This week I put together a meat-free Christmas feast for the Irish Independent Weekend Magazine.

Christmas dinner without turkey and ham? Yes, it is possible! I come from Australia, where it could quite easily be 30°C on Christmas Day. As a result, many people tend to get a bit more creative with Christmas lunch in the hope of keeping the kitchen cooler. Large salads are a staple on the Australian Christmas table.
This year, I have put together a full-flavoured vegetarian menu using influences from Australian and European traditions. I believe that even though the menu is vegetarian, it is important to include traditional elements. The classic ingredients I have chosen include Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and pomegranates.
Christmas Day is a great time to make something rich and special. The filo-pastry parcels are a great option to wow your dinner guests. The soft and creamy filling offers great contrast to the crispy light pastry. Each bite, enjoyed with the homemade red-onion marmalade, is a rich treat. This recipe has quite a few steps and the pastry is a little tricky to work with, but the result is well worth the effort.
I have had great success with the spicy Brussels sprouts recipe. Sprouts are a regular on the Irish Christmas table, but are not loved by everyone. Yet by lightly cooking them and combining them with spices, couscous and mushrooms, you can create a very appealing dish.

Colour is a very important part of your Christmas table, but it is possible to create the festive look with the food itself, rather than with decorations. The Christmas salad makes a delicious centrepiece for your table.
Why not think outside the box this Christmas and try something a little different? For you vegetarians out there, dig in and enjoy!

Christmas Filo Pastry Parcels

You will need
2 packets frozen filo pastry
1 large sweet potato
1 large leek
1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped
150g soft goat’s cheese
5 sprigs fresh thyme
50g melted butter
Salt and pepper

Method
Defrost the filo pastry. Peel the sweet potato and chop it into 2cm cubes. Boil them in a medium pot of boiling water for 15 minutes, or until just soft, then strain.
Cut the leek lengthways and rinse well under running water, making sure to get between all the layers.
Slice the leek into 1cm slices and sauté in a heavy pan with olive oil over a medium heat for five minutes. Add the crushed garlic and sauté for a further five minutes over a low heat.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the chestnuts and crumble in the goat’s cheese.
Remove the thyme leaves from the stalks and add to the pan, and stir the mixture gently.
Unwrap the filo pastry and carefully lay the sheets out flat.
Using a pastry brush, brush one sheet with melted butter, then lay another sheet of the pastry directly on top. Cut into two.
Spoon three tablespoons of the filling on to each of the two pastry- sheet stacks and wrap tightly into a parcel.
Place the parcels on a baking tray covered in greaseproof paper, which has been brushed with melted butter.
Once you have all the parcels on the baking sheet, brush the top of each with melted butter.
Back in a moderate oven (180°C) for 20-30 minutes, or until the parcels are crispy and golden brown.

Red-Onion Marmalade

you will need
3 large red onions
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsps dark muscavado sugar
½ cup red-wine vinegar

Method
Cut the onions in half, peel and slice. Sauté the onion in olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over a low heat for 15 minutes.
Stir regularly to prevent the onions sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Add in the sugar and stir regularly for a further five minutes.
Add the vinegar and stir over a low heat for a further 10 minutes.

Spiced Cous Cous with Brussels Sprouts

You will need
1 vegetable stock cube
1 cup boiling water
1 cup couscous
1 bag Brussels sprouts
2 cups mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp garam masala

Method
Dissolve the stock cube in a cup of boiling water. Put the couscous into a medium bowl and pour the boiling water over the top.
Set aside for 10 minutes, then stir thoroughly with a fork.
Remove the bottom from the Brussels sprouts, peel the outer layer and halve. Steam the sprouts lightly for just seven minutes.
Chop the mushrooms and sauté in oil in a heavy pan over a high heat for five minutes.
Turn the heat down to low and add in the garam masala, stirring for two minutes.
Add in the Brussels sprouts and cooked couscous and stir well. Serve warm.

Christmas Salad

You will need
3 beetroots
2 handfuls green beans
1 avocado
Seeds from ½ pomegranate For the salad dressing ½ cup natural organic yogurt
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tsp lemon rind
½ clove garlic crushed

Method
Boil the beetroots in water for 30 minutes, drain and allow to cool.
Top and tail the green beans and blanch in boiling water for two minutes, then refresh immediately in cold water.
Slice the avocado and cold beetroots into even, thin slices and arrange on a platter with the beans. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by cutting it in half and hitting the outside with a rolling pin.
Drizzle the dressing over the top of the vegetables and garnish with the pomegranate seeds.

festive vegetarian

Festive Vegetarian Table: Christmas Filo Pastry Parcels, Red-Onion Marmalade, Spiced Cous Cous with Brussels Sprouts and Christmas Salad