serve with wild rocket, and garnish with fresh coriander.

Thai Turkey Stir Fry with Noodles

50g cashew nuts

350g medium Chinese egg noodles

2 tsp toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves (crushed)

1 tsp fresh root ginger (finely grated)

1 mild red chilli (seeded and thinly sliced)

450g turkey breast fillet (cut into small strips)

1 courgette (trimmed and cut into sticks)

1 yellow pepper and 1 red pepper (seeded and sliced)

100g baby corn (halved)

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

2-3 tablespoons fresh coriander (chopped)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh coriander sprigs, to garnish

Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Toast the cashew nuts for for four to five minutes, tossing the pan occasionally to prevent them from burning. Tip into a bowl and set aside.

Plunge the noodles in a pan of boiling salted water, then remove from the heat and set aside for four minutes until tender or according to packet instructions.

Drain, then toss in half of the sesame oil and set aside. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a wok until it is very hot. Add the vegetable oil and swirl up the sides. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli and cook for just 30 seconds.

Add the turkey and stir fry for two to three minutes until well sealed and lightly coloured. Add the courgette, peppers and baby corn and stir fry for another four to five minutes or until the vegetables are tender but still crunchy.

Add the reserved toasted cashew nuts to the wok with the soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and coriander, then toss briefly to combine. Season to taste and sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil over it.

To serve, arrange the noodles on warmed serving plates and then spoon the turkey stir fry on top. Garnish with the coriander sprigs.

The MacNean Restaurant Cookbook is published by Gill and Macmillan and costs €24.99. Visit

Darina Allen

Darina Allen of Ballymaloe House and Cookery School says healthy food doesn’t have to mean a compromise on taste. She suggests a light starter which is more than just a little special and a tangy dessert, for those who want to stick with the traditional turkey as a main course.

Winter Salad of Pomegranates, Persimmons, Pecans and Crozier Blue

2 tbsp white wine vinegar (I use Forum Chardonnay vinegar)

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 shallots (peeled and finely chopped)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 ripe Fuyu persimmons (little firm persimmons)

3 ripe d’Anjou or other pears

Juice of 1 lime (freshly squeezed)

Seeds from ½ pomegranate

110g Crozier Blue cheese (crumbled)

A selection of frizzy lettuce, watercress and rocket leaves

75-110g fresh toasted pecans

First make the vinaigrette. Mix the wine vinegar, mustard, shallots, salt and pepper.Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified.

Slice the persimmons and pears into slices about 5mm (½ inch) thick. Put into a medium bowl and sprinkle with freshly squeezed lime juice. Add the pomegranate seeds and toss gently.

Wash and dry the greens; store in a clean towel in the fridge until ready to use. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Put the nuts onto a baking sheet in a moderate oven for five to six minutes, tossing gently from time to time. Alternatively toast under a grill.

To serve, toss the greens in some of the vinaigrette and arrange on plates. Toss the fruit mixture lightly in the remaining vinaigrette. Arrange on top of the greens and sprinkle with the toasted pecans and crumbled blue cheese. Serve immediately.

Tangerine Sorbet

225g sugar

Juice of ¼ lemon

150ml water

20-28 tangerines

Juice of ½ lemon

Icing sugar (optional)

Vine leaves or bay leaves to garnish

First make the syrup. Heat the first three ingredients over a low heat, until they are dissolved together and clear. Bring to the boil, and boil for two to three minutes. Leave to cool.

Grate the zest from 10 of the tangerines and squeeze the juice from them. Cut the remaining tangerines so they each have a lid. Scoop out the sections with a small spoon and then press them through a nylon sieve (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 750ml juice.

Add the grated zest, lemon juice and syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice, if more sweetness or sharpness is required. Freeze until firm using one of the following methods.

Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.


Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about four to five hours when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.


If you have a food processor simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.

Chill the shells in the fridge or freezer: fill them with the frozen sorbet. Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day.

Serve on a white plate decorated with vine leaves or bay leaves.

The Ballymaloe Cookery School won the award for Good Food Ireland Cookery School of the Year 2012. See cookingisfun.ieand

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