The traditional Christmas dinner in the UK is certainly a popular, festive meal, but its dry meat, under-seasoned vegetables, and love of dried fruits make it somewhat controversial. I have been trying alternatives to a roast dinner for Christmas for a few years now.
Since I cannot be the only one to find the classic roast dinner boring and overdone, here are a few alternatives for those of you in agreement, or even those just looking to do something different this year.
These ideas are by no means revolutionary, but they may provide a nice opportunity to spend the time and money you would usually put into a roast on an equally comforting and rewarding meal.
The first option may be a rather rogue one. Barbecuing in mid-December probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when planning Christmas dinner, but trust me on this one. Last year, my family decided to have a barbecue on Christmas Day and it was an unexpected success.
If you have a barbecue sitting outside in your garden right now, probably rusting with neglect, it deserves more than just the two weeks of use it inevitably gets in the summer. For those of you doubting the weather, standing around a barbecue is essentially just an alternative to sitting around the fireplace. In other words, it’s a classic festive activity.
Whilst I am a committed vegetarian, I can suggest that, from watching other people’s satisfaction, the best thing to cook on a barbecue in mid-winter is steak. This definitely isn’t a go-to student budget meal, but if you are looking to make this year’s house Christmas dinner feel more special, it could be a worthy splurge.
Or, if you are looking for inspiration for the family dinner over the holidays, this could be a tasty meat alternative (sorry turkey!). Steaks can be paired with all sorts of sauces but a great suggestion would be chimichurri or just a simple garlic and herb butter. For any vegetarians or vegans, just add some vegetarian burgers, mushrooms, or seasonal vegetables – such as butternut squash – and cook them on the barbecue too.
For the sides, consider changing up the vegetables from the usual under-seasoned, undercooked roast vegetables. Roast vegetables can be great but, in my opinion, are rarely cooked well (always leave them in the oven longer than you think for better texture and flavour). A fun and festive roast veg idea is to wrap vegetables, such as asparagus, in bacon – a super salty, tasty and festive option. Alternatively, roast butternut squash with sage and mixed seeds and crumble feta over the top for a flavourful, sweet-savoury side.
If the idea of a whole array of different meat and vegetable dishes sounds like too much hassle and washing up, especially while everyone is still busy with deadlines, one guaranteed crowd-pleaser which sidesteps these issues is lasagne. Lasagne is the ultimate one-pot comfort dish.
Another benefit is that it can still be prepared and assembled separately, so each member of the house can take on a different section: pasta sheets, white sauce layer, tomato layer, etc. Additionally, it can be made with essentially any ingredients and still taste stunning. A classic meat ragu would be a great centrepiece to any dinner, and to create the ultimate festive dish consider using turkey or (preferably) duck to make the tasty ragu sauce.
However, the likelihood that any one household has no dietary requirements is very low, so any other alternative would do. Contrary to popular belief, vegetarian and vegan pasta dishes can easily be just as comforting as a meaty ragu.
One of my favourites is a spinach and ricotta lasagne, tomato layer optional, or a cauliflower, mushroom, and walnut ragu (just blitz them all together and simmer in a tomato sauce with all the usual favours). Any creamy sauce can be replaced with blended tofu to make it vegan, and if there is any time to splurge on vegan cheese, Christmas would be it. Additionally, if no one has a big enough tray, multiple trays of lasagne can easily be made with the same pasta and basic sauces, even allowing for different alternatives to be on one table.
For dessert, if another stodgy cake stuffed with dried fruits sounds unappealing (and it always does), consider making something lighter to enjoy after the main meal.
At home, our go-to centrepiece is a pavlova, which is easier to make than it seems. Look up tips for making meringue and have faith in the process, and you will likely have some luck. If that sounds too daunting, or you can’t bring yourself to buy another pack of eggs, you can buy the meringue yourself and top it with whipped cream and whatever else you fancy.
If a pavlova is too much effort, a tiramisu is the perfect elegant and light dessert which will impress without much effort. You can even make it without eggs: just whisk cream and mascarpone together with some sugar and whichever festive liqueur or other flavour you fancy. If you aren’t a fan of coffee, I would suggest dipping the biscuits in matcha and mixing matcha powder into the cream instead of liqueur for a twist on the original.
Enjoy any of these alternative meals with a cocktail/mocktail, for a memorable and festive dinner with your housemates, friends, or family. Happy holidays!