What does a vegetarian eat at Christmas? And Thanksgiving, for any Americans reading this. Christmas is a time of roast dinners, of three types of meat and seventeen vegetables. My wife has said the last two years that she is happy with just with the seventeen veg, but this somehow doesn’t seem enough – where’s the centrepiece? Where’s the giant bird, the long thin parcels of minced pig wrapped in slices of smoked pig, the boiled haunch of yet another pig, the (for the adventurous) lead-peppered formerly-cute-and-adored-by children-but-nonetheless-tasty random item of game? You can’t just have the sideshow, however much stuffing and Yorkshire pudding you throw at it. (Is it technically stuffing, if it’s never actually entered a body cavity?) It would be like going to a football match and only heading to your seat to watch the half-time entertainment. Or going to the pub purely to play the fruit machine. Or drinking alcohol-free beer. All enjoyable in their own way, but kind of missing the main event.
We have had two Christmases since my wife turned vegetarian, and are now preparing for a third. In attempting to address what I perceive as a big gap on her plate, I have for the last two years made her a pie to replace the meat: shortcrust pastry base, puff pastry lid, some stir-fried-in-butter-until-soft veg (tenderstem broccoli, leeks, peas, etc) and a cheesy béchamel. This went pretty well last year, but the year before was slightly compromised by the over-greased sandwich tin I baked it in causing the pie to slide off the base, flip over and land upside down and broken in two on the cooling rack. I very robustly warned my parents-in-law not to laugh, which, to my slight surprise, they managed.
This year we have our epicure friends coming to stay for Christmas, and I am shamelessly exploiting Mr Epicure’s cookery talents. We have yet to decide on what the carnivores in the room will be eating; my eldest is allergic to poultry so turkey is out, and we are debating the relative merits of pork belly and beef rib. I must admit though to a slightly raised eyebrow when it was suggested that the vegetarian alternative might be a nut roast.
I have long viewed nut roast as one of those joke vegetarian dishes, like saus-mix or Quorn, that are deliberately designed to put people off becoming vegetarian. But I am guilty of judging without evidence, as I confess I have never had the opportunity to sample any such dish, and if Mr E says something is tasty, then frankly his recent track record (last ten years or so) supports his assertion.
So I am going to post a recipe which I have not yet tried, but which is looming, a mere six weeks away. I’d like to say I’m looking forward to it, but I would be lying: I am instead looking forward to at least three types of meat, and a minimum of seventeen vegetables.
Cashew and mushroom roast
1 Onion, Diced
2 Cloves garlic, crushed or grated
200g Cashews, ground
2 Eggs, beaten
Mushrooms, sliced / torn
Gently fry the onions and garlic until golden. Cook the parsnips in unsalted water, drain and mash reserving a little of the water in case things get too dry. Add the cooked onions/garlic to the mashed parsnips along with the breadcrumbs, cashews, rosemary and eggs. Mix. If it is too dry add some of reserved liquid. Check seasoning. The mixture should be slightly sloppy. Hmm, what can I compare it to… it should be about the consistency of a mashed banana.
Fry the mushrooms in the butter. Put half the nut mixture in a greased loaf tin, smooth it down then lay the mushrooms on the top and add the rest of the nut mixture. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour. Serve in slices.