January 25 marks the annual celebration of Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Burns’ huge volume of work includes ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and ‘My Love is Like a Red Red Rose’. He is a legend in Scotland as well as further afield and every year his fans celebrate with a special meal and a few ‘wee drams’ of whiskey.
The main course for the special Burns Night meal is a haggis. The reason for this is twofold. Haggis is a bit of a delicacy in Scotland and Robert Burns wrote a very famous poem called ‘Address to a Haggis’. Haggis is a dish made of sheep or calves’ organ meats chopped up and mixed with suet, oatmeal and seasoning, all encased in a sheep’s stomach. No, you didn’t read that wrong. Let’s just say there’s not enough whiskey in the world to make me eat that!
So how to celebrate a Burns night in a way that’s true to the spirit of the meal but without the meaty haggis? Well, before I share the good news, let me give you a bit of background on Mr Robbie Burns – also known as ‘The Bard’.
Born January 25, 1759 to tenant farmers, Burns’ life was not an easy one. However, unlike many of the young men in his position, Burns was extremely well educated. He loved to read and began writing poetry at an early age.
Burns was very much a wild child of his era – politely put, fidelity was something he really struggled with. Burns eventually took a wife, Jean Armour. She bore him nine children but even a devoted wife didn’t stop his philandering. Lucky for Burns, Jean was an extremely kind-hearted soul who not only put up with Burns many infidelities but even took in one of his children by another woman.
Although Burns knew some regional popularity and was a hit in the cultural salons of Edinburgh, sadly this did not translate into riches in his lifetime. He died penniless at age 37 in July of 1796. However, his work and his lifestyle meant he left many friends and admirers and the first supper to honour Burns was held on the anniversary of his death in 1801. These celebrations continued annually and eventually the official ‘Burns night’ was moved to the eve of his birthday on January 25th.
Think you don’t know the work of Robert Burns? You may be more familiar with the Bard than you think! Burns’ work has become very much a part of popular culture. ‘Auld Lang Syne’ is sung on New Year’s Eve in most parts of the world. John Steinbeck took the title of his 1937 bestseller ‘Of Mice and Men’ from a line in Robert Burns’ poem ‘’To a Mouse’ – “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agly”. Michael Jackson was a huge Burns fan and wrote a collection of songs based on his work, hoping to produce them as a show. It’s said that “Thriller” was inspired by the supernatural events in Burns poem ‘Tam o’ Shanter’.
On to the Burns Night celebrations. Traditional Burns night suppers generally consist of three courses, two of them meaty. So how can a vegetarian celebrate Burns Night? Actually, a vegetarian Burns Night is easy with the help of The Vegetarian Society who have produced a recipe for ‘Not So Offal Mini Veggie Haggis’. Made with wholesome lentils, kidney beans, nuts and lots of lovely spices, the recipe is pretty easy to make and sounds very tasty.
So, let’s get started planning your vegetarian Burns Night celebration. The starter for any good Burns Night meal is either Scots Broth or Cock a Leekie Soup. Scots Broth is traditionally made with lamb stock and sometimes pieces of lamb but you could simply leave out the meat and use vegetarian stock. Cock-a-Leekie soup is a chicken and leek soup, but you could substitute potato and leek soup or make a vegetable soup that features lots of leeks.
Next comes the haggis. I’ve included the vegetarian recipe for that below. The haggis is generally ‘piped’ into the room so you’ll need someone who can play the bagpipes for that. Or you can make life easy and just find some bagpipe music on iTunes! When the haggis is on the table, the host then recites Robert Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ and a toast is also proposed to it. Haggis is generally served alongside ‘neeps’ (mashed swede or turnip) and ‘tatties’ (mashed potatoes).
Dessert might be shortbread or Cranachan, a sort of oaty trifle generally made with raspberries. After the meal, it’s traditional for one of the guest to make a speech about Robert Burns and then to propose a toast to the famous poet.
Whiskey is normally drunk throughout the meal but as I know very little about this particular tipple, I’ll have to let you sort that out for yourself. Substitute apple juice for kids or anyone who is driving or doesn’t drink alcohol as the colour is very similar to whiskey.
Celebrating Burns Night is a great way to introduce kids (and maybe even some adults) to a bit of history and some interesting poetry – as well as to have a bit of fun. And with these Not So Offal Mini Veggie Haggis, a Vegetarian Burns Night is very easy indeed!
- 100g/4oz onion, finely chopped
- 15ml/1tbsp sunflower oil
- 50g/2oz carrots, very finely chopped
- 35g/1.5oz mushrooms, finely chopped
- 50g/2oz red lentils
- 600ml/1pint vegetable stock
- 25g/1oz mashed, tinned red kidney beans
- 35g/1.5oz ground peanuts
- 25g/1oz ground hazelnuts
- 0.5 tbsp soy sauce
- 1tbsp lemon juice
- 2tsp dried thyme
- 2tsp dried rosemary
- generous pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- salt to taste
- 200g/8oz fine oatmeal
- Pre-heat the oven to 190°C, 375°F or Gas Mark 5.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
- Sauté the onion in the oil for 5 minutes.
- Add the carrot and mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Now add the lentils and three quarters of the stock.
- Blend the mashed red kidney beans in the remaining stock, add these to the pan with the nuts, shoyu, lemon juice and seasonings.
- Cook everything, well mixed together, for a further 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add the oatmeal, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes, adding a little extra liquid if necessary.
- Turn the mixture into 4 lightly oiled pudding tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
- Serve with mashed neeps (swede) and tatties (potatoes), green veg and onion gravy.
I have not been compensated in any way for sharing this post.