As the world moves more and more towards a focus on low food-waste and plant-based alternatives as a trend, it makes sense that the change in food trends will also shift what's on your festive table today. We spoke to Priyal Mehta, a plant-based private chef at Dulce de Mirchi on simple switches you can do to create plant-based comfort vegan food that will prove to be wholesome and leave you feeling nourished during your Christmas dinner and whip up a warm glass noodle salad in her backyard.
With Indian roots, Priyal grew up in Bangkok, Thailand and studied at the Natural Gourmet Institute for health & culinary arts in Manhattan, New York after studying strategic design and business management. She has also worked at Jean George’s ABC restaurants and vegan Japanese Michelin star Kajitsu. Priyal is a private chef, hosts private supper clubs from her home in The Lakes, and curates food care packages. Her food is always plant-based and vegetarian or vegan and is as international as Priyal - ranging from Thai to Japanese and even Italian cuisine. You can host a private supper experience by booking on her website.
Q: Give us your tips for setting up a festive table for a Christmas dinner.
Priyal: My biggest advice is to not over do it. If there's too much going on the table it's too distracting. A few days ago at one of my dinners, I decided to create a festive feel and reflected through simple flower arrangements. I added fresh white roses and dried eucalyptus tied up with cinnamon sticks. I like to put different whole spice arrangements in the table, not only for the look, but the whiffs they give off too. Pine cones would also work really well. Don't throw away fresh flowers - choose to dry them instead. Eucalyptus leaves, hypeircum and orchids work really well as dried flowers.
I do like dim lighting, as it creates a cozy vibe. I also like to use different types of candles. Be mindful of the sizes of the candles or props because some of them are so tall, you can't see the person across! For the vibe, I'd try a mix of jazz and Christmas music.
Q: How do you plan a menu to set the tone for a dinner that isn't too heavy?
Priyal: I do a lot of seasonal cooking - I only want to use ingredients that are in season, the food just tastes better. I'm doing lots of pomelo salads now as it's in season. In terms of portions, I tend to give more salads as they are light and healthy. If I was doing something fried, like spring rolls -I would do them smaller than the standard size as they tend to fill you up quickly. I usually do big/medium portions of a lighter soup. For heavier, creamier soup, I go with smaller portions - I like to use a lot of gahwa glasses or shot glasses to serve soup. At this time of the year, I like to make a leek and asparagus soup as it is seasonal but quite heavy - a small portion works much better.
Avoid cruciferous veggies like cauliflower, beans and broccoli because they are quite heavy and difficult to digest, especially in the evenings. I always use a light and creamy vegan gelato paired with a small portion of a sweet as dessert. You can have a homemade tea infusion with different spices like cinnamon, cardamom and star anise that you can serve throughout the night to improve digestibility and while still keeping in theme. It's so nice to have a warm cup of tea throughout your dinner to hold on to. You can also serve a small spiced hot chocolate shot at the end of your meal to end on a sweet note.
Q: Could you please suggest some vegetarian and vegan alternatives that one can use to have a fulfilling Christmas meal?
Priyal: You can use a lot of your much-loved recipes and attempt to veganize them or make them vegetarian. For the mains, you can get a lot of umami flavors through eggplants and mushrooms - especially shiitake mushrooms. Another great meat substitute are jackfruits. You can play around with tofu and tempeh as well as a meat substitute and they work really well as burger patties. All of these ingredients work really well with croquettes or in a salad. If you're doing a broth of any kind, kombu is great for umami flavors and essential in all dashi broths - vegan or not. You can also use stuffed veggies as a main - you can use anything from lentils to quinoa. In vegan baking, you can create flax eggs as opposed to eggs. Applesauce is another alternative as a sweetener as well as to add moisture. For vegetarians, you can use yoghurt as a substitute for baked goods.
I didn't carry out a Christmas menu last year, but I did do a Christmassy carrot cake with lots of grounding spices and a whipped coconut yuzu cream. And then on the side, I did a coconut rum gelato. I also do a lot of naturally dyed dimsums to create a festive feel. Dimsums are something people are ready to eat any time of the year. So I feel like it would be something different on the table. I also have tried a Thai-inspired vada pav (Indian potato patty slide). It's not a traditional Christmas menu, but I think people enjoy seeing something different on their table.
DULCE DE MIRCHI'S VEGAN GLASS NOODLE SALAD
20 g mung bean noodles
5 g finely chopped white scallion
3 g finely chopped green scallion
16 g bias cut celery stalk
10 g celery leaves
0.5 T mushroom sauce
0.5 T shoyu/light soy sauce
2 t lime juice
1 g Thai bird chili (according to spice)
7 g Cashews
50 g medium-cut shimeji mushroom
0.5 T flavorless oil (e.g. grapeseed)
0.5 t toasted rice power
0.125 t Thai chili powder
1 T Fresh herbs – thai basil, mint
6 g finely minced garlic
17 g thinly sliced shallots
5 pc cherry tomatoes
~ half carrot
1. Soak mung bean noodles in room temperature water for ~ 20 minutes
2. Make a salad dressing by combining shoyu, lime juice, thai chilli powder and mushroom sauce.
3. Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil and add soaked glass noodles. Boil for 2 minutes. Run noodles under cold water to prevent them from cooking further. Cut them into half using scissors so they are a more manageable length. Keep aside.
4. In a mortar and pestle, pound red chilli, shallots, basil, mint, celery leaves, scallions and chopped cherry tomatoes. Keep aside.
5. In a pan on medium heat add oil. Once heated, add mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt. Sauté until mushrooms are cooked.
6. In a bowl, add glass noodles. On top of the glass noodles pour the salad dressing so the noodles fully absorb the flavor of the dressing. Now add the mushrooms, celery, carrot and mixture in the mortar and toss until well combined. Finally add the toasted jasmine rice powder and cashews and give it one last toss.
7. Serve warm immediately