Tinged with nostalgia and fuelled with love, cooking and feasting form the cornerstones of festivities. Treat yourself to an appetising journey with these celebratory sweet and savoury treats from around the world, while recreating some much-loved family recipes.
By CHAITALI PATEL
MINCE PIES, UNITED KINGDOM
Delightful and dainty, mince pies are a much-loved English Christmas dish and a must-have at Yuletide events. While the name suggests they are savoury in nature, these pies are filled with minced dry fruits, sweetened with sugar, and flavoured with spices and a dash of brandy. Although, back in the day, these pies were filled with ground meat. Today, popular fillings include raisins, currants, cranberries, and apples. In keeping with the celebratory theme, the pie is topped with a star- or snowflake-shaped pastry. Dusted with icing sugar, they are beautiful to look at and encapsulate Christmas on a plate.
SPICED HOT CHOCOLATE, PERU
Few things beat the joy of wrapping one’s hands around a mug of hot chocolate. In Peru, one of the world’s largest producers of cacao, Christmas celebrations are incomplete without steaming cups of this sinfully delicious delight. Curiously, Peru’s location in the southern hemisphere means that Christmas is celebrated in the summer. But that doesn’t deter people from savouring this warm beverage! The addition of heady cinnamon, aromatic cloves, and fragrant nutmeg takes this rich, creamy, and very sweet drink up several notches. Vanilla or orange peel add further depth. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, locals come together to host ‘chocolatadas’—a tradition
of giving away free cups of hot chocolate and panetón, a sweet bread similar to a fruit cake, to children and the disadvantaged.
MALVA PUDDING, SOUTH AFRICA
Moist, soft, caramelised, laced with apricot jam, and usually eaten with a dollop of cream or ice-cream, this cake is a holiday staple in South Africa. A buttercream sauce is poured over this spongy treat while it’s still hot to bestow it with a gooey decadence that befits the festive season. It’s often spiked with Amarula, a South African liqueur made from the marula fruit that’s native to Africa. Many theories abound about how the cake got its name—from its original accompaniment, Malvasia wine, to a woman named Malva. In 2006, this dish shot to the limelight when Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef Art Smith served it at The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy’s Christmas dinner.
The definition of sweet comfort in a bowl! A humble dish of three to four ingredients, the phirni stands out for its simple-yet-spectacular taste. Coarsely ground rice is cooked in milk and sweetened with sugar till the mixture reaches a thick, creamy consistency. Traditionally, phirni is flavoured with rose water or kewra but, nowadays, fruit-flavoured concoctions are also popular. Once cooled, the mixture is ladled into small earthen pots and refrigerated. The pots are essential as the clay containers soak any extra moisture, while also adding a subtle, earthy taste to the dish. Considered to be a Mughal legacy in India, it’s similar to dishes such as the Iranian fereni and Arab muhallebi.
BUTTER TARTS, CANADA
This humble dessert is an obsession in Canada, and every family has its own unique recipe. As the name suggests, each tart is a pie crust filled with a mixture of eggs, butter, syrup, vanilla, and sugar. It’s baked till the casing turns a golden-brown, while the centre remains soft and creamy. The syrup can be made with corn or maple. What goes inside the tart is a topic of much contention! These can include
a handful of currants, walnuts, raisins, or pecans, depending on personal preferences.
White Chocolate Cardamom Bonbons
by Chef Vanshika Bhatia, OMO Café
White chocolate 90 gm
Vanilla or orange sponge 70 gm
Butter 10 gm
Green cardamom 2 pods (crushed)
Chopped nuts 20 gm
Extra white chocolate (to garnish)
Break sponge into crumbs. Next, melt white chocolate and butter together. Mix this with the broken sponge using a light touch; don’t over mix or press too much. Make 30-gm balls with the mixture. Keep in the fridge to let it set. Once set, drizzle with melted white chocolate. Finish with a sprinkling of crushed nuts and cardamom powder.
Festivals, weddings, or parties—this regal, aromatic, and flavourful rice preparation is considered to be the star of the table at multifarious celebratory occasions. Made with fragrant, long-grain basmati rice, succulent pieces of meat—chicken, mutton, fish, and prawn—or just vegetables, including jackfruit, seasoned with a medley of spices, and cooked to perfection, the biryani stirs up much emotion and debate. While the dish most likely originated in Persia, there’s no single recipe for making a biryani, and every region in India uses their own unique mix of ingredients and techniques for it. What is common to all well-made biryanis, though, is that they are intense labours of love!
JANSSONS FRETELSE, SWEDEN
If a dish has the word ‘temptation’ in its name, it’s bound to be all things delicious! And Janssons fretelse (temptation), a Swedish casserole, delivers on all counts. It is popularly believed to have been named after a well-known opera singer who loved food and, presumably, the dish. Part of the Christmas julbord (a traditional Swedish smorgasbord of warm and cold dishes), it features layers of potato cut into thin strips, onions, sprats (small, oily fish), and cream topped with breadcrumbs, which are baked till the top turns a crackling golden-brown. The tiny, spice-cured sprats raise the flavour of this simple dish. A hearty holiday treat!
Bajra Aur Gur Ki Kheer
by Chef Vivek Rana, The Claridges
Whole bajra 100 gm (soaked overnight)
Milk 300 gm
Water 200 gm Gur (jaggery) 200 gm
Almonds, cardamom (to garnish)
Soak bajra overnight. Coarse grind it and remove the husk. Then, boil or pressure cook till half-cooked. Add milk and cook till it thickens and the bajra is soft. Add gur, and garnish with cardamom and almonds. Serve hot or cold.
CHEF’S TIP: Serve it chilled with a hot jalebi.
Hanukkah (the Jewish Festival of Lights that falls in December) celebrations are incomplete without these delicious, crispy latkes or potato pancakes fried in oil. Legend has it that, in order to rededicate a temple, the Jewish people lit a menorah (seven-branched candelabrum) for eight days but discovered that they only had enough oil to last a day. To their surprise, a small part of the menorah continued to burn for eight whole days! This miracle is celebrated by feasting on fried foods and the lighting of menorahs. Every family has its own special latke recipe that mostly encompasses ingredients such as potatoes, onions, flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs.
If red is the colour of Christmas, then the barszcz, a traditional Polish soup, embodies the theme perfectly. Made by cooking beetroots in vegetable broth, and served with small mushroom dumplings called uszka, the soup is the first of 12 dishes (denoting the 12 apostles) that comprise a typical Christmas Eve supper in Poland. Interestingly, all the dishes at this feast are free of meat. The clear, deep-red broth is flavoured with a variety of spices and herbs including fresh marjoram. The sweetness of the beetroots is perfectly balanced with vinegar and lemon juice. Another key ingredient is brine from pickled beets. It’s a passionately red affair!
Jamie Oliver’s Eggnog
Whole milk 600 ml
Cardamom 2 pods (crushed)
Cinnamon 1 stick
Clove 2 pieces
Vanilla pod 1 piece
Dark chocolate 100 gm
Honey 3 tbsp
Nutmeg ¼ piece
Cocoa powder 2 tbsp
Double cream 200 ml
Salt to taste
Simmer milk and infuse with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. Separate the egg whites and yolks. Sprinkle salt on the egg whites and beat till they are stiff. Add honey, nutmeg, and cocoa powder to the yolks, and beat. Melt the dark chocolate and combine with the yolk mixture. To this, add the infused milk and whisk. Add the double cream and egg whites and whisk in an ‘8’ movement. Serve warm or chilled.