Well, now it’s December I reckon it’s probably safe to start talking about Christmas.
And for those of you looking for a vegetarian alternative to the ubiquitous turkey, here’s a recipe for a stunningly good, meat-free Christmas dinner.
In our household Christmas is a busy and often raucous occasion, with usually anywhere between 10 and 16 for Christmas dinner, which is always followed by a loud and raucous Christmas quiz where we are joined by some of our neighbours. After cooking the dinner I act as question master, and such is the level of competitiveness that I have taken to using a referee’s whistle in recent years in an effort to keep order.
Here’s a question which won’t be featuring in this year’s Christmas quiz, but as it’s food-related I wonder if you can guess the answer…
Q: What do the following seven countries have in common:
Give yourself a pat on the back if you got the answer right: these are the only countries in the world that don’t have a McDonald’s restaurant.
The stories of how each of them achieved this creditable status vary considerably.
For example, McDonald’s has never actually operated in three of these seven countries – Ghana, Zimbabwe and North Korea.
In Bermuda, McDonald’s is not allowed to operate because of the country’s Prohibited Restaurants Act, which outlaws foreign food franchises.
In Iceland, the McDonald’s franchise closed five years ago, when the country’s financial crisis led to a realisation by the burger chain that it would no longer be able to operate at a profit there.
In Macedonia, all McDonald’s restaurants closed suddenly and mysteriously last year, apparently as a result of licensing problems with the company running the Macedonian McDonald’s franchise.
But my favourite of what I personally regard as this “magnificent seven” is Bolivia, where after 14 profitless years McDonald’s finally gave up and left the country completely way back in 2002.
The reasons for the company’s failure to attract Bolivian customers is is not totally clear, although in a documentary entitled “Why McDonald’s Went Bankrupt in Bolivia”, various Bolivian historians, cooks and nutritionists suggested that it was principally cultural factors behind McDonald’s withdrawal from the country.
One of those interviewed for the documentary explained it like this:
“fast-food represents the complete opposite of what Bolivians consider a meal should be. To be a good meal, food has to be prepared with love, dedication, hygiene and proper cooking time”.
I like that definition, and this seasonal recipe delivers a dish that I would like to think fits that Bolivian description of a good meal.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the nut roast, although it’s fair to say that in amongst some pretty bland and forgettable versions I have eaten the odd really tasty one in my time.
But I’m really pleased with this version. The inclusion of iron-rich kale adds both flavour and texture whilst quinoa gives lightness to the overall structure of the roast.
I’ve used fresh herbs in the recipe simply because I prefer to do so whenever I can, and because some of them are still flourishing, thanks to this mild UK autumn. Rosemary is a wonderfully dependable herb, available all year round, but the gentleness of the weather has meant that other less, hardy herbs are still going strong down on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, including my flat leaf parsley. In fact autumn has been so mild this year that I was still harvesting tomatoes at the beginning of November!
Serve this roast with vegetarian gravy. If there is any of the roast left (you will find meat eaters around the Christmas dinner table wanting to try it), it would be delicious served cold on Boxing Day with cranberry sauce or a good relish and a simple salad.
kale, quinoa and nut roast en croute
180 g kale
200 g cooked chestnuts
60 g quinoa
70 g hazelnuts, ground coarsely
70 g cashew nuts, ground coarsely
70 g vegetarian Cheddar cheese, grated
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 free range egg
250 g puff pastry
1 free range egg, beaten
1. Steam the kale for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain, cool and chop finely. Set to one side.
2. Cook the quinoa according to the packet instructions. Drain, cool and set to one side.
3. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, carrot and celery and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring every so often, or until the carrot and celery are tender. Remove from the heat and set to one side.
4. Place the chestnuts in a large mixing bowl and crush roughly with a potato masher or a wooden spoon. Add the kale, quinoa and the onion and celery and carrot mixture, along with the sea salt, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, rosemary, parsley and Cheddar. Finally add the egg and mix to combine the ingredients. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up.
5. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4). Roll out the puff pastry into an oblong shape, about ¼ cm in thickness. Remove the kale and nut roast mixture from the fridge and place lengthways in the centre of the pastry. Cut strips in the pastry every 2 cm, running out from the edge of the filling to the pastry edge. Fold the two ends of the pastry oblong over the filling, then along the length bring the strips of pastry over the top in alternating, overlapping layers. Brush with the beaten egg and place in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until the pastry has become golden brown.