Tonight is Burns Night. You might not have heard of Burns Night – I know I hadn’t until a few years ago – but 25th January is the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland’s greatest poet. I can’t pretend I know lots about his poetry, but I do know that he wrote a lot of poems in Scots language and Scots dialect as well as standard English, and that he wrote Auld Lang Syne, the song that we traditionally sing at midnight on New Year’s Eve. His birthday is celebrated in the UK with a traditional Scottish meal – haggis, neeps and tatties.
Neeps and tatties – that’s turnip and potato to us standard English speakers – are easy enough, but haggis is not exactly a vegetarian dream meal: it’s a sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, minced with suet, spices, and salt, and packed into the sheep’s stomach. So until this year, I’ve never taken much interest in Burns Night. And then I saw a Macsween Vegetarian Haggis in my local health food shop and well, I love a celebration meal! So tonight I made my own version of haggis, neeps, and tatties. Traditionally, potatoes, turnips, and carrots are boiled and mashed with milk and butter, but I wanted to make it a little differently. I used parsnips instead of turnips (because I was already buying parsnips for something else!), and added kale (which I always think of as quite a Scottish vegetable) and a little sweet potato (not such a Scottish vegetable). It was delicious! Plenty of veg, and very filling, thanks to the haggis (which tastes a little like veggie stuffing or nut roast) - I think I'm going to be having it more often than once a year! Wikipedia informs me that you can actually have a "Burn's Night" any time you feel the need to celebrate Robert Burns - so it's not too late!
For two people, I used:
One parsnip, but it was HUGE - you'll probably need two.
Five or six new potatoes
A quarter of a sweet potato
Half a pack of kale
Butter, or Fry Light Better than Butter if you want to cut a few calories
One Macsween Vegetarian Haggis
You can peel as many or as few of the veg as you want. I didn't bother peeling the potatoes, but I peeled everything else. Then chop them up chunkily, and parboil the potatoes for about five minutes, and the carrots for about two minutes.
Chop all the veg into quite small chunks (you might need to chop the potatoes and carrots again - I did), and grill them with butter/Fry Light Better than Butter. If you have access to better facilities than I do (e.g. a real kitchen with an oven and a hob, which I don't have at university), you could try roasting the veg (in which case you should chop it much bigger, so that it won't burn!), or even stir-frying it! As long as it's buttery! It's done when you can stick a knife through without too much difficulty - it will take about half an hour or so. When it's about ten minutes from being done, wash and shred the kale and add it in (if you're roasting, maybe grill or fry the kale separately!).
Whilst the veg is frying, take the veggie haggis and, well, follow the packet instructions! I chopped it up and put it in the microwave - it took eight minutes - but you can put in the oven as well.
Serve it all up together! I sprinkled a little Maldon smoked sea salt on mine, and had some ketchup with the haggis!
Last week, I also went to a formal (and early) Burn's Night Dinner at Clare College, Cambridge. I'm a Cambridge student myself, and the University of Cambridge is split up into different colleges. Colleges aren't actually separate in terms of education - we're all mixed together for our lessons - but you live in your college, eat there, and the college is meant to look after you! All colleges have a hall, and serve a "formal hall" meal, up to seven times a week. The meals vary in quality and formality from college to college. Here are some pictures from my evening at Clare:
The dining hall at Clare College, Cambridge
The table. We're standing for the grace (which is different in each college - but always read in Latin)
Here's the veggie option - the vegetarian haggis was good, but not as good as the Macsween's! That's a sort of tomato-y sauce, and the veg was deliciously buttery
PUDDING! Yum, yum, YUM. You can find a recipe for Cranachan here
Did you know about Burns Night? Have you ever had haggis, or vegetarian haggis? Let me know, let me know!