During this magical season, it’s all too straightforward to focus all our kitchen attentions on 1 meal. But it’s not all the time the flavours of Christmas Day that I bear in mind most fondly; the times that lead as much as it – with all of the anticipation of the primary occasion, full of present-wrapping, stocking up, associates, events, last-minute errands and the limbo days of frosty walks, board video games and recent intentions between Christmas and new 12 months – are the times I treasure most.
For many people there might be a full home past the 25th, and on as of late there may be much less want to stay with custom … so that is what I prepare dinner. While lots of the dishes on this week’s column would sit proudly on the Christmas desk (the nut roast, sprouts and cream pie significantly), I’d proudly serve them as a meal in themselves any time over the winter. The flavours, I hope, are a welcome respite from the ever‑current festive favourites.
This 12 months we’ll spend our Christmas with my sister in California. The solar will shine, however wherever on this planet we’re we’ll all the time have our conventional Christmas dinner. There is one thing comforting, acquainted and virtually fairly laughably cussed about it, nevertheless it’s these traditions that we maintain expensive. We’ll make the chestnut roast you’ll discover right here, the celeriac and sweet garlic pie and the crowning vegetarian gravy I wrote about last year, plus all the trimmings.
In the days either side, though, things will be very different. I will make this south Indian curry to wake up our tastebuds on our first night together. We’ll eat this cassoulet from our laps on Christmas Eve. I’ll make the soup on Boxing Day, its perky pickled back notes and vibrant purple the perfect foil to the last of the cheese board and any leftovers.
The carrot bakes I will make in a double batch and keep in the fridge ready to cook up for late-night snacks, or to go with drinks. And the chestnut and coconut mont blanc pie … well I’m pretty sure I’ll be making that a couple of times before January – it is a particular favourite; incidentally, it’s vegan too, as many of these recipes naturally are – to keep my brother and sister happy. At this time of year there should be something on the table for everyone.
Purple pickled cabbage soup (main picture)
500g red cabbage, finely shredded
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Butter or olive oil, for frying
1 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 sticks of celery, finely chopped
2 apples – cox’s are my choice
1½ tsp caraway seeds
1.5 litres vegetable stock
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp honey or agave syrup
50g walnuts, crumbled
1 small bunch of dill, leaves chopped, fronds reserved for garnishing
4 tbsp sour cream or thick yoghurt
Salt and black pepper
1 Put the cabbage into a bowl with a good pinch of salt and the red wine vinegar, scrunch together in your hands, then put to one side to pickle.
2 Warm a little butter or oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and celery. Sweat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes, or until soft and translucent.
3 Meanwhile, peel and core the apples, then slice thickly.
4 Once the onions are soft and sweet, add the caraway seeds and stir for a minute. Turn the heat up a little, add the apples and ¾ of the cabbage to the onions. Fry for a further 5 minutes, or until the cabbage begins to soften.
5 Add the stock, balsamic vinegar and honey or agave syrup. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 minutes.
6 Meanwhile, heat some oil in a frying pan. Once it’s really hot, add the rest of the cabbage and cook until it’s crisp. For the last couple of minutes add the walnuts and half the dill.
7 Stir the rest of the dill into the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper. Now, you can leave this as it is, but I like to blitz it to a vibrant purple soup.
8 Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and top each with the cabbage and walnuts, a spoonful of sour cream or yoghurt and some more dill, if you like.
Squash and chestnut roast
This is more than a nut roast. I use roasted squash, seeds, pistachios and chestnuts to make the base of this tart, which is topped with baked ricotta and chilli-spiked greens. Vegans can use silken tofu in this squash and chestnut roast instead of ricotta – just spice it as you would the ricotta and then bake until it starts to brown.
For the nut roast base
½ butternut squash (about 600g)
100g shelled pistachio nuts
100g sunflower or pumpkin seeds
100g vac-packed chestnuts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
Leaves from a small bunch of thyme,
Salt and black pepper
For the topping
2 banana shallots
A head of cavolo nero
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
A pinch of dried chilli
500g ricotta or silken tofu
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Pop the squash on a baking tray with some salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil, then roast in the oven for 30 minutes, or until golden.
2 While the squash is roasting, put the pistachios and sunflower or pumpkin seeds on a baking tray. Roast alongside the squash for the last 5 minutes.
3 Remove the tray of nuts and seeds and tip them into a food processor with the roast squash, chestnuts, olive oil, maple syrup, lemon zest, thyme and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Blitz into a fine-textured mixture.
4 Tip the nut roast mixture into an oiled 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Use the back of a spoon to press it down into the edges, then make a slight indent in the middle. Roast for 40 minutes, or until crisp at the edges.
5 Warm some olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the shallots and fry until crisp. Add the cavolo nero, thyme and dried chilli, then cook for another few minutes, until the edges are starting to crisp, then tip on to a plate.
6 Whip the ricotta with the juice of the whole lemon and half its zest, plus a good pinch of salt and pepper.
7 Take the nut roast out of the oven and let it sit for 20 minutes to cool a little, then spoon the ricotta on top using the back of a spoon to create little ups and downs.
8 Scatter the nut roast with the shallots and greens. Serve in generous slices with all the trimmings on Christmas Day or with a simple salad for a more simple dinner.
Shredded sprouts with shallots, golden beans and potatoes
An all-in-one side for any Christmas table. I eat it as the main event too, with some good bread, sharp cheddar and mustard. Vegans can omit the parmesan or use a vegan one.
Serves 4-6 as a side
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or butter
250g potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed and cut into small cubes
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
400g tinned cannellini beans
500g sprouts, peeled and finely shredded)
Juice of ½ lemon
50g parmesan (I use a vegetarian one)
Salt and black pepper
1 Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil or butter. Add the potatoes and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook for 5-8 minutes, lifting the lid to turn every few minutes. Scrape the bottom and mix the potatoes around a few times during cooking, so they brown evenly and don’t stick.
2 Next, add the chopped shallots and the beans. Cook for another 5 minutes, allowing the shallot to brown a little and the beans to crisp and brown too.
3 Stir in the shredded sprouts and cook for a few more minutes, or until the sprouts start to brown and soften. Squeeze over the juice of half the lemon, grate over the parmesan and season until it tastes great. Serve straight from the pan with more parmesan for grating over.
Little carrot and chickpea bakes with two sauces
Makes 16 small cakes
400g tinned chickpeas
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
2 small carrots, grated (about 150g)
200g cashews, soaked for 10-15 minutes
A bunch of coriander, leaves picked
A bunch of mint, leaves picked
Zest of 1 lime
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
Coriander and cress, for sprinkling
For the chutney
The rest of the bunch of mint
The rest of the bunch of coriander
Juice of 1 lime
A pinch of salt
A pinch of coconut or light brown sugar
A splash of olive oil or water
Tamari, honey and lime sauce
2 tbsp tamari
Juice and zest of 1 lime
1 tsp rice wine
1 tsp honey
2 tsp sesame oil
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Line a baking tray with parchment.
2 Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then set aside. Toast the spices in a dry frying pan until fragrant.
3 Add a splash of oil to the pan. Add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft and a little drier. Meanwhile, drain the cashews and blitz ⅔ of them in a food processor – chop the rest of the cashews and set aside.
4 Add the chickpeas to the blitzed cashews. Pulse until roughly combined, then add the carrots, spices, a few sprigs of the coriander, a few sprigs of the mint, the lime zest, a pinch of salt, chilli and olive oil, and pulse again.
5 Tip into a bowl and add the chopped cashews. The mixture should bind nicely, forming a ball.
6 Pinch off golf-ball sized pieces of the mixture and roll these into balls before flattening into little cakes. Put the cakes on the parchment-lined tray and repeat until you have used all of the mixture, to make about 16 little cakes.
7 Drizzle the cakes with olive oil and pop them in the oven. Cook the cakes for 12-15 minutes before flipping and drizzling the other side with olive oil and baking for another 12-15 minutes.
8 While the cakes are baking, get on with making your dipping sauces. Blitz all the ingredients together to make the chutney, taste and season as needed. Whisk up all the dipping sauce ingredients for the tamari, honey and lime sauce.
9 The cakes are ready when they are slightly golden on each side. Serve on a platter sprinkled with coriander, cress, and with little bowls of the dipping sauces on the side.
Christmas eve ‘cassoulet’
Crisp, fried butter beans, garlic, mustard, bay, oven-crisped bread and smoky roots, a one-pan hearty winter dinner to feed a crowd.
400g root vegetables (carrots, swede, celeriac, potato, parsnip all work well), peeled and chopped into 2cm pieces
1 leek, washed, trimmed, roughly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 bay leaves
A pinch of smoked salt or sea salt and black pepper
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp whole grain mustard
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
400g jar haricot or cannellini beans, drained, or 400g tinned, drained
1 litre hot vegetable stock
A bunch of fresh thyme
4 slices of sourdough bread
1 Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Heat a glug of olive oil in an ovenproof pan over a medium heat. Throw in the root veg, leek, garlic, chilli and bay, and a pinch of the smoked salt and some pepper, then turn the heat down and cook for 10 minutes, or until the leeks are soft and sweet and the roots have begun to soften and brown.
2 Next, add the mustards, tinned tomatoes, beans and the stock. Simmer for 2 minutes, then take off the heat. Check the seasoning, and add a little more salt and pepper, if needed.
3 Scatter over the sprigs of thyme, then tear the slices of bread into chunks and push them into the gaps.
4 Drizzle the lot with olive oil and pop it into the oven for 30 minutes, or until the beans are crisp in places, the sauce is thick and has sweetened, and the bread is crisp and golden. Allow it to sit for a few minutes before piling on to plates with lemony green salad.
Keralan tamarind curry
A curry I ate on Christmas day in Kerala – the only part of India where it seems like Christmas.
500g potatoes, cut into 3cm pieces
1 cauliflower, leaves removed (about 500g), cut into medium florets
1 tsp turmeric
Salt and black pepper
4 garlic cloves
5cm fresh ginger
2 green chillies
1 large bunch of fresh coriander
2 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
A handful of curry leaves
2 tbsp tamarind paste
400g tinned tomatoes
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
2 lemons: 1 zested and juiced, 1 reserved for serving
A small bunch of rainbow chard (about 300g), stalks finely chopped and leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 Set the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Put the potatoes and cauliflower into a roasting tray. Coat with the turmeric, a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 25 minutes, or until the ends of the veg have slightly charred.
2 Peel and finely slice the onions, garlic and ginger. Finely slice the chillies and coriander stalks. Now put your largest roasting tray on the hob over a medium heat and add a good splash of oil, then add the spices and curry leaves. Fry for 2 minutes, then add the chopped onions and garlic. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until soft and golden, stirring occasionally.
3 Take the cauliflower and potatoes out of the oven, then add these to the big tray along with the tomatoes, coconut milk, the zest and juice of a lemon and a canful of water. Bring to a simmer and stir to coat everything in the sauce. Put the whole lot into the oven for 25 minutes.
4 Gently mix in the chard stalks and the shredded chard leaves and scatter them on top. Then put the tray back in the oven for 5-7 minutes until the greens have wilted and started to crisp at the edges.
5 Take out of the oven and serve with pickles, chapatis and rice cooked with a couple of cardamom pods, star anise and cinnamon.
Chestnut and coconut mont blanc pies
These pies are a meeting of two of my favourite puddings: the cream pie and the mont blanc – those little whipped puddings made to look like snow-capped mountains. These are easily made vegan if you use dark agave instead of honey, as I will this year.
Serves 6- 8
For the crust
75g pecan nuts
120g medjool dates (6 fat ones), pitted
1 tbsp set honey or agave
A pinch of ground ginger
For the filling
250g of chestnut puree
4 pieces of crystallised stem ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp vanilla paste, or the seeds from a pod
2 tbsp set honey
4 marron glaces (optional)
4 clementines, peeled and sliced in rounds
For the cloud cream
2 × 400g tins of full-fat coconut milk, chilled
1 tbsp set honey
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod
Marron glaces, to taste
Dark chocolate shavings, for sprinkling
1 Put your coconut milk in the fridge to chill while you get on with the crust. Put the nuts into a food processor and blitz until you have a chunky crumble. Add the dates, honey and ginger and pulse a few more times, until the whole lot comes together.
2 Grease a 20cm springform cake tin and line with parchment. Press the crust mix into the tin, making a lip around the sides about 1cm deep. Refrigerate the crust for at least 1 hour.
3 Meanwhile, make the filling. Mix the chestnut puree with most of the stem ginger, vanilla, honey and most of the marron (if using). Put to one side.
4 Make the cloud cream: scoop the thick white top layer from your tinned coconut milk and put it into a bowl. Add the honey and vanilla seeds and whisk until thick, like whipped double cream, then refrigerate for 20 minutes.
5 When you are ready to eat, pile your chestnut mixture into the middle of the crust, and top with the sliced clementines. Give the coconut cream a final stir, then spoon it on top of the chestnut filling and use the back of a spoon to create pretty swirls.
6 Top with some grated dark chocolate, the rest of crystallised ginger and chopped marron glacé.
• Anna Jones is a chef, writer and author. Her latest book is The Modern Cook’s Year (Fourth Estate); annajones.co.uk; @we_are_food
Anna Jones from theguardian.com