Nigel Slater’s vegetarian Christmas recipes. Crunchy salads, creamy soups and tangy puddings. Who needs a turkey when meat-free dishes are as tasty as this?

Baked aubergines with rice and saffron.

A complex dish of layered aubergines, rice and spices inspired by the classic biryani. Not a difficult dish to make, but worth taking your time over. When you break the pastry crust at the table, the scent of warm sweet spices wafts up. Pastry crust aside, the dish reheats rather well the following day too.

Serves 4
white onions 2
red onion 1
fresh ginger 60g, grated
groundnut oil 10 tbsp
aubergines 350g
cardamom 12 pods
ground coriander 2 tsp
ground turmeric 2 tsp
dried chilli flakes 1 tsp
ground black pepper 1 tsp
cloves 5
vegetable stock 500ml, hot
white basmati rice 300g
saffron 2 generous pinches

For the crust
puff pastry 225g
egg 1, beaten, to seal and glaze

To finish
golden sultanas 40g
pomegranate seeds of 1
yogurt 150ml

Peel the onions and roughly chop them. Peel the ginger and grate coarsely. Warm 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large, deep casserole (you will use it to bake and serve the dish), add the onions and ginger and let them cook for 15-20 minutes until soft and pale gold in colour. Remove the onions from the pan.

Slice the aubergines in half lengthways, then in half lengthways again. Cut each piece into 3cm lengths. Warm the remaining oil in the pan then add the aubergines and let them cook, turning them from time to time till lightly and evenly browned.

Crack the cardamom pods and pull out the small black seeds. Crush the seeds to a coarse powder using a spice mill or pestle and mortar. Add the ground cardamom, coriander, turmeric, chilli flakes, pepper and cloves to the pan. Cook for a minute or two to toast the spices, return the onions to the pan, then pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Wash the rice three times in warm water then drain and transfer to a small pan to which you have a lid. Cover the rice with enough water to come 3cm above the rice, season with salt then bring to the boil. Lower the heat so the water simmers, add the saffron stamens, then cover with the lid and leave to cook for about 10 minutes, until the water has evaporated and several small, deep holes have appeared on the surface. Remove the pan from the heat and fork the grains to separate them. The saffron will stain them a soft yellow. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Remove most of the aubergines from the pan, leaving about a third of them in place. Add about a third of cooked rice to the pan, followed by another of aubergines and then another of rice until the mixtures are finished.

Roll the pastry out to fit the top of the casserole, brush the edges with beaten egg, then lower the pastry into place and press firmly to seal it.

Brush the surface of the pastry with beaten egg and decorate with any remaining pastry cut into leaves, then bake for 25-30 minutes till the pastry has risen and browned.

To make the accompanying sauce, mix the sultanas, pomegranate seeds and yogurt and set aside.

Serve at the table, breaking the pastry and digging deep into the rice and aubergines. Serve with the pomegranate accompaniment.