Whatever you’re having for your Christmas dinner, whether you’re sticking with the modern ‘tradition’ of turkey or going for a rather more Victorian traditional goose, or even duck, beef, salmon or some other combination or beast*, you can take the opportunity to go to town with the vegetables and try something different. The usual vegetables for Christmas dinner are roast potatoes, sprouts and maybe some peas, carrots and/or parsnips, but you could do so much more. There’s nothing wrong with having peas with your roast and we probably will because we like them. They’re a solid Medieval staple but a tad unimaginative if you have them with every Sunday roast, so here are some tips, alternatives and variations you might like to try this year to make your veggies more interesting.
*I’m ignoring the strange creations that are called “Vegetarian roast”. I love vegetables and veg-based dishes, but not the weird faux-meat concoctions that are the sole preserve of non-carnivores.
You may not be aware, but beetroot is an excellent accompaniment to both turkey and beef. Beetroot is very underrated and I absolutely love it as a side dish (that pickled stuff you English eat is just revolting though), especially the way it stains the turkey and potatoes pink. If you can’t be bothered cooking it from raw, packs of cooked beetroot in juice (not vinegar) are readily available in most supermarkets and veg stalls. A small beetroot goes a long way so you don’t need much. Grate your cooked beetroot(s), fry a little butter, add flour and your beetroot, then add a little milk, lemon juice and seasoning. Horseradish mixed with grated beetroot is a traditional Polish condiment and goes equally well with a nice slice of gammon or ham as with beef 😀
If you are having a rich, fatty roast, like goose or duck, then something a little sharper is called for to cut through the grease. The tanginess of sauerkraut goes particularly very well with goose (drain, rinse and cook through with some thinly sliced onion in a little water and a dash of the drained brine). Shredded red cabbage with apple (you can even buy it ready made in a jar from stockists of Polish food) is a slightly sweeter alternative, but also excellent with goose, duck and game. I like to add some spices for interest – I do tend to experiment so what I add varies, but you could add five spice for an oriental flavour to go with duck, or just some cumin and mustard seed. If you want to emphasise the sweetness and apple, add mixed spice or just some cinnamon and ginger, it’s really up to your preference. You can serve these hot or cold, personally I prefer them hot to accompany roasts.
If you’re going to roast your potatoes, then add some sweet potato and onions as well for variety (roast garlic cloves are also rather good). While you are at it, if you are having carrots and parsnips, roast those as well. I admit to being a little ambivalent about parsnips and I prefer carrots raw or baby carrots cooked, but I have been known to roast some for Christmas dinner. Towards the end of cooking time try basting them in a honey and ginger glaze (honey dissolved in a little water with a pinch of ground ginger).
Finally, sprouts are regarded as something of a joke, having the reputation for being soggy and unappetising. Personally, I love them, but only if they are fresh and aren’t boiled to a pulp. (Frozen are OK too, but much more prone to under or over-cooking so you have to be more careful). Cut crosses into the base of fresh sprouts to allow the core to cook faster and boil or steam them until they are only just soft when pierced with a knife. Chestnuts add a different flavour and texture but aren’t to everyone’s taste so you could try flaked almonds instead, but crumbling well crisped bacon on your sprouts is just lovely. If we are having a turkey crown, I usually cover it with strips of bacon and crumble that over the sprouts. Surplus sprouts are an excellent addition to a leftover stir-fry or soup. I made Oompah Soup** the other day with leftover roast chicken, sprouts, cabbage and various other fading veg and my children, who aren’t keen on sprouts or cabbage, not only loved it, but refused to believe it was mostly made of these.
**It’s has musical effects 😉
Whatever you are having, enjoy your Christmas dinner and don’t forget to make the veg interesting 😀
20 December 2013