A collection of brown and white ceramic bowls are meticulously laid out in front of me. Each one contains a different ingredient: lentils, beans, mushrooms, spices—the components needed to create a vegan haggis.
I’m in the kitchen at Hendersons, one of the oldest vegetarian restaurants in Edinburgh, with head chef Nives Arosio. She has agreed to show me how to make a plant-based version of the traditional Scottish dish but I’m a little skeptical. How do you veganise something made from sheep’s heart and liver, and encased in a sheep’s stomach? Can you really recreate the “great chieftain o' the pudding-race” with lentils?
“It’s a favourite for both vegans and omnis,” Arosio assures me. “Oftentimes, meat-eaters can hardly spot the difference between ‘real’ haggis and our vegan alternative.”
Originally from Italy, Arosio has been working at Hendersons for the past six years and has spent much of that time perfecting the vegan haggis. It has become one of the restaurant’s signature dishes and is served every year at their vegan Burns Night supper.
“I am not going to lie—it has been a challenge to learn how to master this plant-based version of such a typical, heavily meat-based food of the Scottish cuisine,” she tells me. “But I am in a pretty good place now and the response from our customers has been overwhelming. Our vegan haggis is the crown jewel of Hendersons’ menu and we offer it not only at our restaurants around town, but also supply it at parties and weddings.”
In place of the traditional sheep’s innards and suet, Hendersons’ vegan haggis uses mashed pulses, carrots, and mushrooms. But it is the spices that provide the crucial meat-like flavour.
“The secret is in the spices—it’s them giving the dish its meaty flavour,” she explains. “While the other ingredients are pretty much the same for every vegan haggis recipe, the spices change quite a lot in each version. They can give the final dish a pretty distinct flavour. We like to use garam masala, a mix of Dharamsala, nutmeg, and pepper—and a pinch of salt, of course.”
Arosio begins by frying onions with the spices until they brown, then adds grated carrot and mushrooms to the pan.
“If the spices help preserving the typical meat-like flavour of the haggis, it’s the mushrooms that give the dish its meaty texture,” she says. “When cooked, the mashed pulses can be added to the mix. These, too, play an important part in preserving the texture of the haggis. Each and every ingredient has a role in recreating the original consistency and flavour of the haggis, so it is important that nothing gets overlooked.”
Hendersons serves its vegan haggis with the traditional “neeps and tatties” (boiled potato and turnip), as well as a vegetable and red wine gravy.
“It’s a rich plate, and it’s very Scottish, if you want: all the ingredients can be sourced locally and can be found across the country all year round,” adds Arosio.
Finally, the time comes to pipe in our vegan haggis. Arosio assembles the cooked pulses and vegetables in an elegant tower, along with the mashed potatoes and turnips. It's topped with songino lettuce leaves and surrounded by thick brown gravy.
“In a sense, we love to mix innovation and tradition,” she says, offering me the steaming plate. “Serving a vegan reinterpretation of this Scottish classic with the conventional neeps and tatties accompaniment is our way to pay tribute to the Scottish heritage, while also daring to innovate it.”
I plunge my fork in. The textured lentils and mushrooms give the haggis a dense, surprisingly meat-like bite, while the spices add to its rich flavour. A true chieftain o’ the pudding-race and worthy tribute to Scotland’s meaty heritage.