Guess What's Coming to (Christmas) Dinner?
Christmas dinner. What shall we make this year?
Roast beef for a crowd costs two tanks of gas. Had enough turkey at Thanksgiving. Ham is just ham, and crown roast of pork — so last year.
Get creative. Start in Bethlehem, two millennia ago.
Meat — more likely lamb than beef — was reserved for special occasions, according to “What Would Jesus Eat?” by Don Colbert, M.D.
Biblical Israel/Palestine subsisted on a Mediterranean diet: fish, bread made from assorted grains including barley, olives, olive oil, wild fowl, goat cheese, nuts (particularly almonds), vegetables, figs, dates, grapes, pomegranates and other fruits. Honey sweetened confections. The grape harvest was preserved as wine. Kosher dietary laws forbade eating pork, shellfish and other scavengers for health reasons.
Food was slow-simmered or grilled over an open fire.
No wonder the patriarchs lived past 100.
Let’s start with a semi-authentic dessert — date pudding, much like an apple crisp with ground almonds in the crumb crust. Even simpler: canned figs, their syrup spiked with brandy, drizzled with heavy cream and topped with toasted pistachios. Continue by strewing salad with pomegranate seeds; dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Serve a flatbread, like pita, or one leavened with sourdough starter.
Many of our Christmas customs come from England.
Before going there, be warned: Bob Cratchit’s Christmas goose makes a terrible mess.
First, the price. Then, fat rendered in torrents. Goose breast is dark, not light, like turkey. And, the (scrawny) breast cooks much quicker than the legs, meaning you must cut it away before the legs are done to be reheated before serving.
Beef eaters might lessen the cost by serving Christmas kabobs: marinated sirloin chunks alternating with red and green peppers on the skewer. Or, an herbed beef burgundy stew served in crocks, topped with dollops of creamy garlic mashed potatoes with slender whole green beans on the side.
Thrill-seekers gravitate toward tur-duc-ken, now available Cajun-style. This aberration (yes, I’ve tasted it) leaves me speechless — a good thing, since my only word is, “Why?”
You’re paying $60 for labor and shock value, not flavor. Everyone knows what chicken tastes like. Better to buy a small turkey and a large duck; roast both, carve, arrange on a plate. Call it durkey.
I have experienced a wonderful holiday dinner where the main course was a rich turkey pie: chunks of tender simmered turkey and tiny white onions in cream gravy with a thick biscuit crust.
At another, the host brought a huge wok filled with steaming seafood paella to the table, along with baked saffron rice dotted with toasted pine nuts.
Golden brown Cornish hens make a jolly presentation plated on a bed of braised red cabbage and sweetened roasted cranberries.
Mediterranean purists should consider baking a stuffed fish, more likely two sides of boned salmon, tied together, with lemon-dill-French bread stuffing in between The hunters will want their venison roast.
Horror of horrors: Icelanders sometimes partake of reindeer. In Norway, expect cracklin’ pork belly.
Many families feast on Christmas Eve, followed by an informal brunch the next morning — and a light supper.
Really, the menu shouldn’t matter as long as it’s festive. Because at Christmas, like other celebrations, what’s on the table counts less than what’s on the chairs.
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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