Ever thought about breaking away from the traditional turkey, brussel sprouts, red cabbage, Christmas pud? Even as these words are written the idea of doing something different seems ever more bizarre. But why not? Just because it has always been that way, doesn’t mean that there can’t be a new approach.
So here are five festive dishes that you might just pop onto your Christmas menu this year. Each has a Mediterranean feel, and can easily be integrated with more traditional fare.
Number One – A Greek tradition for Christmas Eve
Rather than breaking out the mince pies, how about trying a delicious, sweet baklava? In the northern region of Thrace, a traditional sesame seed variety is baked just for Christmas Eve. This is a decadent dish, usually eaten at night as a sign that the traditional Christmas fast has ended, and was traditionally baked to a recipe that excluded eggs and diary (although, that might be a little too fiddly with all other Christmas jobs to do).
Number Two – Breakfast or starter – a wonderful take on salmon
With everything we are likely to be consuming over the course of the day ahead, starting December 25th with something light, but flavoursome, makes a lot of sense.
This salmon dish is also a really simple to prepare so won’t distract you from getting the turkey out of the bath, or whatever other crucial jobs await on Christmas morning. The dish is simply a griddled salmon steak rolled in olive oil and seasoned to taste. If it appeals more as the first course of the main meal, then the addition of a light salsa verde sets off the taste.
Number Three – Spanish Stew
The escudella, or Spanish stew, is a rustic Christmas main course of vegetables, pasta and chicken (in various guises, including as a sausage.) A tradition particularly associated with the Catalonian region, this is a filling, unctuous dish that might well be worth trialling with the family before foisting it upon them on Christmas Day. But, if Mediterranean flavours are what you love, then it doesn’t get much better than this.
Number Four – An Italian Dessert
We can’t offer alternatives for Christmas dishes without a sumptuous dessert from Italy. Amore di Natale is a family favourite which consists of Panettone, enlivened with cherries, chocolate, almonds, ricotta and a dash of Moscato, to ensure an afternoon nap for Granny.
It is easy to make, but does have to be prepared in advance. Light and flavoursome, it is the perfect alternative to a heavy Christmas pud.
Number Five – A New Year Celebration
Vasipolita is a Greek bread (or cake) based on the legend of St Basil, a Bishop who rescued his flock from the taxes of a greedy Emperor. When he got back the villain’s ill-gotten gains, he baked them in a bread and shared the resulting feast with his congregation. By some unexplained miracle, each member got back his own treasure.
Celebrated on New Year’s Day, because it marked the Bishop’s birthday, the tradition is a real family occasion. Everybody joins in the baking and eating (they happen on the same day). A coin is hidden inside, to represent the treasure, and the finder is guaranteed good luck for the year.