Monday 20 November 2017

Have a merry gluten and meat-free Christmas

The holiday season can be a danger zone for coeliacs and vegetarians, but Valerie O'Connor has some delicious recipes to keep your taste buds and tummies satisfied this Yuletide

Gluten-free Mont Blancs
Gluten-free Mont Blancs
Baked butternut squash
Christmas kraut
Valerie O'Connor

The words 'healthy' and 'Christmas' don't usually go together in the same sentence. With every household visit being kicked off with drinks and canapés, all built on a firm foundation of pastry, this is a minefield for anyone avoiding gluten.

The festive season can be a veritable scare factory for anyone trying to look after their health and their waistline. Personal trainers take time off and yoga instructors take a break - don't they know how much we need them?

Given that Christmas dinner is based heavily on protein, there should really be nothing to worry about when it comes to enjoying this one huge and delicious meal of the year. Any health gurus will tell you that the 80pc rule is the key to a happy and healthy life, meaning that you eat well most of the time and intentionally fall off the wagon at the weekend with a huge latte and a massive piece of cake, as I love to do on Saturday visits to my local farmers' market.

If you keep your system too clean, a small amount of sugar will take you out of the game and some drinks will have you reeling the next day. Remember that eating some ferments will keep your bloating at bay, so make this nice red cabbage and apple sauerkraut to warm up and have alongside your Christmas feast - you might even get others eating it too.

This veggie main course will leave you full and happy, ready for your easy, yet gluten-free, decadent dessert.


Gluten-free Mont Blancs

While these may not be traditionally a Christmas dessert, they should be. With the fluffy white peaks looking like snow-capped mountains and a knee-trembling slathering of chestnut puree drowned in whipped cream, Christmas is the day to have them.

Pavlova and meringues are so easy to make and can be made days ahead and stored in an airtight container. They do contain sugar, but no gluten and, as we now know, good dairy cream is full of those all-important healthy fats too.

Chestnut puree can be found in any fine-food store and is the most Christmassy of all ingredients.

Serves 4


2 large eggs (duck eggs make the best meringues)

100g caster sugar

1x 200g tin chestnut puree

Whipped cream

Chocolate shavings, walnuts and strawberries


1. Preheat the oven to 120°C.

2. To make the meringues, get a squeaky clean bowl, stainless steel or glass, and separate the egg whites from the yolks, taking care that no yolk goes into the white. Pop the whites into the large bowl.

3. Whisk the whites with an electric mixer until they get nice and fluffy. Hold the bowl over your head to check: if they don't fall out, they are well-whipped!

4. Slowly whisk in the sugar, little by little.

5. Take a baking sheet and line it with parchment. You can get the paper to stick to the tray by putting a tiny bit of meringue on each corner. With a large spoon, dollop scoops of the mixture onto the tray until you have four large, shiny blobs. Now, make a deep dent into each one, this is where your puree will go.

6. Bake the meringues in the oven for 1½ hours, until they are a pale creamy colour. Turn the oven off and allow them to cool inside, this will avoid them cracking like crazy.

7. Peel the meringues off the paper and store them if you need to for a couple of days.

8. Place the individual meringues on plates and top each one with a scoop of chestnut puree, topped with thickly whipped cream. Grate over some chocolate shavings and/or strawberries and walnuts to serve.

Christmas kraut

The best bit about this recipe is that you can make it at least week before the big day. To warm it up, just pop some in a pot and heat it gently, not letting it boil.


1 head organic red cabbage

1 large eating apple

2 tsp sea salt

½ tsp cloves and ½ tsp cinnamon


1. Shred the cabbage with a large knife. You can use a food processor, but it tends to chops the cabbage too finely.

2. Put the cabbage into the bowl with the salt and mix everything together with your hands, and then get your rolling pin and begin pounding the cabbage - keep going for 10 minutes until some of the juices are being released. 3. Cut the apple into thin pieces and mix it through the cabbage with the spices.

4. Sterilise your jar by putting it through the dishwasher or putting the rinsed jar in the oven at 160°C for 10 minutes. Pack the cabbage into the cooled jar with the juices, press it down and pop in a jar-weight or stone that's big enough to put pressure on the cabbage when you close the lid down. You want it to be submerged in the juices. Place the jar on a plate to catch any juices that overflow.

5. Leave the jar at room temperature for four days - you should see bubbles happening! In a cold winter, maybe put it in the airing cupboard. The ideal temperature is 20-22°C.

6. Open the jar every day to release the gases. You can keep the jar in a cold place after this point.

Baked butternut squash

This is a treat dish that I often make for an alternative Sunday roast for myself. It's also a lovely meal for one, oozing with deliciousness and would make a great turkey alternative for vegetarians this Christmas.

Serves one as main dish


1 medium-sized butternut squash

1 carton creme fraiche

100g/4oz grated parmesan cheese

1 tsp cumin seeds

Olive oil for baking

1 tbsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

2. Cut the squash in two, lengthways, then scoop out the seeds and score the flesh with a knife in a criss-cross pattern - this helps it cook through faster. Place it on a baking tray and drizzle over a little olive oil, rubbing it in, and sprinkle over the cumin seeds. Bake in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes until it is soft enough for a knife to go through it easily.

3. Remove it from the oven and, with a dessert spoon, carefully scoop out most of the flesh into a large bowl, taking care not to cut the skin - you want the shell to remain intact.

4. Add the contents of the créme fraiche carton, the grated cheese, chopped sage and some sea salt and ground black pepper. Mix this all together and spoon it back into the cases. Sprinkle on some extra cheese.

5. Return the squash to the oven and bake for a further 20-30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. The more brown crispy bits, the better!

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