With the festive period well and truly over I’ve been left with a cupboard full of Christmas chocolate, slightly larger thighs and a mounting desire to get healthy for the new year.
It seems like everyone around me is desperate to do the same. Whether they’re giving up chocolate, making a sustained effort to go to the gym, or cutting the carbs, there’s only one thing on everyone’s mind at the moment – and that’s ‘getting healthy’.
So, with this in mind, I’ve been on the hunt for some simple vegetarian recipes to help kick-start those new year resolutions.
Assorted herbs – we used sage, cumin, cayenne Pepper, coridaner and chili.
1) Roast the Cashews, squash and parsnip (on separate roasting trays) – we added some chili.
2) Fry the leeks and onion in some olive oil – add the roast squash – pour in the wine and add the sage, cumin, coriander and cayenne. Put to one side.
3) Grind the roast cashews – process the roast parsnips – and mix the two together.
4) Get the squash, leek and onion mix. Add the breadcrumbs, the eggs, cashew/parsnip mix, and mix it all together really well. You want a sticky consistency. If it’s looking a bit dry you can add some more wine.
5) Season with salt and pepper, and spoon the mix in to a loaf tin. Bake this in the oven for about 60 minutes until brown.
*Make sure you have a blender before you attempt this recipe. We added the cashews whole, and although the recipe still worked, it meant that the loaf didn’t bind together very well.
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It seems that being a vegetarian at Christmas is considered as socially awkward as being teetotal. You’re lumped into the ‘special dietary requirements’ category, and regarded with looks of pity when you reject the turkey in favour of a gritty nut-roast. Not to mention the almost desperate barage of questions: “But how do you survive without pigs in blankets?”
It’s becoming increasingly difficult for vegetarians to find places to eat at Christmas. Especially if you’re part of a larger Christmas party, and at the mercy of a meat-eater’s choice of venue.
Scouring through the menus of local Cardiff restaurants, I was surprised at the lack of variety in the Christmas vegetarian options.
It’s hard to find decent vegetarian Christmas food – there are normally more meat options on the menu.
For meat-eaters, there are normally a few standard options – the classic turkey, gammon, fish three-way. But for vegetarians, there’s no more than one choice, and that’s normally restricted to a nut roast.
Personally, I find this lack of creativity a little disappointing.
Now, I’m not against the nut roast. In fact, I think it can be a delicious alternative when it’s done right. But at the same time, when it’s served at every single Christmas meal, it can feel a little unoriginal.
But am I right to be so surprised?
With the number of vegetarians in the UK estimated at around 7%, it’s not difficult to see why some restaurants see Christmas vegetarian food as more of an after-thought.
I spoke to Lucy from The Potted Pig on St. Mary Street. The Potted Pig perhaps isn’t the first place a vegetarian would think of eating, but this restaurant has clearly put some thought into its vegetarian option: the Roasted Root Vegetable & Hafod Cheese Terrine.
The Potted Pig
Lucy agreed that many chefs find it difficult to create festive food for vegetarians: “At Christmas, restaurants get huge bookings of over 30 people, which creates a huge pressure of having to cater for such large numbers.
“Then, within that number, there’s usually a couple of vegetarians, and unfortunately they’re seen as more of a bolt on – in many restaurants vegetarians are a second thought. They’re plonked on the end of the table and served a nut roast.”
She explained that the pressure of having to cater for the majority conflicts with the time needed to come up with original vegetarian dishes.
“When catering for vegetarians at Christmas, the problem is that you are bound by the need to make something that’s going to appeal to everyone.”
“This is why 80% of the restaurants will serve a nut roast. It’s because it’s cheap, easy and something that’s relatively good to make in large quantities. Chefs need to make something that most people will like, and something that will be consistent. ”
“And really, nut roast ticks all those boxes. It appeals to the masses, it’s unoffensive – but the thing is, it’s not going to excite either.”
And that’s the rub.
Catering for large Christmas parties puts certain restrictions on what chefs can do. Understandably, there’s a need to make something that will be simple to make consistently, and cheap to make in bulk.
But should the fact that restaurants are bound by these restrictions be an excuse for limited creativity?
Most chefs struggle for inspiration when catering for vegetarians at Christmas. Normally they’ll serve up a soggy tortelini or the staple nut roast. But what do the customers think of this?
I spoke to some local vegetarians to see what they think about vegetarian Christmas food in Cardiff.
There’s normally a boring nut-roast, or uninspiring vegetarian option. We’re not really catered for or thought about.
Part of the problem with catering for vegetarians at Christmas is the lack of time and freedom that chefs have to be creative.
Helen Sivey is one of the chefs at Embassy Cafe. She believes that many chefs feel the pressure of catering for vegetarians at Christmas time because of the perceived need to centre a Christmas meal around a meaty focal point – this in turn only serves to restrict their creativity.
Wayne Thomas, who is one of the chefs at the Canteen on Clifton Street, agrees with this point.
He thinks that chefs are expected to follow a particular routine at Christmas.
“The thing is, chefs feel that they need something that will go with all of the traditional accompaniments.
“They’re ham-strung by this restriction – so for your meat-eaters there’s potatoes, carrots, and turkey, and many chefs want to include the same accompaniments for their vegetarians.
“So you need something that’s going to sit alongside potatoes and carrots, but that’s going to be a bit meaty in texture and go with a nice sauce.”
So are vegetarians just going to have to settle for the nut roast this year?
A friend and I decided to be ladies that brunch, and headed to Juno Lounge on Wellfield Road to check out their vegetarian wares.
Juno Lounge is the perfect place for a lazy Saturday morning. It’s the epitome of the Roath coffee shop culture – filled with an impressive array of weekend papers, the smell of steaming coffee and the gentle buzz of friendly conversation.
Despite the extensive brunch menu, I was disappointed to note that there were only a few veggie friendly options. We opted for the Vegetarian Breakfast, which included the staple fried eggs, hash browns and baked beans, but also came with grilled red peppers and a deliciously unusual sweet corn fritter.
The food was tasty, and filling – just what we were looking for. And despite being a meat-eater, my companion said that she didn’t miss the staple sausage and bacon normally served for brunch.
Overall, we were impressed with Juno Lounge’s attempt to do something different with their vegetarian breakfast. It was nice to see something different – the sweet corn fritter was an interesting and tasty alternative to the typical veggie sausage normally served for vegetarians.
It’s tough to find tasty vegetarian alternatives to the full English – which is typically a complete meat fest. So, to help you out, have a look at the google map below which shows five of my favourite places for vegetarian brunch in Cardiff.