Man cannot survive on turkey alone. Whilst the prospect of a free-range, local bird roasted until golden brown and filled to bursting with your chosen stuffing is a mouth-watering one. A Christmas dinner is made by the accompanying vegetables. It is a shame that we seem to have developed a culture of thinking of the vegetables as a mere afterthought; that they are something secondary to be disregarded and overlooked. However, vegetables should not simply be treated as some token offering to the majestic turkey, they should be celebrated and relished as equals.
When it comes to Christmas dinner veggies, we are spoilt for choice. From a rainbow of roots like carrots, parsnips, beets, swedes, turnips and celeriac to the rich and hearty brassicas which include cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli and, that Christmas staple, the Brussel sprout. The list doesn’t end there however, what about onions, leeks, shallots, celery and squash? Yes, these are all excellent choices too. With all this goodness on offer all you need is a little spark of inspiration. Here I will outline a few of my favourite ways of dressing up humble vegetables for the big day so they truly share the stage with the meat.
With respect to root vegetables, I feel there are only two appropriate choices when it comes to preparation; either mash or roast. Boiling does not do them justice, all it serves to do is overcook them and leach all the excellent vitamins and minerals (but most importantly flavour) out of them. Swedes and carrots or parsnips and celeriac are a marriage made in heaven when it comes to mashing. Gently boil until soft them smash them up with plenty of butter, salt and pepper. The texture of something mashed isn’t always the most common component of a Christmas dinner, however mashed vegetables are perfect for soaking up copious amounts of gravy and, I think, are generally a welcome addition. Secondly, roots should be roasted. I confess, I take inspiration from Jamie Oliver here as his formula for the perfect roasted veg is wonderful.
The principle is simple: part-boiled root vegetable + salt and pepper + olive or rapeseed oil + herb + acid (vinegar or citrus juice) + a hot oven = perfectly roasted roots. Adding a little acidity may sound strange, but root vegetables are often very sweet so this serves to balance out this to some extent, creating delicious contrast. Carrots and parsnips both sit comfortably having been tossed in a mixture including lighter vinegars (e.g. cider or white wine) or orange juice and thyme. The sometimes bitter turnip goes well with red wine vinegar and earthy rosemary. If using red beets, balsamic should be liberally applied.
Roast dinners are, for the most part, relatively dull affairs when it comes to colour. Brown on brown on brown with the occasional orange carrot to mix things up a little. What they lack is something green. The Christmas classic is the Brussel sprout. Now, I don’t believe in messing with the classics too much, however I am a firm believer in the fact that sprouts should not be boiled. As previously mentioned, this just ends up with an overcooked vegetable devoid of colour, nutritional benefit and flavour. Recently, it’s become popular to prepare sprouts by slicing them and stir frying with bacon and chestnuts.
Whilst this is undisputedly delicious, it is quite an undertaking on Christmas day when hob space is at a premium, there are many other things to be occupying your time and you’ve had more than a few Christmas tipples. A good compromise? Simply steam until just tender so as not to lose too much goodness then serve with little knobs of butter- you could even add some quickly pan fried bacon right at the end for a similar effect but with half the effort. The same applies for any cabbage or broccoli you should wish to serve. Another honourable mention is the cauliflower. It’s a personal favourite and if Christmas isn’t the time to indulge yourself a little when is? Gently steam it whole until tender then liberally coat in white sauce flavoured with salt, pepper, nutmeg and a little mustard then bake until it begins to brown
These are just a few simple ways to make your vegetables exciting this Christmas, however this is not exhaustive and I fear I may have just presented the tip of a never ending iceberg. The lessons to take away are that, firstly, simple is best. It’s Christmas day, don’t give yourself too much to do (alternatively delegate to other family members when it comes to peeling and chopping). Secondly, get ready in advance. Root veg can be prepared up to the night before and left peeled and chopped ready in a pan of water. Thirdly, celebrate the great variety of vegetables we have on offer. Think of them as the turkey’s partners in crime, do them justice and give them the same care and attention. You won’t be disappointed and your Christmas dinners will never be the same again.