In the UK (and probably elsewhere as well), a vegetarian Christmas is usually – sniggeringly – associated with the infamous nut roast. Dry, crumbly, oily, tasteless, it’s the sort of veggie-fodder that has a rather bad rap. Unfairly so, especially if the creator has a flair for – gasp – herbs and other such seasonal seasonings. In our household this Christmas, we went for something much more enlightened that included nuts and roasting, but also a whole host of other wonderful ingredients, flavours, textures and techniques as well. Here’s an overview of our very vegetarian Christmas.
The festivities in our household started a few days in advance, with the baking of ginger snaps. A word of warning to anyone looking to follow suit – the tropics is not the easiest place to manipulate the syrupy dough of the snaps; once the dough has been made, it’s probably easiest to split it into a number of small batches that can be kept in the freezer. Remove a batch at a time and quickly cut the dough into shape before it gets too warm, sticky and unmanageable. And generally infuriating. But technicalities aside, these were a fitting way to usher in the Christmas period – the richness of the molasses combined with the gentle spice of ginger, cinnamon and cloves helped to trick the mind into thinking it was winter. Well, sort of. In hindsight, a complementary glass or six of mulled wine may have helped as well.
On the day itself, we kick-started our gorge-fest with some cheddar snaps. These were a substitute for a marginally more elaborate fresh fig and goat cheese concoction, which was panned after coming to the (very well-researched) realisation that fresh figs don’t yet exist in Singapore. Nonetheless, these bad boys were a fitting replacement. Thinly grated cheddar seasoned with dried basil and paprika – they were as simple as they were snappy, as light as they were tasty, and as festively colour-coded as the appetiser that followed.
Next up came the appetiser proper – a tier of avocado, diced tomato and mozzarella, garnished with home-grown Thai basil, walnuts and a balsamic dressing. The dressing deserves a special mention – a reduction of balsamic vinegar, butter and water that added a rich and energetic sweetness to the plate that made the other ingredients sing. It took thirty years of social conditioning to prevent myself from licking the plate clean, that good it was.
And now, time for the main event – the magnificent mushroom wellington. One of the great things about this dish was how its construction could be broken down into separate stages. This meant that the filling of caramelised onions, sautéed spinach, grilled portobello mushrooms and brown button mushrooms flambéed in rum could all be prepared in advance. Although the point about the ginger snap dough applies to puff pastry as well – it’s a devil to handle in the tropics; be prepared to constantly shuttle it between freezer and counter (and to mutter a few sharp words of condemnation whilst doing so). The wonderful wellington was finished off with a little parsley, English mustard and thyme (on the inside), a generous egg wash (on the outside) and a ridiculously delicious gravy of mushroom and spinach jus and truffle oil (on the side). Altogether, it was plate-licking perfection.
ate devoured the wonderful wellington with roast potatoes, carrots and garlic, brussel sprouts and roasted chestnuts. Personally, my favourite ingredient was the spinach. By itself it had an earthy, minerally taste that was enhanced by the thyme and, when combined with the meatiness of the mushrooms and the subtle sweetness of the onions created an umami flavour-fest that was little short of vegetarian nirvana. All I can say is that it’s definitely a good thing that I can only expect to indulge in food this good once a year. Delicious.
And finally, the essential punctuation mark that comes at the end of any Christmas meal – the pud. Whilst mi madre usually makes this thing months in advance (it’s a real slow burner – both in terms of construction and cooking…), we went for the slightly easier option provided by Messrs Marks & Spencer and zapped it in the microwave. Although for the record, the frothy crème anglaise under which it proudly sat was freshly made. The pud was flambéed in rum, which amazingly (and unprecedentedly) worked rather well. Whilst the pud lacked a little of the nutty richness of its homemade brother, it was a very fitting substitute and was elevated to a higher level of consciousness by the crème. As you can probably tell, by this point my self-discipline had been vaporised, my belly distended, my mind and mouth indulged. I can’t think of a better way to draw the culinary curtains on 2014.
Compliments, as always, to the chef, who never fails to conceptualise and execute these fantastic meals. And happy holidays everyone! Here’s to a cracking 2015.