You really shouldn’t read recipes on an empty stomach. I’m sure medical experts would agree it’s simply not good for you. Christmas is a time for healthy appetites and less-than-healthy treaty eats – the one season where you can decadently declare ‘a chocolate orange a day keeps the doctor away’.
So, then, if I care to share this supreme selection of festive recipes, I felt I also better bring you some ready-made gourmet goodies to crunch, munch and relish as you chew over which of the discussed dishes will maketh the most marvellous menus for festive feasting. Ready…Set…Scoff!
Nice little nibbles
Whatever culture you come from, at Christmas it’s important to have enough snacks around to sate the appetite of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the shepherds, their flocks, and whoever else should happen to flock through your door.
My best suggestion? Get in a selection of these snacks for times when you lack just that precious commodity; or have simply lost the will to play Desi Domestic Goddess (or God, for that matter). Chill out and chow down; these munchables are much too good to miss.
Fortnum’s is a purveyor of the sort of princely pastry that crumbles in a heart-melting manner the moment you tuck in. And these 3 Kings mince pies are a right royal treat. Caspar’s pie includes Indian-inspired ingredients, spiced with garam masala and cardamom, warm with myrrh and chilli. Melchior’s and Balthazar’s, meanwhile, feature flavours equally at home on the subcontinent – Persian rose, pistachio and varak; and frankinscence; mint and Arabic spices.
It’s Bombay Mix, Jim, but not as you may know it. Rani’s marvellous Mixture is made with a not-so-secret seven ingredients that come together in a cracking collision of flavours and textures that’ll have you scoffing the South-Indian-style snack by the handful ‘til the tree comes down and the ‘New Year, New You’ regime kicks in. It’s a Great Taste Award winner, and gets a gold star from me, too. Quality by name, it does what it says on the tin – and is more welcome than the tired tin of Quality Street.
Forget the matter of a frozen party platter and fill your freezer and your folks with Neeta Mehta’s sweet samosas instead. These tricky little triangles conceal fillings with real appeal for the sweet of tooth – Belgian dark chocolate ganache or cinnamon-spiked apple. At less than 100 calories apiece, you can merrily chomp away with relative peace of mind. If you’re catering for a crowd, ask about super-sized sacks, also available in mango and raspberry renditions.
Howdah’s superior snacks are stocked in Harrods – howzat for a testament to taste? A cut above the standard mass-produced munchies, the six-strong selection comprises Bombay puris, masala-ed or peppered banana chips, peanut pakora, onion bhaji, and ‘Bakerwadi bites’- crisp pinwheels with a spicy swirl. Pays your money, takes your choice; and rest assured that everything from this British-based bijou family business is made with local ingredients and is as authentic as can be.
I’m certain you’ll be a fan of Sonia Chandsure’s brilliant biscuits and burfi. It’s lush stuff. The almost-juicy coconut burfi is made to her Granny’s recipe; evidently a lady of great taste, as she adds almonds and apricots to the heavenly hash. For a munch with more crunch, Sonia’s heart-shaped shortbreads are heart-stoppingly buttery, sweetly spicy, and prettily patterned with henna-inspired designs which illustrate this post so perfectly. Next time, my designs are set firmly on her chai custard tarts…
Lychees are luscious, and a bowl full of the spiky-shelled fruits makes Christmas even more cracking. True fact. Another truism is that lassi is lovely for troubled tums over-stretched with festive feasts. But the two together? Sounds like a tall story, and one I wasn’t sure I’d be happy to swallow. However, I ended up eating my words washed down with a long glass of this low-fat loveliness. A sweet surprise to be kept firmly out of Santa’s greedy gaze.
Duke of Delhi Limited Edition Festive Delhi Mix
The Queen’s guards might have been berated for liberating standard-issue Bombay mix, but they’ve evidently not tried this tasty treat. Because one is a little more discerning once one has dined on Delhi Mix. In my palace, if the snacks are out, it’s a safe bet the Duke’s about.
This year, my Christmas has been cheered no end by the news that Asif Walli’s fine-tuned a festive blend featuring cloves, cinnamon, pistachios and candied orange peel. Now that’s a snack worth snatching – get yours exclusively from Fortnum & Mason’s foodhall.
And to take care of the turkey…
Turkey will happen, no matter how much you flap about trying something new. And then you’ll inevitably need to gobble the plentiful remains. Nothing new there, either. But you can liven up the leftovers no end with Green Saffron’s magical masala. As a product particularly manufactured to minimise festive food waste, ‘Turkey Delight‘ won a Sial D’or retail award. The irony is, it makes turkey so darn tasty, you might just need a bigger bird…
Fear not, for this festive collection is free from forcemeat, and there’s not a cocktail sausage in sight. It won’t tell you how to boil a Brussel; but it will inspire you to add a little India to your season’s eatings. And surely getting to grips with subcontinental Christmas cooking is a prospect far tastier than trussing yet another tired turkey?
Goa’s the place to go if you feel Christmas should be, quite literally a sweet celebration. The Portuguese left a lovely legacy in the form of cakes, bakes and other festive treats collectively known as ‘kuswar’. Of course, there are meaty main meals to balance the blood sugar, but as a mithai addict I choose to send my own through the roof with eggy, coconutty confections.
Starting, perhaps, with baath. Not a good clean before I cook – rather, the super-soaked semolina and coconut cake in which Damn Good Curry supperclub diners delight. Recipes from My Diverse Kitchen or A Brown Table will see you right.
Primed for a project? Getting stuck into the custard-y. multi-layered Goan favourite, bibinca, will keep you busy for a bit. It might well be a white Christmas after you’ve used all those yolks, so this coconut cake is a tasty place to use up any remaining egg whites.
Like coconut ice? Cocada’s every bit as nice, with the added substance of semolina. Try Hilda’s, or this from Goan Food Recipes. If you’re more of a fudge fanatic, make this melt-in-the-mouth milk cream, or chew on chonya doce – a sweetmeat made with Bengal gram and the ubiquitous coconut. Hilda and Goan Food Recipes have the gyaan on how to stir (and stir, and stir) up something sublime.
Forget munching mince pies – I say out with the old, in with the neureos. These little fried pastry turnovers are filled with a moreish mixture of semolina, seeds, coconut and dryfruits. Although a big part of the Christian Christmas kitchen, neureos have Hindu influence, as do kulkuls – sugary little treats sweet enough to make your dentist’s toes curl.
No matter – sample these little shells from Goan Food Recipes, Anglo-Indian Recipes, or Cook in a Curry, and you’ll be flashing a toothy grin. Favour your pastry shapes a little more floral? Hilda’s kormolas are named for the flower buds they resemble.
Is Goa’s godshe named for the female goddess who first created this sweet treat? The porridge-like payasam is made with rice, coconut milk and moong dal, and derives its handsome hue from local pyramid jaggery. Heavenly indeed.
Talking of heaven, Kerala is the state known as ‘God’s Own Country’. It’s also a place with a sizeable and significant Christian population, and some darn fine festive fare. For a full day’s Christmas menu to keep you full ‘til New Year’s Day, Kitchen Mish Mash’s bumper collection has a good spread of recipes like this duck roast to replace the traditional turkey.
Plum cake is the state’s own answer to the British fruitcake – try recipes from My Diverse Kitchen, Kitchen Mish Mash, Zesty South Indian Kitchen, Swapna, Cooking and Me, or this eggless version from Veg Recipes of India. If you like your slice served up with a good dollop of food for thought, peruse food anthropologist Ammini Ramachandran’s plum cake piece.
Fertile Kerala’s rice is really rather nice, and the flour adds a wonderfully crispness to all manner of crunchy snacks. It’s apt that My Diverse Kitchen and Zesty South Indian Kitchen tell us that Christmas achappams are also known as ‘rosette cookies’, because these babies are sure to be a winner with all your festive guests.
Just as moreish but rather more savoury are the kuzhalappams that Zesty South Indian kitchen makes in the same fancy moulds or rolls into brandy-snap shapes. My Diverse Kitchen’s avalose is similarly versatile – the rice-coconut-jaggery mixture served as a dry podi or rolled into little laddoos.
The wine’s also fine in Kerala – although people prefer to start with grapes rather than the water Jesus transformed. Catholics toast His birthday with a glass of homemade sweet wine – Kitchen Mish Mash shares a story and a recipe, whilst the awesome Ammini Ramachandran talks tradition. Thirsty for more? Swapna swaps grapes for jackfruit, guava, and mango. Cheers!
Pakistan’s Christian community may be small, but Christmas is still big business. As the big day coincides with country founder Jinnah’s birthday, it’s also a wonderfully unifying time for folks of all religious persuasions. ‘Pukka Paki’ Sumayya Jamil and Mehrunnisa Yusuf, aka Come Con Ella, have some lipsmacking recipes built on their festive recollections.
Badam ka Sharbut might be a beverage imbibed on most high days and holidays, but only Mehrunnisa’s slips down with a super story which presents the drink as a cracking Christmas gift idea. Sumayya’s citrus-imbued nankhatai biscuits would be similarly well-received.
If you’re receiving festive guests, it’s traditional to treat them to a mince pie – even more of a treat when they’re Sumayya’s star-anise-and-saffon specimens. If you’re tired of turkey, her sweetly fragrant Kashmiri-style leg of lamb makes a fine feast.
Should Santa slip a few Amazon vouchers in your stocking, spend them on Serendip – Peter Kuruvita’s delectable cookbook-cum-memoir. This was the book that first introduced me to the sumptuous Sri Lankan Christmas cake – a concept that captured my imagination and I’ve yet to try.
If you fancy trying your hand at the fruity beauty, crammed with chow chow preserves, rose, cashews, semolina , spice, and oh-so-much more, these recipes from Budh Kuddeh and Sri Lanka Food are worth a go. Three Little Halves’ version is served with a story on the history of this tasty bake.
Sadly, Peter’s own isn’t online, but his take on the country’s classic Portuguese-influenced Love Cake is. This cake might not classically cry ‘Christmas’, but I for one would love a piece on my festive table to mark peace on earth.
My Diverse Kitchen divulges that South Indians are as partial to a savoury snack as the police officers who pinched the Queen’s Bombay Mix in Britain. For Christians, Christmas means chakli; these crunchy, spicy spirals popular from Maharastra to Mangalore, known as ‘murukkus’ in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Kamala’s Corner suggests more celebratory sweet and savoury snacks scoffed throughout the South at Christmas, along with a few festive ‘kolams’ (rangoli). These designs are displayed daily during the Tamil month ‘Margazhi’, traditionally given a Christmas theme for the big day itself across all religions.
When it comes to documenting the edible history of the Anglo-Indian community, Bridget White-Kumar is the lady with the learnings. When it comes to Christmas, she shares a super selection of suggestions. Dodol is a divine, pitch black halwa popular in both Goa and Kerala, whose treacly taste calls to mind Christmas pud and all things good.
A good breakfast sets you up for a big day, and there’s no bigger day than Christmas. Almorth – a mixed meat stew – is a must for the Anglo-Indian festive morning meal. For lunch, Ox tongue roast is merrily munched, often accompanied by mustard sauce, of course.
All that savoury got you craving sweet? This jalebi caramel custard is syrupy enough to kill any craving; a triple-threat pud combining bitter-sweet caramel sauce with softly quivering custard studded with broken leftover jalebis… although in my house, the notion of ‘leftover jalebis’ is considered an apocryphal tale.
And then, of course, we have Indian-influenced recipes. Just as Elton John invites you to ‘step into Christmas’, I invite you to step away from tradition and give these a whirl. Fusion’s a funny old thing; equally likely to be inspired or insane. Rest assured; I might be a little crazy, but these festive feasts are all foods plucked firmly from the former category.
Chintal Kakaya’s choc-nut-berry clusters look very merry, the fruity flavours zipped up with a hint of lime. That lady evidently has a taste for the tangy – her chilli and beetroot chutney has a twangy tamarind twist.
Deena Kakaya’s also been inspired to put a new twist on chutney, basing her butternut version on happy halwa memories. For something a little fruitier and just as festive, her tomato, pineapple and cucumber chutney is the perfect preserve. Looking for a gift someone will receive with real relish? Present them with Deena’s superbly-spiced fruit and nut mix.
Mix things up still further with Angela Malik’s Bollywood yule log and KO Rasoi’s incredible and very edible cardamom wreath. Cardamom also features in the creative lass’ cherry-studded seeroh, whilst her eggless custard creams are redolent of rose, taking their Christmas cue from two essential gourmet goodies: Turkish Delight, and the non-negotiable biscuit box.
There are more biscuits to be made from Uma’s Kitchen Experiments, where semolina cookies come in rainbow colours. Manju Malhi’s, meanwhile, are somewhat spicier. Rinku Bhattacharya swaps semolina for roasty, toasty almond meal in her festive nankhatai.
Cakes must be baked at Christmas. Steer clear of the classic, roll up your sleeves, and get stuck in to Vegan Richa’s version. It might be eggless, boozeless, and wholesome, but it’s also wholly, jolly good. Rinku Bhattacharya adds a little Anglo-Indian exotica with her coconut-laced fruitcake, while Dassana deviates with fresh plums. Catholic-raised Bombay Chowparty was less of a fan of the Christmas plum cake she grew up with – until she renovated the recipe with a zingy citrus makeover to make it sing.
Something smaller more suitable? Indiaphile suggests spicing classic cupcakes softly with saffron and getting them sloshed on red wine caramel (perhaps made using the dregs of a loved batch of Angela Malik’s festive mulled wine); or lacing the batter with ginger before stuffing the baked cakes with chai cream. And, when dessert inspiration has deserted you and the pressure is on, Cooking and Me has the answer – an innovative eggless cake ‘baked’ in a pressure cooker. A nifty gift I’m happy to bestow upon you.
This year’s BBC series ‘The Incredible Spicemen’ was undoubtedly one of the best gifts Auntie’s bestowed upon our tiny isle. We all ate up Tony Singh and Cyrus Todiwala’s entertaining banter, so it’s only fit we should feast in fittingly festive recipes from the show. Those in the know understand that Sir Singh likes a wee dram, used to dramatic effect in his creamy cranachan.
The Spicemen’s super cardamom and chocolate torte is the perfect retort to any pitiable fool who doubts the ambrosial alchemy of a sprinkle of spice with something sweet. The treacle pud is good for families who would happily forgo the conventional Christmas cannonball but still want a sweet, sticky festive finale.
Before the big day proper comes the parties, and ‘Miss Masala‘ Mallika Basu is a big fan of peshwari naan to feed revellers with rumbly tums. When they get too rowdy, bring out Angela Malik’s Maharaja red velvet cheesecake – guaranteed to render the crowd completely speechless. Prefer something savoury? These pastry puffs from Uma’s Kitchen Experiments are shaped like pinwheels and enclose a whole egg – ideal Christmas canapés.
You’ll need something suitably celebratory to sip whilst you nibble and make merry. If you’re not excited by eggnog, a glass of A Brown Table’s almond-milk thandai is gloriously gluggable – but, refreshingly, a little less likely to contribute to that ‘Christmas padding’ than that fatty festive favourite.
A wise word on the Big Feast: You might be sick of soggy sprouts, but no Christmas table can be truly complete without the critters. So try Nisha Katona’s. There’s not many veggies that aren’t vastly improved with a pinch of Bengali paanch phoron, y’see. Brave enough to stuff the trad turkey? Serve Angela Malik’s majestic masala-roasted cauliflower as your Christmas centrepiece instead.
And finally… if you’re so ahead of that yourself you’re planning the party menu for New Year’s Eve, add Indiaphile’s rhubarb jalebis to the festive repast.
So the restaurants have been recommended, the halls decked with these decorations, the gift buying guided by this super selection, and the Christmas cooking is cracked. Now all that remains is for me to simply wish you all a very very Merry Christmas.
‘Bade din ki badhai ho’ (Hindi)
‘Krismas Mubarak’ (Urdu)
‘Sāl Mūbārak’ (Gujarati)
‘Krismasasya shubhkaamnaa’ (Sanskrit)
‘Shubho bôṛodin’ (Bengali)
‘Christmas matrum puthaandu vaazthukkal’ (Tamil)
‘Karisama te nawāṃ sāla khušayāṃwālā hewe’ (Punjabi)
‘Khushal Borit Natala’ (Konkani)
‘Christmas inte mangalaashamsakal’ (Malayalam)
However you say it, have a good ‘un. Just like the lovely Arun & Olive Kapil of Green Saffron in this pic…
A few more tasty festive delights to gobble up like your Christmas dinner:
- Delightful Desi decorations
- 24 restaurants where you’ll relish the food and the festive feeling
- An alternative Christmas feast with recipes from Cafe Spice Namaste, Namaaste Kitchen, Dishoom & Cinnamon Kitchen
- Last year’s Anglo-Indian Christmas guide
- Brilliant books for cooks
- How Kerala celebrates Christmas