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Going Nuts

January 12, 2011

Confession: for Christmas Dinner, 2010, I ate nut roast.

Yes, boring, bland, vegetarian staple nut roast. The food even vegetarians fall over themselves to disown. I’ve lost count of the amount of veggie websites and cook books I’ve seen that begin with the disclaimer: “It’s not all boring brown rice and nut roast any more you know. Vegetarian food can actually be really tasty… honestly, please, believe me, it’s dead exciting being veggie. Hey, here’s some goats cheese. ” (The only other food I see come in for this ridicule is tofu – lord knows why, tofu in black bean sauce is seriously lush.)

I’m a bit baffled about the boring image suffered by poor nut roast. Sure, some of them are bland and tasteless, but the same could be said of many more popular foods (I can’t, for example, remember ever having a mind-blowingly exciting macaroni cheese). Besides which, a lot of dishes are kind of bland if you fail to add the right herbs, spices and other flavours.

“Nut Roast” doesn’t describe a particular dish, or taste – more a whole genre of dishes with the rough description

“Veggy thingy one roasts in the oven in a loaf tin, with nuts in it”. Though I guess you could make a nut roast that had meat based ingredients if you wanted. And in absence of a loaf tin, my nut roast was made in a square casserole dish. I’ve been known to use a cake tin too. (But then, I once served tiramisu in a wok because I didn’t have a big enough serving dish. I like to think of it as quirkily chic, in the same way I think of my threadbare bedroom carpet as “distressed”)

One of the attractions of the nut roast is that it allows non-flesh-eaters to join in with the traditional roast dinner. A meal which, like the barbecue, and the hungover fried breakfast, most of us still enjoy.

My Mum loves to tell me a story about a Christmas meal with colleagues, which she had at a country pub a few years ago. The meat-eaters were treated to a lovely big plate with their roast, and Yorkshire pudding. Plus on the side: gravy, potatoes, roast parsnips, pas, carrots, stuffing and so on. My Mum got a bowl of (admittedly decent) mushroom stroganoff. When she asked if she could have some vegetables the response came: “But you’re vegetarian”. Apparently because we don’t want the meat, we therefore reject all the side orders normally served with it. This seems silly. I mean, surely it is a fact, universally acknowledged, that every man, woman and child on the planet loves roast potatoes?

I love potatoes. I also love peas, and broccoli, and roast parsnips and carrots, and red cabbage, and sage and onion stuffing. Admittedly I can’t stand sprouts, but then who can?

 Admittedly, none of this stuff is faff-free, and I don’t blame you if you prefer to spend Sunday morning in bed with a headache, rather than dirtying every item of cooking equipment you own in pursuit of the perfect lunch, only for everyone who’s eaten it to fall asleep in front of the telly and leave you with a mountain of washing up and a dish full of sprouts that nobody wanted. 

 If you do fancy doing it occasionally (usually only worthwhile if there are at least four of you), there are ways to make it a bit less stressful. Mainly:

1. Spread the effort. You can make the roast a few days before and just heat it up on the day. You can chop veg; prepare cabbage and sauces in advance.

2. Don’t be a snob about frozen veg. There’s nothing wrong with frozen broccoli and peas. Or with that frozen ready chopped mixed veg, provided you can find a mix you like.

3. Also – vegetarian/vegan gravy granules. I’m sure one day I will make homemade gravy and be on here preaching about how much better and how worthwhile it is to make your own. But for now, the appeal of the packet remains strong.

4. Make more than you need. Leftover nut roast is good with chips and salad. Leftover veg can be stir fried or curried or turned into bubble and squeak. If you have enough pans and rings on the hob, you can even boil a pan of rice at the same time for frying later.

5. Pick your battles and don’t attempt to show off. You probably don’t need gravy AND cranberry jelly AND bread sauce. And three different types of potatoes at one meal are just unnecessary.

So, nut roast, as I say, there are a lot of different variations on the theme. This is the one I did for Christmas.

The concept isn’t hugely dissimilar to burgers, though as you bake it in a tin or dish, binding isn’t as important, meaning it’s easier to make vegan, as you don’t need to worry about eggs. I’d go as far to say that any veggy burger recipe can be heaped into a tin and made into a roast, although it’s less likely to work the other way around (but worth a try – let me know how it goes). Incidentally, if you find a roast recipe you like with eggs in it, and you don’t eat them, try replacing with peanut butter, tomato puree, or houmous – it’ll probably turn out fine.

Nut Roast with Red Lentils

Ingredients:

Red Lentils (You could use any kind really)

Some ground up nuts (you know, the ones you usually buy to put on ice-cream. I’d recommend roughly twice as much the weight in nuts as you have of lentils)

Some veg. Obviously this is flexible, but I used a carrot and a courgette (grated them), a red onion and some mushrooms (finely chopped)

A couple of cloves of garlic (smoked garlic is good in this, if you can get it)

Some fat or oil for frying

Curry powder

Couple of big spoonfuls of tomato ketchup or tomato puree

Bit of Worcestershire sauce (the anchovy-free variety obviously!)

Spoonful of peanut butter

Water or stock (you’ll need about 125ml for every 100g you have of lentils – just enough to make the final mix nice and gloopy, rather than dry and grainy)

Fresh parsley (or other fresh herbs you fancy)

Soak the lentils in cold water in a big mixing bowl for at least an hour (it’s not usually necessary to soak lentils, but for this you ideally want them to go a bit mushy to help with the sticking together.)

Meanwhile, chop up your veggies and fry them gently for a few minutes before adding some of your favourite curry powder and cooking a few minutes more. Take off the heat and let it cool.

Mix the cooked veg, plus all the remaining ingredients into the lentils.

If you’re a neat and tidy type and you want to serve your roast turned out onto a serving platter – line your loaf tin (or casserole dish, or policeman’s helmet) with greaseproof paper before you press the mixture into it. If you’re happy to serve straight from the dish you roasted in then just give it a bit of a coating of oil. You need to pack it in tight to stand the best chance of it sticking together, so force as much as you can in and really squash it down.

Bake for around an hour (or an hour and a half if you’re using a shitty oven like I was…) until the top feels firm.

If you want to turn it out and cut slices to serve, leave it to stand 15 minutes or so first, before turning it onto a plate and peeling off the greaseproof paper. Alternatively, just serve it immediately straight from the dish you cooked in and use a serving spoon to dig in.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2011 20:21

    How your comment about your Mum being offered an alternative meal and none of the regular sides really struck a nerve with me! As often as I tell people “Please-go to no extra trouble–I’ll just eat sides” I am always presented with a mountain of some sort of pasta (lasagna, ravioli, etc) and even once half of a leftover Pizza!! Then I feel obligated to make a dent in it since I am the only one apparently eating a whole pan of lasagna. Why oh why can’t they understand that I’d much rather be eating green beans and potatoes and carrots rather than left over pizza!!!

  2. vicky permalink
    January 12, 2011 23:40

    You have obviously never been to ‘Smac in new york city. Their mac and cheese is sooo good I find myself dreaming about it sometimes.

    Please make nut roast in a policemans helmet one day!!

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