A Hearty Christmas Feast
The magic of the season is in dining together
A few years ago, I came across a story titled ‘Thanksgiving in Mongolia’. It was a heartbreaking account of a woman who travels to Ulaanbaatar and suffers a miscarriage there. But it’s the title that stayed with me. ‘Thanksgiving in Mongolia’—I imagined a traveller sitting down for dinner in a cosy house in some remote part of the country. Her hosts don’t generally celebrate the holiday but they’ve put up rudimentary decorations and prepared a special meal to make their guest feel at home.
Since I do not celebrate Thanksgiving, the decorations in the imagined Mongolian hosts’ dining area transmuted into hollies and mistletoes. Every Christmas, this image reminds me to be grateful for the many families I have made away from home. Instead of going back to the nostalgic idea of a festival and desperately trying to recreate and recapture it, the holidays become an acknowledgement of the journeys I have made and the special people I have encountered along the way.
Here are some tips to be good ‘Mongolian’ hosts:
Call friends over. You can’t be hostus mostus if you don’t have guests. Celebrations on Christmas Eve are more religious in nature with believers attending midnight Mass. The feast is generally an afternoon affair on Christmas Day.
Decorate your house
There’s no dearth of decorations available in the market, from artificial pine trees to preassembled nativity scenes. You don’t have to buy them, though. Making decorations from scratch is a fun way to involve the little ones.
Play some carols
No one heralds Christmas the way Jim Reeves does with his mellow baritone. Reeves’s album Twelve Songs of Christmas is the only playlist you need for your get-together.
The Christmas Feast
Make a hearty meal. Contrary to popular imagination, a whole roast turkey or a suckling pig is not a staple Christmas meal. Food practices are more about region than religion. While Goans may feast on vindaloo (pork marinated with vinegar and spices), the Christians of Meghalaya turn to their favourite dohneiiong (pork with black sesame). Duck moile, made by marinating duck meat in bottle masala (a blend of 30 spices), is central to the East Indian household, while mutton biryani is the hero in an Andhra home. Even the cakes are local. Puducherry’s vivikam cake, for instance, is made with roasted semolina and coconut milk, while the Allahabadi Christmas cake has petha (ash-gourd candy) and local marmalade as ingredients.
When planning your menu, it’s good to stick with cuisines you are familiar with and/or your guests are comfortable eating.
Serve Some Warmth
If you live in a part of the country where alcohol consumption is not prohibited, you can serve the classics: mulled wine (see below) and eggnog. If you don’t want to serve alcohol, warm apple cider is a great hit with adults, while hot cocoa is a universal favourite.
750 ml red wine or port wine
100 ml gin
1 large cinnamon stick
2 star anise pods
2 strips lemon zest
- Put the wine, spices and lemon zest in a large pan and simmer over low heat for 10–12 mins.
- Remove from heat and cool.
- When ready to serve, heat without boiling and stir in the gin. Serve warm.
Recipe courtesy Chef Jinson Varghese, Mahabelly, New Delhi
THARAVU (DUCK) ROAST
2 kg of duck, cut into 12–15 pieces
3 tbsp of sliced fresh ginger
12 cloves of garlic, sliced
6 green chillies, chopped
12 curry leaves
3 tbsp of vinegar
2 tbsp of crushed black peppercorns
2 tbsp of salt
12 cups of water
½ cup of coconut oil
4 large onions, sliced
For the spice powder
Warm 6 cardamom pods, 5 whole cloves and a 2-inch cinnamon stick slightly in a small, dry skillet and then grind to a powder.
- Put the duck, spice powder and all the ingredients, except for oil and onions, in a heavy-bottomed pot. Cover the pot partially and cook the duck for 20–30 minutes over low heat.
- Remove the pot from the stove once the duck is tender and the gravy reduced to about 2 cups. Take out the duck pieces and reserve the gravy.
- Fry the sliced onions in a large skillet. When they turn golden brown, take them out of the oil and set aside. In the same oil, fry the duck pieces in batches for 4–5 minutes, until they brown. Keep the pieces aside.
- When all the pieces have been fried, pour the gravy into the oil and cook for 2 minutes, or until it has slightly thickened. Add the duck and the fried onions, stir and cook for 5 minutes, until the meat is coated with the gravy.
Recipe adapted at Mahabelly, New Delhi, from The Suriani Kitchen (Westland).