A Christmas feast even Santa wouldn’t forget!
Growing up watching Disney movies, and having lived in London, I have always loved the winter festivities surrounding Christmas. Christmas carols playing in restaurants, malls and shops gives a celebratory kick to the cold winters.
Twinkling green pine, spruce or fir trees with fake snowflakes and buntings lit the hearts and house space of so many. The old age tradition of celebrating the winter solstice, red-cheeked Santa Claus, chariots, appreciative giveaways, culture specific dinners are all marks of peace, compassion, happiness and laughter. And that is exactly what we need right now!
Globally, the need of the hour is huge chunks of peace, topped with heavy creams of compassion, a soothing drink of happiness, and last but not the least, sweet, decadent and comforting warm bites of squealing happiness and laughter!
Gastronomically, every country follows its own traditions of Christmas meals, and I want to follow the tradition of spreading happiness at a time when our country is engulfed in misery, hopelessness and dejection.
Let’s start with our Roasted Reds Soup
Warm, red and wholesome, just like Santa, this soup is a gift. A comfort to combat the chills outside, this is the perfect start to a meal. Roasted peppers and tomatoes are blitzed with garlic and simmered gently until thick. Served with parmesan slivers, it is an explosion of flavours and merriment.
Ingredients: (Generous serving for one)
Red pepper – 100 grams
Tomatoes – 200 grams
Garlic – 3 cloves
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Chicken or vegetable stock – 1½ cup
Seasoning (Salt, pepper and paprika)
Grated Parmesan cheese
1. Slice the red pepper and tomatoes lengthwise, getting rid of the seeds. Spread out on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil.
2. Wrap the garlic cloves in aluminium foil and put on the same baking tray as the tomatoes and pepper.
3. Bake in a pre-heated oven of 180 C (350 F) for 40 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft and gleaming.
4. Unwrap the foil and skin the garlic cloves. Blitz together with the roasted vegetables.
5. Take a medium saucepan and add the stock, roasted vegetable mixture and seasoning and stir well. Once it is mixed well together, let the soup simmer for half an hour.
5. Taste and season again before giving it a final stir and then remove from stove.
6. Pour the soup in a soup bowl, top with your choice of accompaniments. Sprinkle a few grinds of black pepper and slurp away.
Moving on we shall make our very special Grilled Fish
Just like a beautifully decorated tree at Christmas, this grilled fish, lightly crusted with bread crumbs and parmesan, is the highlight of the meal. This recipe can easily be multiplied according to the number of guests. Tender, flaky and baked till crispy, the snapper shines through and through. Happiness meter tolls loudly!
Ingredients: (Serves one)
Red Snapper – 150 grams
Olive oil – 2 tbsp
Lemon juice – 1 tbsp
Garlic paste – 1 tsp
Fresh thyme – 1 tsp (dried thyme can be used as an alternative)
Crushed red chillies – A pinch
Salt and Pepper – According to taste
Spring onion – 1 (white end, finely chopped and sautéed)
Cherry tomato – 1 (sautéed)
Breadcrumbs – 2 tbsp
Parmesan cheese – 1 tbsp
Garlic paste – ½ tsp
Salt and Pepper – A pinch
1. Combine all marinating ingredients in a bowl and soak the piece of fish in it. Do not marinate for more than two to three minutes.
2. Cook the fish on a smoking grill for about 30 to 40 seconds on each side.
3. Top with the sautéed spring onion and cherry tomato
4. Combine the crust topping ingredients in a bowl, smother the grilled fish with the topping and stick it in a pre-heated oven 180 C (375 F) for about 30 to 40 seconds or until the top is golden brown.
5. Serve immediately with your choice of vegetables.
A bite of lightly salted crust on top and the moist flaky fish at the bottom with the subtle aroma of fresh thyme was truly an “Europeanised” experience.
To top of that delicious meal, we mustn’t forget our dessert: Date pudding with Toffee sauce
Aah! Sticky toffee and date pudding! What a complete comfort dessert. Best made for friends and eaten with friends. A brilliant soothing burst of tender dates and sticky toffee sauce.
Ingredients: (Makes 8-10 muffins)
Pitted dates – 210 grams
Boiling water – 1 cup
Baking soda – 1 tsp
Butter – 100 grams (chopped)
Brown sugar – 135 grams
Eggs – 2
Flour – 150 grams
Baking powder – 1 tsp
Butter – 150 grams (chopped)
Cream – 250 millilitres
Brown sugar – 265 grams
1. Combine the pitted dates, boiling water and baking soda in a bowl and set aside for five minutes.
2. Pour the date mixture, butter and brown sugar in a food processor and mix until mixed well.
3. Add the eggs, flour and baking powder and mix again until mixed.
4. Pour the mixture into a well-greased and lined tin (I used a muffin tin) and bake in a pre-heated oven 180 C (350 F) for 35 minutes.
5. Once done (use a skewer to check doneness), cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then tip out the muffins.
6. To make the sauce, combine butter, cream and brown sugar in saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted. Bring to boil and let it cook for five minutes until aromatic and thickened slightly.
7. Place the muffins in the serving plate and spoon the warm sauce over it.
These can be made ahead and warmed later for serving. It can be refrigerated in an airtight container for three to four days. If you wish to refrigerate the toffee sauce, one can do so for seven to eight days.
And last but not least, no Christmas is complete without Hot Chocolate
Whenever I am happy and I want to share my happiness with my best buddy, chocolate is the way to go. Can’t complain, it has always been by my side. And this smooth, thick slurpy drink is the perfect thing you need on a cold Christmas afternoon. Easy to prepare, this warm concoction washes down the flavours you have ingested, and one leaves with comforting chocolate flavours in their mouth, mind and heart. Happiness meter at its highest!
Ingredients: (Makes one large cup)
Milk – 1 cup
Bitter chocolate – 25 grams (I used 50% cocoa content)
Sugar – 1 tbsp
Vanilla essence – ¼ tsp
Marshmallows – as many as you wish
1. Take a small pan and pour in milk with chocolate pieces, sugar and vanilla essence. Cook on a medium flame.
2. Keep stirring occasionally so that the chocolate does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
3. One the chocolate has melted, stir well with a whisk, and pour into your mug or cup. And of course, slurp away!
Food has always been the central magnet pulling families together. It makes one put aside their engagements, sit around and bond with each other all the while savouring homemade delicacies. Food does not have to be complex in preparation or eating – but yes, it is incumbent for it to be a huge source of happiness.
I must beg leave of you now and prep up some happiness sharing meals of my own. Here’s wishing all the readers an enormously happy, peaceful and festive Christmas day and a Happy New Year. May it be a year of contentment, calmness and constructive relationships!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.