For those who celebrate Christmas, the meal eaten to mark the holiday can be as important as the ritual of exchanging gifts or decorating a green tree.
South Asians, of course, make food center stage at any occasion, and many have come to embrace the tradition of Christmas dinner, whether they’re Hindu, Muslim or Christian. But just as Indians adjust Western dishes to their tastes – like adding cilantro to pasta or green chili to grilled cheese – so do they “Indianize” Christmas food classics.
Saira Malhotra, a recipe developer based in New York and founder of the food site Passport Pantry, recalled how many Indians in her hometown of London would use tandoori masala and ginger to marinate the traditional British meal of turkey, fearing the traditional holiday recipes might not stand up to a palate accustomed to spice.
A plate of meat with mint jelly and roasted potatoes might sound like a nice enough meal, but for many South Asians it can be a bit bland. An Indian chef might add roasted cumin to the potatoes, chilies in the chutney and a crust of mango powder on the meat.
It’s easy to get creative with Indian-fusion renditions of Christmas dishes, and Ms. Malhotra has a few recipes she recommends to bring the two cultures together on one plate.
Habanero Savory Cheesecake
This cheesecake, served as an appetizer or side dish, combines Christmas elements, like the rosemary crust, with plenty of heat.
1 packet of rosemary crackers (1½ cups crushed)
1 stick softened butter
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces sour cream
16 ounces cream cheese (2 regular-sized packs)
5 ounces blue cheese
4 tablespoons habanero jelly (or any other chili jelly)
Fresh cracked pepper
For the crust:
As the oven heats to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, crush the crackers with the butter and pack tightly against the base of a nine-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the cheese filling:
1. Beat the salt, sour cream, cream cheese and cornstarch. Add the blue cheese and combine well. Add the eggs one at a time, combining thoroughly each time. Swirl in half the habanero jelly and black pepper.
2. Pour mixture over the cooled crust and bake for one hour. Do not overcook the cheesecake or it will lose its creaminess. Once the cheesecake is set on the sides and wobbly in the middle, it is done.
3. Remove and cool completely. It will continue to stiffen as it cools. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least four hours. Spread remaining habanero jelly on top before serving.
Mango and Ginger Chutney
The sweetness of the mango works well with savory dishes, and the sharpness of the ginger and spices balances the richness of a roasted ham or a charcuterie and cheese plate.
3 pounds ripe Mexican mangoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 fresh red or green chilies, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
14 ounces rice wine vinegar
14 ounces jaggery, broken into small pieces (if you can’t find jaggery at your ethnic specialty store, substitute brown sugar)
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon each of cumin seeds, coriander powder (or crushed coriander seeds), fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds
6 whole peppercorns
1. Sterilize the pickling jars in boiling water.
2. Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Add the cumin, fenugreek and nigella seeds, coriander, cloves and whole peppercorns. Allow the spices to turn a couple of shades darker.
3. Sauté the onions and fresh chilies in the same pan until the onions are translucent. Add the jaggery/sugar and vinegar and allow the sweetening agent to fully dissolve.
4. Add the mangoes, bring to a boil and turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook for approximately 1 hour or until the chutney has thickened. The mango will have become translucent at this point and will have a sheen to it.
5. Fill the sterilized jars while the chutney is still hot and seal them.
Roasted Yams with Spice Crust
The spices provide complexity to this typically one-toned side dish, thanks to the contrasting components of flavor.
3 pounds yams
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 whole dried red chilies or ½ teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
¼ cup of olive oil
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In the meantime, boil water in a large pot and add the whole yams with the skin. Boil yams until halfway tender (approximately 10 minutes). (Be careful not to overcook the yams as they will swell with water and not hold their shape.) Cut into wedges with the skin on and cool.
2. To toast the spices, heat a pan and add the coriander, cumin seeds and red chilies. Toast until the essential oils release and an aroma emerges. Break down the spices and chilies with a mortar and pestle.
3. Coat yam wedges with the oil and spices. Fully cook the yams in the oven, approximately 15 minutes, until golden brown with a nice crust.
Warm Potato and Bacon Salad
This spin on classic potato salad benefits from the zing from smoked paprika. It works well as a side dish but also is a nice accompaniment to cold cuts.
1½ pounds new potatoes
½-pound slab of bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 shallots, finely diced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon mustard
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1. Bring the potatoes to a boil, starting them off in cold water. Sauté the bacon, then remove with slotted spoon. In the bacon fat, sauté shallots until translucent.
2. For the dressing: Shake the vinegar, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, mustard, salt and pepper and paprika in a bottle. (The bacon can be quite salty so use a light hand with the salt.)
3. Once potatoes are tender (10-15 minutes), cut them in half and toss the potatoes with the dressing while they are still warm. Combine the crème fraîche, shallots, bacon and 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat with the warm potatoes. Sprinkle chives before serving.
Sticky Toffee and Cardamom Pudding
Cardamom adds a floral note to a British classic.
For sticky toffee and pecan sauce:
1 ounce chopped pecans
6 ounces soft brown sugar
6 tablespoons double cream
4 ounces margarine
For date and cardamom cake:
3 ounces margarine, room temperature
5 ounces sugar
6 ounces self-raising flour
2 ounces finely sliced dates
½ teaspoon vanilla essence
½ teaspoon cardamom powder
2 teaspoons coffee essence, like Camp Coffee
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
9 cupcake cups
For the sauce:
Combine sugar, margarine, double cream and pecans in a saucepan over medium-low heat until the margarine has completely melted.
For date and cardamom cake:
1. As the oven warms to 350 Fahrenheit, beat margarine and sugar in a bowl, until fluffy.
2. In a separate bowl, add eggs and slowly whisk in the creamed margarine and sugar. Then fold in the flour (to incorporate air).
3. In a separate bowl, mix 6 fluid ounces of boiling water with vanilla essence, cardamom powder, bicarbonate of soda and coffee essence. Don’t be alarmed if the liquid becomes fizzy.
4. Stir the liquid into the butter, sugar, egg and flour mixture so that it forms a batter. Pour the batter into cupcake cups to about three-fourths full.
5. Sprinkle 4 slivers of dates on each pudding, then bake for approximately 15 minutes. Insert a skewer in the center, and if it comes out clean, your pudding is ready. Pour the toffee and pecan sauce over the pudding just before serving.