Here’s a simple question that may or may not cause controversy at your holiday dinner: “What if you did not do a traditional Christmas meal?” Do you think the earth would drain of its nearly three-fourths water content? Would Mount Vesuvius erupt again? Or more to the point would the people seated at your Christmas table have to be rushed to the Emergency Room stat, if you decided not to cook a Christmas ham, turkey or carrot cake this holiday season.
Of course, 2 out of 3 of these possibilities are definitely not happening but even if the shock of a non-traditional Christmas meal did somehow send your guests into a medical shock, it might still be worth it for your sanity. Sometimes traditions are just that—those ritual things we do over and over again. Sure some traditions are great and we don’t want to abandon them, but seriously, there are others that can be reconsidered or dusted off when appropriate.
So let’s deal with the Christmas meal. The Thanksgiving meal is so steeped in tradition and may be too much of an uphill battle. After all, we do love experiencing that turkey coma at least once a year. But Christmas…yes Christmas may have a little more leeway.
Find what feels right for you, when it comes to cooking. Live on the edge! (By the way this advice only concerns cooking, your author is quite conservative). Although cooking is simply a functional to-do item for many, don’t let that stop you from having fun in the kitchen. Think of it as experimentation and think of the kitchen as your lab where you can be the mad scientist you’ve always wanted to be. Although there are many wonderful traditions and recipes to follow. Your are not limited. my friend! So go on! Braise, broil, bake, barbecue, or grill because these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to achieving your gastronomic feats.
Considering Your Options…
Whatever you do it should feel good to your soul as well. So explore different cuisines and determine what spices make you happy. Determine what textures make your mouth feel alive. Maybe you’ll discover that flan really could replace your cheesecake or Peruvian chicken is more than capable of being the main bird on the table.
And here’s another thought…what if there was no main bird on the table? Think seafood! A well known-custom among Italian-Americans is the feast of the seven fishes. Our Italian American brothers and sisters won’t mind if you get in on that. The feast is usually done on Christmas Eve and includes seafood like anchovies, whiting, lobster, sardines, baccalà (dried salt cod), smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels and clams. If this seems like a lot, stop hyperventilating, just do your own version.
Include the seafood you want to make and maybe your version will be four instead of seven. And here’s a way to make things easier on yourself, see if a few select guest wouldn’t mind bringing a seafood dish as well? The menu may also include pasta, vegetables and baked goods.
Are you feeling the nontraditional thrill of it all? It can be as upscale as you want or as down-home as you want. Just make it fun and memorable. Admit it…this could be fun! Whatever meat you settle on—even if it’s a traditional turkey or ham—you can still achieve your goal with sides. Put your hands together, rub them back and forth and let out your most diabolical laugh, we’re entering mad scientist mode. Don’t worry, no harm no foul, you are just about to shake it up with all the possibilities of sides.
For the sides, you can go small by tossing out the regular rice and incorporating cauliflower rice. or you can go a little more dramatic by replacing your mashed potatoes and gravy with French Pommes Duchesse. These are piped potatoes that deliver a fancy schmancy side for your holiday meal. For a more down home potato side dish, look no further than to Denmark for their Braendende Kaerlighed. It’s a twist on mashed potatoes with some bacon and onions incorporated in the mix.
Traditions around the world
One more thing, and this is a great one! Christmas makes you want to feel all warm and cozy, and what better way to achieve that than with a stew? The French often includes beef stew with their Christmas dinner, but they are not the only ones. Head over to the great continent of Africa and you’ll find that a hearty African beef stew, is a staple for Christmas in many West African countries like Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana.
African beef stew is made with loads of tomatoes, spices and lots of oil to cut down the acidity of the tomatoes. You can use different cuts of beef (about 1 -2 lbs) and a scotch bonnet pepper is optional. Different countries have different interpretations with some using nuts, yams and even seafood along with the beef. It’s usually served with rice. Find your recipe and try it.
Sides, desserts, meat—it’s all open for negotiation to renovate and reinvigorate your Christmas meal and your joie de vivre. Take a chance and have fun! And no matter how it turns out, you can always say, “Remember that time when we did that non-traditional Christmas meal? It was awesome!!!”
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