I know that everyone is busy, but I would love to hear about your Christmas dinners past or present. I’ll start. I have been thinking about my Estonian grandmother’s Christmas dinners, which happened late in the evening on Christmas Eve. The funny thing is that I can only remember my favourite and my least favourite dishes.
My favourite was Ratsalia (I am spelling that phonetically). Ratsalia is a beet and potato salad with sour cream, green peas, onions and herring (pickled? Maybe smoked?) You’re probably thinking, “whoa that sounds like too much Eastern European flavour for me”, but trust me, it was good. It was also the most beautiful shade of little girl seducing pink in the world. I also remember braided sweet bread with cardamom. I guess it was challah bread? Its possible. My Ema used to speak fondly of a Jewish family that she knew in Estonia. I think that she worked for them. Anyway, the bread beautiful to look at and smelled like heaven. I also remember that my Ema would pour apricot brandy from her beautiful decanter into exquisite tiny glasses for her guests. It was the only time I ever saw anyone drink at her house. Her father had come to a bad end because of drinking, so she frowned on it generally. Although, I did find photos of her as a young woman drinking vodka with friends. They were smiling and holding each other up for the picture.
On the opposite end of my memory, we have headcheese. Yes. No Christmas dinner is complete without mysterious meats in a gelatin mold.
What strikes me as particularly odd is that I do not remember the main meat course or the dessert. My childhood ambitions revolved around the consumption of meat and desert because my mum did not eat or prepare either of these at home. It is a testament to the power of pink salad, cardamom and pretty glasses that I cannot recall the foods that were usually the whole focus of my childhood culinary energies.
My Grandpa Orr served dinner on Christmas day and it was an absolutely classic meal. He roasted a turkey and stuffed it with bread, applesauce, celery, onion and herbs. There were pickled beets. There were buttery mashed potatoes with gravy. There was an apple pie with a lard crust and usually a mincemeat pie (which has no meat in it…its raisins and sweet spices). Again though, my favourite food at Grandpa’s Christmas dinner was a salad! Grated carrots with miracle whip and raisins. It was as good as candy!
For the last few years I have spent Christmas at my husband’s father’s family gathering. It is large and festive and involves lots of great home cooked food with Southern flair (the green beans are so rich and delicious…its not natural). I am in the car on my way to Tennessee as I write this! I am thinking about what I would be making if I was cooking Christmas dinner, and only thing that I am pining to make is…another salad…Green salad with figs marinated in spiced wine, walnuts and blue cheese, to be exact. I will give you the recipe and make the salad for Christmas Eve dinner when we arrive.
See how this works? I started out just telling you a story and I ended up deciding to write down a recipe. I’d still like to hear about your Christmas meals, so leave a comment!
CHRISTMAS SALAD WITH FIGS MARINATED IN SPICED WINE, BLUE CHEESE AND TOASTED WALNUTS
(I got this recipe from The New Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, which is a great cookbook to own if you need fancy vegetarian recipes for very special occasions. Obviously, I am giving it to you from memory so it will be…um…adapted)
- 2 cups Dry Red Wine (it can be cheap, but it should still taste good)
- 1/3 cup sugar
- About seven whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Other spices that you like (Anise seed? Cardamom pods? Coriander seeds? Play!)
- Dried Black Mission Figs (3 or 4 per guest is good, plus a few extra to nibble on. You could always make extra to use later too!)
- Balsamic vinegar
- 1 small red onion (thinly sliced)
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil
- A bit of orange or lemon zest
- A head of radicchio
- A bunch of arugula
- A couple of Belgian Endives
- Other salad greens in addition to the ones listed above I sort of remember the original recipe calling for fresh basil leaves, which I can’t find at Christmas time so easily.
- Crumbly gorgonzola or blue cheese
- Lightly toasted walnuts
- Put the wine, sugar and spices in a non-reactive saucepan over medium high heat. Stir it occasionally to help the to sugar melt.
- While the syrup is forming pierce each fig with a fork.
- When the syrup boils add the figs and a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and let them simmer for about half an hour.
- When the figs are done, leave them in the syrup to marinate over night. If you need to speed this process, you can cut the stems off of the figs and slice them in half lengthwise.
- Pour a bit of the syrup into a mason jar to make a dressing. Add some more balsamic vinegar, some olive or walnut oil, a bit of citrus zest and some salt and pepper. Shake it up to see if the balance of flavours is right and add what you need to adjust.
- Rinse the onion in some cold water to take the edge of. Let it drain a bit and then add it to the dressing. The onion is better it’s a bit pickled.
- Wash, dry and rip the salad greens.
- Slice the figs in half lengthwise (if you have not done so already) and garnish the salad greens with the figs along with crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese, toasted walnuts, pickled onions and basil leaves.
- Drizzle with the salad dressing and serve!