Today marks the occasion of Burns Night, a celebration of the life and work of Scottish poet Robert Burns. These celebrations usually take the form of a “Burns Night Supper” where the traditional Scottish dish of haggis is typically served, along with equally traditional neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potato).
I didn’t know any of this until I wrote about vegetarian haggis for the Great British Chefs. Traditional haggis is made of offal and cooked in a sheep’s stomach. Burns Night just isn’t Burns Night with out a haggis, so what’s a vegetarian to do?
A little research turned up a company called “MacSween” which makes a vegetarian version haggis. I’m not usually one for pre-packaged foods, but for the sake of dear Mr Burns, I decided to give it a try. In place of meat, the veggie haggis contains mushrooms, legumes, beans, carrots, lots of nuts plus oats and vegetable margarine to hold it all together. The taste experience: a bit like mushroom barley soup in congealed log form.
I confess, the whole concept of haggis was a mystery to start with. As a vegetarian, I had no idea what to expect, or how to serve it. The flavour of MacSween’s Vegetable Haggis is nice and peppery, but it’s essentially a vegetable mush pile and it all becomes a bit same-y after a few bites. And as a mush pile, it doesn’t seem like it would suit neeps and tatties. Mush pile next to a mush pile? No thanks.
Still, the concept sounded good. I like beans. I like nuts. I like veggies. Could the vegetarian haggis work?
Here I turned to the advice of trusted friend and foodie Carl Legge, who was gracious enough to share his tried and tested vegetarian haggis recipe. The recipe called to me immediately, as it used lots of things I had in the kitchen larder that I was trying to use up: adzuki beans, chana dal, barley, hazelnuts. Add mushrooms, pinhead oats, lots of pepper and nutmeg, and, well, I just had to make it to find out what I was in for.
The result: a definite win! Two key things did it for me: (1) the texture was just fantastic; I loved the adzuki beans and the pinhead oats were essential, (2) the strong flavours, particularly the nutmeg and white pepper, were wonderful and worked really well with the other ingredients.
But as Carl notes in his last paragraph, enjoying this dish depends largely on what you serve it with. I had mine with a side of savoy cabbage, but I think I will enjoy it far more as a stuffing for red romano peppers (which I’ve since tried and loved), mushrooms or cabbage rolls (which I will make tonight for my own mini Burns Night celebration). In that sense, I’m thrilled to have lots of leftovers because vegetarian haggis is a dish from which you can make many other dishes!
A couple points: the flavour of the mushrooms didn’t really come through for me. I might like a bit more “mushroominess”. I also think more nuts wouldn’t go amiss. That one is easily solved by stuffing the haggis in a red pepper, baking it and then topping it with toasted pine nuts.
I should also add that Carl’s recipe instructions are excellent and indicative of his thorough research and testing. My veggie haggis creation produced almost exactly the same amount of haggis as Carl stipulated (about 2.7kg). Although this is an involved recipe, Carl’s instructions are easy to follow and succinct, but detailed enough to resolve any questions along the way. It was easy to bring everything together following his step-by-steps. So if you’re thinking about giving vegetarian haggis a go, definitely skip the MacSween’s and head straight for Carl’s blog.
Recipe: Vegetarian Haggis