I co-hosted Christmas with my brother last year for both our sets of families and in-laws. Dietary requirements included one person with celiac disease, one vegan, one very picky vegetarian, several very picky carnivores, and allergies to seafood, hazelnuts, and a couple of other easily avoided things. My brother was in charge of the entrée (jackfruit tostones), the meat and the roasted potatoes; I was in charge of the vegan main and the salads.
Antipasti and Christmas Pudding were provided by our aunts, pavlova by my mother in law, a vegan gelati pudding by me, and basically everyone brought random biscuits or shortbread or mince pies (or in my case, all of the above in spades, because I went into a biscuit frenzy in mid-December that just didn’t end until the 23rd, by which time I had 19 separate kinds of sweet and savoury biscuits, many of them decorated to within an inch of their lives).
My brother had this endearing idea that we wouldn’t overcater, which just goes to show how little he knows me. I’m all about not needing to cook for three days after Christmas because there are so many leftovers.
Anyway. I wanted something really festive and delicious for my vegans, vegetarians and other non-meat-oriented people. Anything involving mushrooms or eggplant was forbidden, and oven space was fairly limited, so it needed to be something I could mostly make ahead of time and just heat up at the last minute. I hit upon the idea of stuffing capsicums with jewelled rice, but my first attempt at this was… nice, but nothing to write home about.
I wanted something worth writing home about.
So I made this gorgeous, gorgeous stock, infused with saffron and orange and spices, which had the bonus effect of making the house smell amazing, and I cooked the rice in that. And it was *really* good. I say this as someone who doesn’t like rice very much.
Best of all, it turned out to be the sort of recipe that tastes better on the second day – the rice filling was perfectly nice when I tasted it on Christmas Eve, but by the time we served it up on Christmas day, it was at a whole other level. This is make-ahead vegan nirvana, basically, and I’ll definitely be using this recipe next time I want to feed people with tricky dietary needs and don’t want to do a lot of work at the last minute. (Admittedly, there is quite a bit of work up-front, but a lot of it you can get going while you do something else in the background, so it isn’t too bad. But I’m not claiming that this is a quick recipe to make.)
Your Shopping List
For the stock:
4 cups water
2 big pinches of saffron
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
1 tsp salt
Zest of one orange
For the Filling
1 ½ cups of basmati rice
¼ cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup dried apricots
¼ cup currants
1 large red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup pistachios
1/3 cup slivered almonds
For the Capsicums
8-12 small capsicums (it was definitely more than enough stuffing for 8!)
¼ cup Olive oil
½ cup Orange juice
¼ cup water
Now what will you do with it?
Start by making the stock. Pour the water into a medium saucepan, and add the spices and salt. Use a vegetable peeler to peel your orange in one or two long spirals, and add to the water. Bring to the boil, and simmer gently for half an hour. Leave for another hour or so to infuse further, if you have time. Strain the stock into a jug.
While the stock is cooking, wash the rice and soak it for at least half an hour.
Put the dried fruit into a small bowl, and cover with boiling water to soak for at least 15 minutes.
Slice the tops off the capsicums to make lids, remove the white ribs and any mini capsicums inside, then replace the lids. Roast capsicums for 15-20 minutes at 180°C – you want them mostly cooked, but not browned.
When you reckon the stock has had enough, start making the filling. Sauté the onions and nuts in olive oil until the onions are soft. Add the rice and stir around for a few minutes.
Add 3 cups of the stock, cover, and simmer, covered, on very low heat for 10 minutes or until rice is cooked through. Switch off the heat, and let sit for five minutes.
Add fruit and stir through with a fork. Let cool a little.
Stuff capsicums with rice mixture, cover with their lids. Refrigerate overnight if possible, so the flavours can develop.
When you want to serve the capsicums, preheat the oven to 200°C, and bring the vegetables back to room temperature.
Pour ½ cup of orange juice mixed with ¼ cup olive oil and ¼ cup water over and around the vegetables (take off their lids so that the liquid goes over and into the rice as well as around the capsicums).
Sprinkle with salt, and bake for 20 minutes or so, or until heated through.
Eat and enjoy! Nobody will miss the meat.
This recipe is vegan and gluten-free, but it does contain nuts. You could vary the dried fruit, and maybe replace the nuts with pumpkin seeds or pine nuts, which can be less allergenic – just check with the person you are cooking for what they can eat. If you use basmati rice, it’s not too disastrous in terms of GI, but you’d probably want to serve it with a lot of salad, or something with chickpeas in…
Obviously, if you hate capsicums, this would work just fine as a stuffing for other vegetables – zucchini or squash, tomatoes, eggplant, or baby pumpkins would all be awesome.