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A feast to fit everyone

Date
Simon Bryant says Christmas food should be about "breaking down barriers and not singling people out because of their preferences".

Simon Bryant says Christmas food should be about "breaking down barriers and not singling people out because of their preferences".

Now that it's no longer a given that everyone around the Christmas table will be a fan of turkey, pork or ham, what's cooking for the guests who'd rather have plants on their plates?

There's no need to hunt down  recipes for nut  roast - the trick is to combine a mix of dishes that bring people together, not set them apart, says Adelaide-based chef, Simon Bryant.

"It's knowing how to assemble an inclusive meal that works for everyone," says the author of Simon Bryant’s Vegies, a collection of inspired recipes that would convert the most committed vegiephobe.

Cauliflower roasted with panch phoran and fresh turmeric from Simon Bryant’s Vegies.

Cauliflower roasted with panch phoran and fresh turmeric from Simon Bryant’s Vegies.

When Bryant feeds his friends, he likes to serve food by grouping each meat dish with a vegetable-based dish – this means the vegetable dish can then work both as an accompaniment to the meat as well as a dish for those guests who prefer to stick with veg.

"You just plonk a lot of dishes down and everyone helps themselves. It's about breaking down barriers and not singling people out because of their preferences," says Bryant, who isn't keen on slapping labels like 'vegetarian' on food. He thinks there are just two types of food – good food and bad food.

"When you group dishes on the table you just need to think about what flavours work together. Turkey marries really well with a stuffing made of sourdough breadcrumbs, celery, walnuts and sage, for instance, but you don't have to serve it inside the bird – you can serve it beside the bird as a separate dish that everyone can enjoy.

Roast pork goes well with fruit with sharp flavours, he adds, suggesting fresh berries with fetta, roast almonds, pieces of torn sourdough, a bunch each of mint and coriander all tossed together with balsamic vinegar or aged sweet red vinegar. His warm potato salad is a new twist on a Christmas favourite and made more substantial by combining cooked potatoes with chickpeas sautéed with spring onions and chaat masala (an Indian spice mix), baby spinach and coriander (recipe below).

"Last Christmas, when my father came out from the UK, I cooked a goose but there were so many other dishes on the table that no one noticed I didn't eat any of the meat," says Bryant. "I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't eat meat when I cook for myself at home – but I'd never enforce vegetarian food on anyone."

It's a similar picture when Lisa Chalk, communications director for Animals Australia, gets together with her Hungarian family at Christmas.

"I became a vegetarian last year after working on the live export issue. It involved watching a lot of footage of animals being killed – and if you watch enough of that you really don't want to eat meat. I had a light bulb moment when I realised for the first time that eating meat is a personal choice, not a necessity," she says.

"At Christmas it's about designing a meal that includes dishes everyone can enjoy and last year there were  roast stuffed mushrooms, pan-fried asparagus, roast beetroot, cous cous with chickpeas, potato salad and falafel, as well as free range ham and turkey.

"Because I work in animal welfare my family have always been supportive even though they're Hungarian and meat is traditionally the hero of the meal. My grandmother panicked at first about making meals without meat but she's very inventive and found there were plenty of traditional recipes that didn't use meat - because meat wasn't always as plentiful as it is now. Although I don't think there'll ever be a time when there'll never be turkey on my family's Christmas table, it will never be factory farmed turkey.

"People feel guilty about overeating at Christmas but with more plant-based food it's a guilt-free meal."

For more recipe ideas  (including some from Simon Bryant as well as other chefs  and cooks including kylie Kwong and Janella Purcell check out the recently launched Meat Free Monday website at 

www.MeatFreeMondays.com.au.

Simon Bryant’s Vegies is published by Lantern, RRP $39.95

 

What are your tips for feeding vegos and meat eaters at Christmas?

 

Spinach, chickpea and chaat masala potato salad

Serves 4

1 cup chickpeas soaked overnight in cold water (Bryant suggests kabuli chckpeas which are the larger, paler variety)

500g potatoes (he suggests a slightly waxy variety like Nicola)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

4 tablspoons extra virgin olive oil

2 small onions diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons chaat masala (the Herbies Spices range includes chaat masala)

5 large handfuls baby spinach

1 good sized bunch coriander, stems and leaves roughly chopped

1 long green chili, scliced, seeds and all

1 bunch spring onions, green parts cut in 2.5 cm lengths

Salt flakes

Juice 1 lemon

1. Drain chickpeas, discarding soaking water; place in a saucepan, cover with cold water. The leas water you use, the quicker the chicpeas will cook, so cover by just a few centimetres and top up water during cooking if necessary. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about one hour until tender, then drain and set aside.

2. Place potatoes in a saucepan of lightly salted cold water and add turmeric. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook potatoes until tender. Drain well and cut into 2.5cm chunks, transfer to a large bowl. Cover to keep warm

3. Meanwhile preheat medium size saucepan over medium heat and add half the olive oil. Gently saute onion and garlic until onion is transluscent and soft. Add chickpeas and chaat masala, then turn up heat and cook for five to six minutes or until chickpeas are slightly coloured, stirring as you got to prevent burning. If they start to stick, add a little water.

4. Add chickpea mix (including any chaat masala left in the pan) to the potato. Add spinach, coriander, chilii, spring onion, salt, lemon juice and remaining olive oild and toss together. Check seasoning and serve.

Adapated from Simon Bryant’s Vegies.

19 comments so far

  • I respect Simon's considered ethics about how he chooses the food he eats. The columns here often descend into vegan versus carnivore word battles but Simon is a great example of understanding the impact of modern food production and getting on with life.

    My favourite vegetable cookbook is by Delia Smith but it's heavy on dairy foods; I'll be buying Simon's book as a more balanced cookbook if the featured recipe is anything to go by.

    Commenter
    Queen Cersei
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    December 12, 2012, 9:15AM
    • I'm yet to try the recipes but they look brilliant - very original  and although he uses dairy products occasionally there's none of that over-reliance on them that you get in a lot of vegetable recipes. 

      Commenter
      Paula
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 9:54AM
    • Surely Lisa Chalk can buy from Feather and Bone (in Sydney, I am sure there are plenty like it in other centres around the country). She can then get stuck into a steak in the knowledge it was raised ethically and sustainable and killed with as little stress as possible.

      Commenter
      Franky
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 1:00PM
    • It is not ethical to raise someone only for the purpose of killing them.

      Commenter
      www.thinkhumanimal.com
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 1:46PM
    • Franky, I am pleased that more people are trying to buy meat that is raised in a healthy environment and killed with as little distress as possible. I hope that this will become the norm. Nevertheless, I think Lisa has had the same revelation that I had several years ago, that animals do not actually need to be killed at all for us to enjoy delicious meals and sustain our bodies. A life is still being taken, regardless of whether that life was lived on a beautiful paddock and whether or not the death is instantaneous.

      Commenter
      Michelle
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 1:55PM
  • Yottam Ottolenghi's Plenty! Best vegetarian cookbook ever - everything I have made from it has been great. This is another another vegetarian cookbook by a meat eater. My other favourite is the Cranks bible.

    I do not eat meat but find many vegetarian cookbooks depressing. So many are repetitive (I don't need another recipe for pasta with tomato sauce, thanks) and also assume you are also a health fanatic (brown rice and steamed tofu).

    I have never eaten meat but am always happy to eat whatever is served up - I will happily eat delicious roasted potatoes and salad, just not the roast. I don't like the pressure of having something 'special' cooked for me (not another zucchini slice!) but of course will graciously eat it! But I would prefer my host to cook whatever they want to cook rather than feeling they have to fit around me, and this sort of component meal that Simon is suggesting is perfect.

    Commenter
    asandv
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    December 12, 2012, 10:51AM
    • Am another Ottolenghi fan - and, yes, every recipe of his I've ever tried has been a big success. 

      Commenter
      Paula
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 11:04AM
    • +1 for Ottelenghi!! I'm not a vegetarian but I've cooked more recipes from Plenty than any other cookbook I own (and I own a lot!!), always with success. Can't wait to get my hands on his new book, Jerusalum!

      Commenter
      Parsley
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 12:42PM
    • ... and can also recommend his book Ottolenghi which I think was his first book.Like you, I've got a pile of cookbooks, but this is one of the most used and none of the recipes have been a dud.  He's a genius with veg

      Commenter
      Paula
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 12:57PM
    • Update: if you order Simon's book from his web site, there's a note that it'll be a signed copy :-). Hurry up, over-worked Aust Post contractors, and bring it to me :-).

      @asandv: Oh god, no, not another pasta with tomato sauce or vegetable stack! Like you, I'm happy to fit in with others when being hosted, but it's nice to see recipes with varied and rich sources of protein such as legumes. I'm just cruising The Guardian's web site now and drooling over Ottolenghi's recipe archive.

      Commenter
      Queen Cersei
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 1:32PM

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