In the first of a three-part series on Christmas food, we share healthy recipes for festive fare.
Recipes for a healthy (but still festive) Christmas
Although reports concerning average calorie consumption in the West on Christmas Day vary, estimates suggest that some people will wade their way through upwards of 6,000 calories when they sit down to their turkey this weekend. This is real food for thought, particularly when you bear in mind that the recommended daily amount is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men.
Indulgence has become part and parcel of any festive experience, so don't deprive yourself. You can, however, make a few simple changes to traditional recipes in order to avoid out-and-out gluttony, reduce your calorie and fat intake yet still keep things tasty.
The good news is that turkey - the centrepiece of many a Christmas table - is naturally low in fat, high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals. For maximum health benefits, select the white breast meat and avoid the skin (pure fat).
Chestnuts are a great festive ingredient. They are low in fat, contain far fewer calories than almost all other nuts and are rich in vitamins, minerals and protein. They're also gluten-free and tasty enough to perk up even the much-maligned Brussels sprouts. The stuffing recipe below has a higher ratio of vegetables to breadcrumbs than usual and contains no butter, which helps to keep the fat and calorie content low.
Cooking the roast potatoes in stock might seem unusual, but by doing this and by brushing the potatoes sparingly with olive oil, you get crunchy potatoes with a fraction of the fat.
The difference between bread sauce made with semi-skimmed rather than whole milk is barely noticeable and the addition of low-fat crème fraîche in the latter stages, as opposed to double cream, makes good health sense. Mashed carrots with a touch of honey and a scattering of cumin seeds taste interesting enough not to require extra butter.
All recipes serve 8
Chestnut, apple and celery stuffing
3 teaspoons groundnut oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
head celery (with leaves if possible), finely chopped
2 apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 lemon, zest and juice
200g peeled roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
2 eggs, beaten
110g wholemeal breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped celery leaves
salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 190C/fan 170/gas 5. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and celery (not the leaves), season with salt and black pepper and cook for 6-8 minutes until softened. Add the grated apple, lemon zest and juice and cook for a further 2 minutes before removing from the heat.
Tip into a large bowl, add the chestnuts, eggs, breadcrumbs, parsley and celery leaves and stir well to combine. Lightly oil a baking tray with the remaining oil. With slightly damp hands, shape the mixture into balls about 4cm in diameter. Cook for 25-30 minutes until crisp and slightly browned on the outside.
500ml semi-skimmed milk
8 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
110g white breadcrumbs
2 tablespoon low-fat crème fraîche
salt and black pepper
Stud the onion with the cloves and place in a pan. Pour over the milk, add the peppercorns, bay leaf and a touch of salt and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 1-2 hours. Strain the liquid into a clean pan and place over a low heat. Add the butter and breadcrumbs, stir and leave to simmer gently for 15 minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Reheat when required, taste to check the seasoning and stir in the crème fraîche just before you are ready to serve.
Carrot, cumin and honey mash
1 kg carrots
4 sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon runny honey
2 teaspoons cumin seed
salt and black pepper
Peel the carrots, slice in half lengthways and roughly chop. Place in a saucepan with the thyme and cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat slightly, season with salt and cover with a lid. Cook for 15 minutes or until tender - check the carrots every 5 minutes or so to ensure that the water doesn't boil away. Drain in a colander set over a bowl, remove the thyme sprigs and return to the pan.
While the carrots are cooking, place a saucepan over a medium-high heat. When you can feel that the pan is hot, add the cumin seeds. Toast for 1-2 minutes, until the spices begin to smell aromatic and start to crackle. Remove from the heat at this point.
Add a splash of cooking water to the pan and roughly mash the carrots with a potato masher. Add the honey and toasted cumin seeds, stir well, taste to check the seasoning and serve warm.
1.8kg floury potatoes (for example King Edward, Maris Piper or Desirée)
2 tablespoons plain white flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
350ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Peel the potatoes and cut into even-sized pieces. Tip into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for six minutes. Drain well in a colander. Shake the colander to roughen the edges, sprinkling over the flour at the same time.
Put the olive oil in a small bowl. Transfer the potatoes to a baking dish and pour over the stock. Dip a pastry brush into the olive oil and brush the tops of the potatoes (you won't need all the oil). Season and transfer to the hot oven.
After 40 minutes, remove the tin from the oven and carefully turn the potatoes over. Brush the tops with olive oil and return to the oven. Repeat this process 10 minutes later. When the potatoes have been in the oven for 60 minutes, the stock should be absorbed and the potatoes will be golden and crunchy.
Roast Brussels sprouts with chestnuts
350g Brussels sprouts
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
100g whole peeled, roasted and roughly chopped chestnuts
zest of 1 orange
Wash the sprouts and remove any outer leaves that are past their best days. Trim the ends and halve lengthways. Tip into a large bowl and drizzle over the olive oil. Season with salt and black pepper and toss well, making sure that the sprouts are coated in the oil.
Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and arrange the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, in the pan, in a single layer if possible - you may need to do this in two batches. Cover with a lid and cook for 4-6 minutes, until the underside of the sprouts is lightly browned. Taste to check if the sprouts are tender. If not, cook for a couple more minutes.
When the sprouts are tender, increase the heat and cook until the base begin to caramelise. Add the chopped chestnuts and orange zest, and toss well, so that the rounded side of the sprout also becomes lightly browned.