What is Christmas? For some, it is all about joy or love. A time for giving and for getting, according to the iconic song. Apart from that, Christmas is also certainly a time for tradition. Truism? Maybe.
However, what is interesting about this statement is the fact that various people may interpret it in different ways. After all, traditions vary not only from country to country but also from family to family. Another feature of traditions is their constancy. It makes them what they are but may also lead to boredom.
If you are tired of serving the same old dishes each year, you have found a perfect place! There’s no time like right now, so let’s seek the most unusual Christmas dinner centerpieces together. Who knows, maybe you will make them and establish a tradition of your own?
Gourmetten, the Netherlands
The name sounds like a promise of something fancy, right? Well, that’s not exactly what the reality is. Rather than a single extravagant dish, it is a whole experience! If I were to compare to anything, Swiss raclette or a Korean BBQ would be good points of reference; Each of the people taking part in gourmetten gets a tiny raclette pan for frying their own meat and vegetables on a mini gas stove or grill. There’s a bit of preparation, but generally, it probably takes away some of the stress connected with Christmas cooking. How so?
It is connected with the Dutch gezelling philosophy. The term is impossible to translate fully, but it could be understood as cozy, friendly, and sociable. I mean, there’s nothing more pleasant and cozy than sharing and cooking simple snacks with your close ones. But what would you be cooking exactly? Different meats, fish, and vegetables, or even tiny omelets or pancakes! Apart from the pieces intended for frying, the tables are also full of salads, baguettes, and various sauces that you could add to your dish.
How this tradition came to be, nobody knows for sure. However, some speculate that gourmetten emerged in the Dutch East Indies, from where it came to the Netherlands. Others ascribe the staggering popularity to the former Dutch Meat office and their advertising campaign in the 70s.
The story says that for fear of being eclipsed by cheese products (fondue was getting popular), they decided to promote eating meat by teaching the Dutch people how to prepare it. To do so, two chefs toured the country. And it definitely paid off: gourmetten became an intrinsic part of Dutch Christmas. Who knows, it may become a part of yours too.
Kūčiukai (also called šližikai) are traditional Christmas cakes served in Lithuania on Kūčios, Christmas Eve dinner. Different regions of the country have their own names for this dish. In total, there are around 25 variations! No matter the name, the form stays more or less the same. They are small and slightly sweet pieces of leavened dough dotted with poppy seeds.
The list of ingredients for Kūčiukai is rather simple as it includes flour (usually wheat, sometimes barley or buckwheat), yeast, sugar, a drop of oil, poppy seeds, and salt.
Those small biscuits are as important during the holidays as the bread, worshipped in those regions since ancient times. As some ethnologists claim, Kūčiukai may be the old form of ritual bread intended for the souls of the deceased.
Kūčiukai are oftentimes served with a glass of milk aside. Since the old traditions forbade consuming animal products on Christmas Eve day, people drank poppy seed milk instead. Nowadays, in many parts of the country, this custom is no longer observed and dairy milk is used. Some people prefer to dunk the cakes in it before eating, while others treat the milk as a drink.
Anoush Abour, Armenia
The name of this dish means sweet soup. It has been present on Armenian New Year’s and Christmas feasts for centuries. Some even claim that it predates Christmas itself!
Anoush Abour is also referred to as Noah’s pudding. Legend has it that after 40 days and nights of continuous cruising through the waves, there were food shortages. Therefore, Noah decided to boil a huge pot of water and told everyone to bring him anything edible they could find (animals did not count!). Into the pot went wheat, dried fruit, and basically whatever else. While the dish was cooking, the rain ceased and the boat stopped on the mountain.
Just like the story about Noah can be found in the Bible and the Quran alike, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have their very own version of this dessert. Greeks call it Koliva and use it as a funeral food. There’s some weird running theme with those Christmas desserts and death, don’t you think?
Some describe Anoush Abour as a cooled thick pudding, others as hot breakfast cereal. What is sure about it is the fact that it is very versatile. Many recipes call for apricots, golden raisins, and almonds (silvered, whole, blanched, whichever you like most). To sweeten it, some use honey, others sugar, or… nothing at all! Apart from almonds, you can also add pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pecans. Do you want to add some pomegranate seeds? Sure, why not! The same goes for such ingredients as rosewater or cinnamon.
When it comes to the wheat part, the best to use would be korkot, or shelled wheat, but you can also use white wheat berries or pearled barley.
What do you think about them? If you’d like to know more about other festive dishes in Europe, check here.
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