Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race

Tasks to be done: 1. dust off the crystal tumblers, 2. find the single malts in the back of the cabinet, particularly the Highland Park (my favorite) and Lagavulin (my husband’s favorite), 3. peel the potatoes and swede (AKA rutabaga), 4. find the CD of bagpipe music, 5. assemble the ingredients to make the haggis. Yes, tomorrow (January 25th) is Burns Night.

robert_burnsPortrait of the Scots National Poet, Robert Burns, that hangs over our mantel in our living room

Burns Night is a traditional supper served on January 25th to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns. If entries on YouTube are anything to go by, Burns suppers are held virtually around the world – good and bad bagpipe playing, even better or worse poetry recitation in the (authentic or mangled) Scots dialect, and a surfeit of kilts and tartans. To avoid pitfalls, The Scotsman has a piece on how to hold a genuine Burns supper and tells a little of the history of the tradition. There is a set menu for a Burns supper, with some variations, but the highlight of the meal is always haggis, or as Burns termed it, the “great chieftain o’ the puddin-race” in a poem written in 1786, To A Haggis.

I like traditional steamed haggis made with various bits of lamb innards, lots of spices and oats, all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach. A shocking confession, I know – one that that has had many of my American relatives reeling in horror, but all I can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! However, since I am careful where I source any meat, I prefer quality haggis made by a good organic Scottish butcher – something that is difficult if not impossible to get in England (although I am told there are some decent commercial ones available in the supermarket). In days gone by, my Scottish in-laws, while living in Yorkshire, would have their relatives send Scottish delicacies – including haggis – down south across the border on the train. Sadly, that is no longer an option.

A good alternative is vegetarian haggis, but many of the store-bought varieties contain nuts – a severe problem with a nut allergy in the family. So, this year I’ve decided that I would make my own nut-free vegetarian haggis.


Vegetarian Haggis (nut-free)
Serve with bashed neeps and tatties. Translation: mashed swede (= rutabaga) and potatoes. Or, serve with the Orkney speciality clapshot – a mixture of swede and potato. Be sure to toast the haggis with a glass of single malt!

  • 4 shallots
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 oz. (2 Tablespoons) butter
  • 2 cups chopped chestnut mushrooms (approximately 8 oz.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 carrots
  • 1/2 cup red lentils
  • 2 to 2-1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup cooked cannellini beans
  • 1/2 cup pinhead (steel cut) oatmeal
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt
  • 1 egg

Prepare vegetables: finely chop the shallots, mash the garlic, roughly chop the mushrooms, and peel and coarsely grate the carrots.


In a large heavy bottom pot, sauté the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add the mashed garlic, stir and cook for a minute. Add the mushrooms and cook until they have given up their water. When the water has evaporated and the mushrooms are beginning to brown, add the spices and dried herbs. Do not be tempted to substitute the fresh herb for the dried basil – this has an entirely different taste. Stir and let cook for a minute before adding the lentils and carrots. Pour on 2 cups of hot vegetable stock. Stir to mix, cover and simmer on low for about 20 minutes – until the lentils are soft.


Uncover, add the mashed cannellini beans and the oatmeal, stirring until incorporated. Simmer gently for about 15 minutes, adding more stock if needed. Stir occasionally to prevent it sticking to the bottom. The object is to cook the oats so that they absorb all the liquid. Add the juice from the lemon; adjust seasoning by adding salt. Let cool. The haggis can be made a day ahead at this point. Refrigerate to store, but bring back up to room temperature before proceeding to the next stage. In fact, as with many stews and soups, letting it sit overnight allows the spicy mixture to meld and mature.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and butter a loaf-sized casserole dish (a terrine is best). Beat the egg and mix in with the cooled haggis. Pack into the prepared casserole. Cover with foil or if the casserole has a lid, use this. Place in a larger casserole dish and pour in water to reach half way up the side of the haggis casserole. Place in heated oven and bake in this bain-marie (water bath) for 40 to 50 minutes.


Note: The mixture also makes a good base for a vegetarian “shepherd’s” pie – to be eaten any time, not just on January 25th.


    • Och weel, ye make bashed neeps and tatties with yer chappin tree or tattie-bittle [both mean potato masher]. Lowland Scots is great fun. My mother-in-law’s speech was peppered with it + we have several Scots dictionaries kicking around the house. Happy Burns Night to you as well!


  1. When we lived in Scotland (pre kids) I tried haggis but it wouldn’t sit right. We found a wonderful cafe that made their own vegetarian haggis which I loved…you have bought back fond memories, thank you!


    • The important thing is that you tried traditional haggis! I’ve had many different types of vegetarian haggis over the years and I also love them. This one is equally as good. I remembered something my mother-in-law said about haggis seasoning – that it should be peppery and that the secret ingredient (other than oats) was dried basil. I tried to do her proud. Have a wee dram tonight for Rabbie Burns!


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