Christmas is a season of hospitality, extending an invitation, and receiving others into our homes. It is a festival full of culture and tradition. Opening up the curtains and lighting candles to shine through, so people outside can experience the love of Christmas.
Sharing meals with friends and family is a favorite pastime. Regardless of the size, décor and meals served, everyone should experience Christmas. With the vast varieties of well-known Christmas dishes, there are ample opportunities to introduce new ideas into our culinary traditions. That is the beauty of the Christmas meal – it can be reborn again and again.
This year I have been exploring the shifting culinary patterns and “food fashion,” such as climate-smart food. Sustainability was a leading food movement in 2021 and continues to prevail.
With the ever expanding choices of sustainable ingredients, we are offered exotic flavors and spices to rev-up our dishes. And with the tapering of meat consumption, there are still numerous ways to make your favorite traditional meal even merrier.
Here are some global ingredients that I have been playing with recently. Try them and discover the jolly in these under-appreciated spices:
Blade Mace for preparing sauces
Fennel Pollen to season vegetables and soups
Black Cardamom enhances biryani and stews
Hibiscus to flavor marmalade
Garlic Scape pureed in pesto
Porcini Powder the ultimate umami for risotto and pasta
Nigella seeds sprinkled on potato salad
Urfa Biber as a rub.
Don’t forget your baked goods! Spices bring joy to traditionally savory baked dishes. Today chefs are experimenting with fruity habanero, and chipotle. Smoky and peppery notes from Thai and Mediterranean spices are in demand. Ancient grains and plant-forward meals are pushing careful-cuisine. There are many mindful options available as I have discovered in my conversations with global chefs.
Another item to look for is Vegan Caviar. A classic luxury, this version is made from soft kelp and flavored with nori, sea minerals and sea salt. A perfect treat to top off canapés and enjoy a with a glass of champagne. You won’t even need to use a Mother of Pearl Spoon for this product as there is no sturgeon involved, hence no alarm of oxidation or wastage!
Vegetarian/Vegan Wellingtons are a perfect alternative for non-meat eaters. The presentation is enticing and the delicate, yet rich, flaky, crispy texture is decadent. Chefs have been experimenting with a variety of fillings other than the ubiquitous mushroom. Chestnuts, puy lentils, sweet potato, beetroots, kale, parsnips prepared with different herbs, spices, and nuts, come into play to complete this entrée. This is sure to be the star on your Christmas table.
Looking back and recalling some of the recipes we used in the kitchen at Stanford Hospital for Midnight Holiday Meals, brings to mind quinoa stuffed acorn squash as the vegetarian entrée. This was a favorite with all the guests and there were never any leftovers.
Here is my deviation for “Roasted Acorn Squash with Pearl Couscous (also called Ptitim, made with semolina flour), Pomegranate & Almonds, topped with Homemade Vegan Ricotta”:
Ingredients: 1 medium size acorn squash (substitute with baby pumpkins), sliced into halves from tip to stem, seeds and stringy fibers all removed. Extra-virgin olive oil, ½ cup pearl couscous, 1 cup water, 1 small clove minced garlic, ¼ cup finely diced red onion, ¼ cup finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, ¼ teaspoon ground cumin, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, ¼ cup pomegranate seeds, ¼ cup slivered almonds, ¼ cup raisins, pinch of ground cinnamon, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, salt & smoked paprika to season, 2 tablespoons vegan ricotta.
Preparation: Do this step as the squash is roasting. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium heat add couscous & stir to coat until lightly toasted. Add garlic & onion, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, salt & paprika, continue to sauté till onions have sweated & lightly browned – about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of water or broth & let simmer till water is absorbed and couscous is cooked through – about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, add raisins, parsley, lemon juice & almonds. Keep this warm and allow the flavors to amalgamate whilst the acorns are roasting.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan, with parchment paper, Place squash cut side up on baking sheet, drizzle 1 teaspoon oil over each half, sprinkle salt & rub all over the outside of the squash halves. Turn over bake until flesh is easily pierced through about 30 to 40 minutes uncovered.
Service: Plate the acorn, add ready couscous, top with a couple of spoons of homemade ricotta and garnish with a few sparking gems of pomegranate.
Vegan Ricotta Cheese (equivalent to homemade ‘Paneer’ (Indian Ricotta Cheese), with the exception of cow’s milk.
Ingredients: 4 cups soy milk or almond milk or cashew milk, soy milk has the most neutral taste, I prefer using almond milk for the sweetness, which lends a balanced flavor profile. 1 tsp. Salt, 4 tablespoons lemon juice.
Method: Pour your choice of milk in large pot, bring to a boil whilst stirring. Turn off heat as soon as it comes to a boil, add salt and lemon juice, keep stirring for a minute or 2, the milk should slowly start curdling. Set aside for 10 minutes and the milk will have completely curdled.
Use a large strainer over a bowl, place a cheesecloth/muslin cloth over the strainer. Pour curdled milk into the strainer through the cheese cloth. Wrap the cloth with the curds in it put a weight on top, let drain completely – about 30 minutes. You can prepare this ahead and place it in a glass container in the refrigerator. Have fun flavoring it with fresh herbs, olive oil & or spices for savory dishes.
For more recipes and stories bring your holiday spirit home with you, share the love of Christmas with friends with a gift that keeps on giving, my book:
“Seva, The Art of Hospitality”, available at Amazon, the Stanford Healthcare Gift Shop in Palo Alto, and Scanshop in Luxembourg.
The joy of Christmas brings us hope & peace, the spirit of Christmas fills our hearts with love!