Inspiration / Food & Wine

Meat free at Christmas?


Martin Brown Martin Brown

Entertaining vegetarian guests over the festive season? Martin Brown offers some quick and easy meat-free recipes with wine matches.

Squash and Riesling

The impending arrival of a vegetarian for Christmas dinner need not be cause for alarm nor indeed much inconvenience. I would say 'we don't bite', but indeed the whole point of this piece is that we do.

Ask any vegetarian to recount a list of questions they are asked most often and 'what do you eat at Christmas?' is a sure-fire 'top three' entrant. Nut roasts are nice enough (of which more shortly), but they can often be a dry (in both senses), overly safe option. Notions of appropriateness come into play: what else is 'seasonal' and suitable?

People choose to abstain from meat for a myriad of different reasons and 99.9% of vegetarians do not want to be difficult, nor for their hosts to make too much of a fuss.

With this in mind, here are three simple and rewarding meat-free recipes. All will go well with most of the trimmings that carnivorous guests will be enjoying, and I have of course included suggestions of which wines to serve with each.

1. Chopping and Changing: Olive & Mushroom Tatin

Portabellini mushrooms

If you've a vegetarian gap to fill in a festive menu, this recipe is a godsend: it's simple, quick and works as a starter or a main course. Ingredients serve 2:

  • 500g Portabellini mushrooms
  • 1 sheet of puff pastry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 10 green olives (6 chopped)
  • 2 generous tablespoons of tapenade (NB. check it's vegetarian tapenade!)
  • Rocket

Pre-heat oven to 220°C. Put the mushrooms on two baking trays (stalk side up); add oil and thyme. Roast for 10 minutes.

Cut two 15cm circles out of the pastry sheets using a circular cake tin. Place the mushrooms in the tins (overlapped, one up, one down) and add 2 tablespoons of pine nuts and chopped olives. Spread the tapenade over one side of the pastry, then place tapenade side down over the mushrooms and olives.

Bake for 15 minutes. To serve, add the remaining olives, pine nuts and rocket on top.

This dish is not very fussy when it comes to wines, though I would probably steer clear of heavier reds. I find pinot noir suits it well, as indeed do full-on, wintry whites: think old-style white Rioja or white Rhône whose saltiness work beautifully with the olives. If you're lucky enough to have a good white Châteauneuf-du-Pape on your Christmas table then you've a combination to look forward to.

2. Peppery and Filling: Fennel Bake


This is one of my favourite simple winter recipes. Fennel's strong aniseed flavours make it a divisive vegetable if relied upon too heavily, but worked into a bake such as this one, it can give the proceedings a gentle, peppery 'kick'. Ingredients serve 4:

  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons oregano
  • 3 small onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 large fennel heads, diced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthways
  • 3 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 6 tablespoons of breadcrumbs (if for vegans, use 9 and leave out the cheese)
  • 6 teaspoons cheese
  • 120g walnuts, coarsely chopped

Heat the oil and fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Add the fennel and carrots and cook slowly for 10 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and oregano. Simmer for 20 minutes then transfer to a baking dish. Mix the nuts, bread and optional cheese and sprinkle over the top. Bake at 200°C for 20 minutes.

The results are delicious and filling, but never bloating, and it always seems to turn out well. It also sings with claret


3. Nut Roast with a Twist

Goat's Cheese

If you would prefer to err on the side of caution with the more traditional nut roast, why not try going at least a little bit left field? The problem with most nut roasts is that they can be very drying in the mouth. To counteract this and offer a break from the dish's textural monotony, the addition of goat's cheese and apricot works brilliantly. Ingredients serve 4:

  • 2 eggs
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 100g cooked carrots
  • 200g mashed potato
  • 50g chickpeas (drained)
  • 50g chopped mixed nuts
  • 100g goat's cheese
  • 6 dried apricots, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 165°C. Purée the carrots in a blender, then mix with the chickpeas and mashed potato. Then add the eggs, flour and nuts, before stirring the more exotic ingredients: the cheese and apricots. Put the mixture into a greased loaf tin and bake for 35 minutes.

This dish is a chardonnay foil par excellence: the best you can budget for. For quality-price ratio, you can't go wrong with the chardonnays of Kumeu River in New Zealand. For reds, think spicy and full-flavoured; it's not shy. I find a good Aussie shiraz hits the spot.

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