Wot no turkey? – Vegetarian Christmas dinner ideas from a leading Irish Chef
Opening in October 1993, Cafe Paradiso set out to take vegetarian cooking out of the healthfood industry and away from the perception of meat-free cooking being somewhat penitential. Dishes were created with a focus on vegetables rather than lentils, and with no agenda other than sharing the pleasure of real food prepared with skill and passion.
The above is from Denis Cotter’s Café Paradiso website and, in my opinion, is a fair declaration of the restaurant’s ethos. I own two of his cook books and I’ve eaten in Paradiso on a number of occasions, each of them pleasant and memorable. Yes Paradiso is a ‘vegetarian’ restaurant but it’s primarily a very good restaurant that happens to use no meat in its offerings and Denis Cotter has undoubtedly taken vegetarian cuisine well beyond ‘brown rice and lentils’ territory into that of fine dining.
With that in mind I’d like to recommend some of his recipes if you’re planning, for whatever reason be it personal preference or that of your guests, to offer an exclusively or partially vegetarian offering this Christmas. I cooked these two recipes and was very pleased with the results. Yes they both involve a number of preparation stages but, hey, it’s Christmas and you get out of it what you put in!
The celeriac fritters would make a delightful starter and I thought the aioli was so good (and a doddle to make!) that I can’t wait to make it again as a dressing for a really crispy lettuce salad.
The timbales were a bit time consuming but the filling could easily be prepared the night before to save time on the day itself. The result was delicious, however if you don’t like smoked cheese, and not everyone does, replace it with something milder like Edam or Emmental. The artichoke sauce is rich and flavoursome, just what you want in a celebratory meal.
So if you want to forgo the meat this year or if you’re catering for vegetarian family or guests, I can’t recommend this man’s recipes highly enough. I know that if they appeared on my Christmas dinner table I certainly wouldn’t feel hard done by.
Celeriac Fritters with Rosemary Aïoli
2 sprigs rosemary
300ml olive oil
5 cloves garlic, roasted and peeled
2 egg yolks
Half tsp hot mustard
Salt and pepper, to season
Half lemon, juiced
600g celeriac, after peeling
200g breadcrumbs, with a little dill and seasoning added
First make the aïoli. Put the rosemary into a small pan with 100ml of the olive oil. Heat gently for a minute, but don’t bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, leave to infuse for 30 minutes, then add the remaining oil. Sieve out the rosemary.
Put the garlic into a food processor along with the egg yolks and mustard. Blend for a full minute before beginning to drizzle in the rosemary oil, then continue to add the oil slowly until the aïoli has taken on a thickish, dip-like consistency. Check the flavour, adding salt and pepper, taste again and add some or all of the lemon juice, to your liking.
Peel the celeriac with a knife, then slice into 1cm-thick wedges. In a big pan of water, boil until just tender – about six to eight minutes. Whisk together the eggs and milk. Coat the celeriac in flour, then in the egg/milk mix and finally in breadcrumbs. Deep-fry the fritters at about 170F until crisp and lightly browned. Do them in batches, and keep warm in the oven while cooking the rest.
Savoy Cabbage Timbale of Leeks, Chestnut and Smoked Gubeen with Sunchoke Cream
For this, you’ll need six metal rings about 3cm high and 8cm in diameter. Sunchoke is another name for Jerusalem artichoke.
1 tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
50ml white wine
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 tsp hot mustard
80g cooked chestnuts, chopped
100g smoked Gubeen cheese, diced
6-8 large savoy cabbage leaves
For the Sunchoke Cream:
250g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic
150ml stock and 150ml white wine, reduced by half
White truffle oil (optional)
Chop the leeks in half lengthways, wash and chop into thin slices. Melt a tablespoon of butter with a little olive oil in a wide pan, and cook the leek and garlic over high heat for five minutes, then add the wine and thyme leaves and cook for two minutes more. Pour in the cream and mustard and boil for one minute. Take off the heat and transfer the cooked filling to a dish. When the filling has cooled, add the chopped chestnuts and diced cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Slice each cabbage leaf in half and discard the stalk. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in the leaves to cook for five minutes or so, until fully tender, then drop the leaves into cold water to cool.
Lay one of the cabbage leaf halves in one of the metal rings, covering the base and overhanging the top. Slice another leaf into two shorter pieces and place these in the ring to cover the sides and hang over the top. Use more cabbage in the same way to cover any gaps.
Pack in some of the leek filling, fold over the overhanging cabbage, and press firmly to form a solid, well-sealed parcel. Repeat to make five more parcels.
Place the timbales on an oven tray, lined with baking parchment, sprinkle with olive oil and some stock or water, and bake at 170C/325F/gas mark 3 for 15-20 minutes, turning once during the cooking.
To make the sunchoke cream sauce, place the artichokes, garlic and liquids in a pot and simmer until the chokes are soft. Blend, then sieve if necessary. Reheat, adding some chives and truffle oil, if using, just before serving.