Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Healthy Alternatives to the Traditional Christmas Dinner

Spiced Vegetable and Bean Pie Instead of Turkey

Cheaper and Great for the Veggies!

This is a perfect veggie alternative for the Christmas table whether you’re all vegetarians or you’ve got some who won’t be eating the turkey. You can prepare everything the day before. Warm the filling and when you’ve taken the bird out of the oven to rest put in your individual pies and they’ll be ready by the time you’ve finished the gravy, carved the turkey and served up the vegetables.

Unless you love doing it, making pastry can be a chore and a disaster, so why bother when the ready-made frozen stuff is so good. If you’re making a large pie you’ll need a pie funnel in the middle to stop the pastry sinking, but I prefer to make these in individual soup bowls. For a festive touch, decorate each individual pie with a sprig of holly before serving.

As soon as you cut the pastry these smell fantastic and taste even better. I guarantee you’ll have the carnivores fighting for the leftovers.

For 4 individual pies you’ll need:

3 tbsp rapeseed oil – ideally organic, but absolutely GM-free
1 large leek, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 swede, cubed
1 large parsnip, cubed
3 carrots, cubed
1 turnip, cubed
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
About 700ml (1 and a quarter pints) vegetable stock
1 x 400g can organic crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato puree
400g frozen broad beans
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
half tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

1 packet defrosted readymade puff pastry

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and sweat the leek, onion and garlic, stirring continuously, for 3 mins till transparent but not brown. Add the root vegetables to the pan and stir. Add the stock, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, bay leaves and spices and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 45 mins. Add the frozen broad beans and continue to simmer until beans and vegetables are all tender – about 10-15 mins.

If you’re not making the pies straight away, allow to cool, cover and keep in the fridge. Reheat when required and make the pies as follows.

Pour into four individual ovenproof bowls. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 5. Roll out the pastry, cut thin strips to put round the edge of the bowls, brush with water then add lids, pressing down with a fork to seal the edges. Using a sharp pointed knife make two 1” slits in the pie crust, brush with milk and bake till pastry is crisp and golden brown.

A Light Starter:

Everyone eats too much on Christmas Day – I’m sure you’ll be as horrified as I was when I calculated that the average Brit consumes 7,000 calories so why not start your Christmas meal with this light, delicious, different and incredibly healthy Mediterranean mix.

It’s so full of protective natural chemicals that it protects you all from those horrible Christmas coughs and colds.

Mediterranean mixed salad of finely chopped plum tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, cucumber, radishes, Spanish onion, sweetcorn and raisins

350g (12oz) frozen sweetcorn
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 medium cucumber
150g (5oz) radishes
1 sweet Spanish onion
5 plum tomatoes
110g (4oz) raisins

Cook the sweetcorn and leave to cool. De-seed and finely dice the peppers. Peel, de-seed and dice the cucumber. Slice the radishes. Finely chop the onion. Finely chop the tomatoes, keeping all their juices. Put all the ingredients into a bowl with the raisins. Toss in your favourite salad dressing.


I know how great the flaming Christmas pud looks and I also know that you can buy or make vegetarian versions. But let’s be honest. How many of you actually look forward to a wedge of this unbelievably heavy and rich dessert after your Christmas dinner. Here’s my favourite which is great for the non-veggies too. Bread and butter pudding with a difference – it’s Italian.

Make it with Panatone (the wonderful Italian cake made with yeast and crystallised fruits). It’s usually shaped like a flower pot so cut it in circular slices and make it as you would a normal bread and butter pudding but add a generous dash of Amaretto – the Italian liqueur made from almonds.

Brazilian Brandy Pudding

Here’s a delicious and unusual alternative to the vitality-sapping traditional suet puddings. Invented by my wife Sally it’s one of our family favourites. Sounds exotic, doesn’t it? So put aside those memories of school dinners and take a chance on this fabulous posh tapioca. Made from the root of the Manioc (Cassava) shrub, native to central and South America, it’s the staple energy food of the Rain Forest Indians. This high starch, ultra low-fat dessert really will get those brain cells buzzing.

25g/1oz tapioca
300ml/10 fl oz milk
1 tbspn honey
2 tbspns apricot brandy
25g/1oz dried apricots, snipped finely
4 tbspns organic fromage frais
1 small punnet raspberries or other fresh berries

1 Warm tapioca and milk gently and bring to boil, stirring constantly
2 Simmer till thick and creamy - 10-15 mins
3 Stir in honey, brandy and apricots
4 Pour into oven-proof dish and bake at 200C/400F/gas 6 for 30 mins - or until slightly brown
5 Serve hot or cold, in mounds, topped with fromage frais and surrounded by fruit


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