Food is a thing everywhere everyone is celebrating. And some things really stick, becoming cultural culinary traditions over years and years. Some have stories, legacies and even symbolic weight. What’s yours? This year, we’re looking to our fellow food lovers around the world to see what they’re serving, and inviting their favorites to our table. Who knows? Celebrating a long-loved recipe from the other side of the equator might become a new tradition. So much to explore!
Ends up, the Feast of the Seven Fishes (Festa dei Sette Pesci) is not really an Italian tradition, but an American-Italian tradition. In Italy, known for its very diverse cultural regions (especially north vs. south), many have never even heard of The Feast of Seven Fishes. The feast does, however, honor the Italian Catholic tradition of not eating meat on the eve of a holiday. That’s pretty solid. And the number “7” is tied to many Catholic symbols (apparently “7” is mentioned 700 times in the Bible, so there you go). Anyway, in the early 1900’s, missing their homeland across the ocean, Italian-Americans began commemorating Christmas Eve with a seven-course seafood meal. It stuck. You can mix it up, but one of our very favorites is this recipe for cioppino, a classic Italian-style fish stew made with an abundance of seafood, like all seven courses in one!
Spain: Pavo Trufado de Navidad
In many parts of Spain, the star of their holiday feast is the pavo trufado de Navidad, or holiday-stuffed turkey breast. It represents serious celebration and indulgence as the turkey is stuffed with pork mostly (bacon, ham, pork belly, etc.) but also veal, brandy, truffles and veggies. The recipes vary but all align on the decadent end. Kind of surprised there’s not cheese in there …. Another kind of cool thig, which isn’t a recipe, is the La lotería de Navidad. It’s a Spanish Christmas lottery that is very popular. Everyone wants to win it, so on December 22, people gather ‘round their TVs, radios or computers waiting for the announcement of the winning ticket. The winner has to buy all the stuffing for the Pavo Trufado de Navidad. OK, maybe we made that up, but it seems fair.
France: Yule Log
Baked and decorated to resemble a snow-covered Yule log, this traditional French holiday food is a delicious and extraordinarily decorative way to end any holiday meal — or to eat late at night while you are wrapping presents. In France it is called buche de noel and is much easier to make than it appears. It stuns and impresses everyone who sees it, but you can totally make it — we promise! Plus, you can be super creative with presentation. We like to surround the cake with marshmallows dusted in cocoa. We don’t know who exactly made the first Yule log cake, but it could have been as early as the 1600s. Sponge cake, which often constitutes the base of the log, is one of the oldest cakes still made today. Enjoy with a glass of Champagne and flaunt it. Yes, we’re all about the festive flaunt — oui love it!
Kwanzaa: Roasted Maple Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Bacon
Created in 1966 in response to the Watts riots as a way to bring the African American culture together to celebrate their heritage, Kwanzaa begins on December 26th and continues through January 1st with a feast called Karamu on New Year's Eve. The name “Kwanzaa” is derived from the phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means first fruits, or harvest, in Swahili. Each night an African value is discussed ranging from community and self-determination to faith, creativity and purpose, along with the lighting of another candle on the kinara (candleholder). Celebrations often include singing and dancing, storytelling, poetry reading, drumming and feasting. The most-important thing is that the meal is shared, as Kwanzaa is at its heart a holiday about community. A traditional part of any Kwanzaa feast is a sweet or savory potato dish. Get both with this Kwanzaa-inspired recipe for maple sweet potatoes and bacon!
Hanukkah: Sweet Potato Latkes
Hanukkah is an 8-day Jewish celebration commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It is celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, prayers and food, of course. One classic Hanukkah dish is latke, a fried potato pancake that, in part, represents the miracle of the very small amount of menorah oil that should have only lasted one day, but actually lasted a full eight days during the first Hanukkah. It is the oil that the latke are fried in that is significant here. That, and the fact that they are crunchy, rich and delightful served with a dollop of applesauce or sour cream!
Germany: Gingerbread with Stem Ginger
OK, so gingerbread has an ancient history in many cultures and can’t just be boiled down to German, but Germans ARE the ones who made gingerbread houses the thing back in the 1600s — construction meets cuisine. Still, we are terribly excited to share this recipe with you for gingerbread that teaches you how to make ginger stem — so much more flavorful than ginger powder. For sure, gingerbread is huge in MANY cultures during the holidays with its mix of wintry cinnamon, nutmeg and clove spices, so we feel like Germany can carry the credit a bit — and this is much easier than building a house.
Stem Ginger With Syrup
Compliments of Chef Janice Kirich
Makes: 2 cups
Prep Time: 15 min.
Cook Time: 1 hr., 15 min.
Total Time: 1 hr., 30 min.
Stem ginger is the Chef’s secret to bringing out the best in ginger for baked treats, Asian dishes, tea and more. It makes the ginger taste delightfully strong.
- 2 cups fresh ginger, placed in freezer overnight
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
Remove ginger from freezer and peel; slice into bite-size pieces. Place in medium pan and pour water over. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered.
Drain and reserve 2 cups of the liquid. Mix the reserved liquid and 1 cup sugar in saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Add ginger to pan and bring back to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes uncovered.
Removed from heat and scoop ginger into clean jars. Top with syrup and completely submerge ginger. Bring to room temperature and can be kept in fridge for 2 months.
Stem Ginger Gingerbread
Compliments of Chef Janice Kirich
Prep Time:20 min.
Cook Time:1hr. to 1 hr., 15 min.
Total Time:1hr., 20 min. to 1 hr. 35 min.
This recipe for stem ginger gingerbread takes this classic cake to an uber ginger level! It’s Chef Janice’s holiday favorite — and for good reason.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- 1 Tbsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp. ground all spice
- ½ tsp. ground clove
- 4 oz. unsalted butter, chilled and diced
- 4 oz. molasses
- 4 oz. light corn syrup
- 4 oz. dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 10 oz. whole milk
- 1.5 oz. drained stem ginger, grated
- 1 egg
Grease a 2-pound loaf pan with butter and line with parchment. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Sift the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda and all the spices into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced cold butter and mix until fine crumbs. (either rub or use flat paddle in mixer).
In a small saucepan, melt the molasses and corn syrup; let cool to room temperature. In another small pan over low heat, dissolve dark brown sugar into milk.
Mix grated stem ginger into flour mixture; add milk mixture, then stir in molasses mixture, followed by the egg. Mix well into a thin batter.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
The batter gets very thin before it rises and will shrink as it cools. Leave to cool completely in the pan, then turn out and wrap in parchment then foil.
Best if let to sit for a day to let the flavors and spices all come together.