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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Festive fare from around the world

The celebratory spirit may be the same worldwide, but the foods that bring friends and families together differ vastly from region to region. 

Judy Karim’s seven-spiced stuffed turkey breast with date syrup. Courtesy Judy Karim
Judy Karim’s seven-spiced stuffed turkey breast with date syrup. Courtesy Judy Karim

"For me, a Christmas without roasted turkey, oysters and foie gras is not a Christmas at all,” says Ingrid Pagonis, a keen cook and food connoisseur who grew up in Paris and has lived in Dubai for the last three years. Pagonis says that when she was a child, she knew that Christmas had ­arrived when relatives converged in her family kitchen to begin shucking oysters, and this year will be no different.

“I’ll be celebrating on Christmas Eve the same way I have since I was born, enjoying a delicious meal, waiting for midnight to open gifts and laughing with the family,” she says. The aforementioned oysters (accompanied by lemon juice or a shallot vinaigrette), foie gras (with brioche-style bread and fig jam) and turkey (stuffed with chestnuts) will be followed by a cheese platter served with “French bread, never crackers”. The meal will end with a traditional bûche de Noël.

When asked what a truly authentic French festive meal should include, Stephane Cedelle, the executive chef at Bistro Des Arts and Publique restaurants in Dubai, answers with a gleam in his eye: “Oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras and snails with garlic butter to start, followed by a good roast turkey, goose, capon or venison with all the trimmings, a great cheese board and, of course, a bûche de Noël.”

Read more: Six festive recipes

Although he spent his childhood in the Brie region of France, which is famous for its cheeses, Cedelle is a particular fan of the classic bûche (or chocolate log as it’s known in the United Kingdom), which features a light, rolled sponge filled with cream and decorated with chocolate ganache to resemble a fallen branch. If you enjoy desserts that have an abundance of chocolate and cream all finished off with a seasonal flourish, his recipe is one to try – perhaps unsurprisingly, it proves far more popular with children than Christmas cake or pudding.

Crossing the border into Italy, but sticking with all things sweet, Luigi Vespero, the executive chef at Galvin Dubai, says that struffoli are one of the most popular Italian festive treats and can be seen all over his home city of Naples at this time of year. “Struffoli are little balls of dough that are deep-fried and coated in a honey syrup, so that they’re crisp on the outside and soft in the centre. They’re actually very similar to Turkish lokma,” he explains. Vespero moved to the UK when he was 21 to work as a chef and lived there for 12 years, and consequently describes himself as “half Neapolitan, half Londoner”.

He says that while he prides himself on experimenting with flavours and embracing ideas from different cultures in his cooking, when it comes to festive food he’s all about tradition. “In our house there is an Italian-British mix, so we begin our Christmas meal with clams spaghetti and then have roast turkey with all the trimmings for the main course.”

Lebanese-born food blogger Judy Karim favours a slightly different approach to mixing cultural traditions. “Lebanon is wonderfully jolly throughout the festive season: the streets are filled with lights and decorations, Christmas songs play on the radio and candy canes fill the supermarkets,” she tells me. “When I was younger, gifts were exchanged and good food was shared on Christmas eve, and this is something I still do today, when I host my own dinners and invite friends over in Dubai.”

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Karim admits that while it might not be a particularly Christmassy dish, she always offers meat or cheese-filled sambouseks as a starter, simply because they are a guaranteed people-pleaser. For the main course, she gives traditional roast turkey a Middle Eastern twist (as well as a healthy makeover), and serves the leaner breast meat flavoured with an Arabic seven-spice and stuffed with freekeh.

“Not many people celebrated Christmas when I was growing up in Iran, but my parents did – they just loved to gather people together and feast,” Iranian cookbook author and chef Ariana Bundy says. “We lived next door to a turkey farmer, so the bird was always at the centre of the celebration and my grandfather would take great pride in sourcing and cooking it.” The menu being served in Bundy’s home in Dubai this Christmas represents a real mix of festive customs and cuisines.

Her husband is Welsh-Irish and his mother, who is originally from Cork, Ireland, will be in attendance, as will Bundy’s own mother. “This year they’re going to get together and have a cook-off: Iran versus Britain,” she says with a laugh. “We’ll have a classic British smoked salmon starter, followed by turkey, which my mom will Persian-ise by marinating the meat in yogurt, saffron and turmeric.” Bundy says that in true fusion fashion, the turkey will be served with shirin polo, the famous Iranian dish featuring sweet rice glistening with orange peel, spices and silvered nuts, as well as Brussels sprouts, stuffing and gravy.

Although Christmas wasn’t an occasion typically observed by her family in Mumbai, that’s certainly not the case for Indian cookbook author, television chef, food writer and YouTube star Maunika Gowardhan today.

“My husband is Anglo-Indian and grew up celebrating Christmas the traditional way, so our celebrations are influenced by the fond memories he has,” she says. These days, Gowardhan is a huge fan of all festive fare, and on Christmas Day she often cooks both roast turkey and leg of lamb, as well as goose, and also likes to give traditionally British side dishes an Indian twist. “Try flavouring parsnips with ground mustard seeds, cinnamon and cloves, and when boiling your roast potatoes, add a pinch of turmeric to the cooking water – it flavours them lightly and gives them a gorgeous colour,” she says.

Maunika Gowardhan's spiced apple and ginger chutney. Courtesy Maunika Gowardhan
Maunika Gowardhan's spiced apple and ginger chutney. Courtesy Maunika Gowardhan

Much like Pagonis and Cedelle, Gowardhan also likes to put together a generous cheeseboard (although she serves hers after dessert, rather than before). This year it will feature a strong blue cheese, Camembert, Manchego and a soft lemony goat cheese, all accompanied by sourdough bread, fruit and her homemade spiced apple and ginger chutney (which also makes for a lovely, edible gift in the festive season).

Thinking beyond December 25, for anyone faced with a glut of leftover turkey, Gowardhan’s top tip is to make the murgh korma recipe that’s up on her website Maunikagowardhan.co.uk, and simply swap the chicken for turkey. Thanks to the layers of flavour and the delicate spicing, it’s fantastic for reawakening palates jaded by Christmas excess.

“For me a Christmas without roasted turkey, oysters and foie gras is not a Christmas at all,” says Ingrid Pagonis, a keen cook and food connoisseur who grew up in Paris and has lived in Dubai for the last three years. Pagonis says that when she was a child, she knew that Christmas had arrived when relatives converged in her family kitchen to begin shucking oysters, and this year will be no different. “I’ll be celebrating on Christmas Eve the same way I have since I was born, enjoying a delicious meal, waiting for midnight to open gifts and laughing with the family,” she says. The aforementioned oysters (accompanied by lemon juice or a shallot vinaigrette), foie gras (with brioche-style bread and fig jam) and turkey (stuffed with chestnuts) will be followed by a trou normond (a refreshing sorbet that acts as a digestif). After that the Pagonis family can look forward to a cheese platter served with “French bread, never crackers”. The meal will end with a traditional bûche de Noël.

When asked what a truly authentic French festive meal should include, Stephane Cedelle, the executive chef at Bistro Des Arts and Publique restaurants in Dubai, answers with a gleam in his eye: “Oysters, smoked salmon, foie gras and snails with garlic butter to start, followed by a good roast turkey, goose, capon or venison with all the trimmings, a great cheese board and, of course, la bûche de Noël.” Although he spent his childhood in the Brie region of France, which is famous for its cheeses, Cedelle is a particular fan of the classic bûche (or chocolate log as it’s known in the United Kingdom), which features a light, rolled sponge filled with cream and decorated with chocolate ganache to resemble a fallen branch. If you enjoy desserts that have an abundance of chocolate and cream all finished off with a seasonal flourish, his recipe is one to try - perhaps unsurprisingly, it proves far more popular with children than Christmas cake or pudding.

Crossing the border into Italy, but sticking with all things sweet, Luigi Vespero, the executive chef at Galvin Dubai, says that struffoli are one of the most popular Italian festive treats and can be seen all over his home city of Naples at this time of year. “Struffoli are little balls of dough that are deep-fried and coated in a honey syrup, so that they’re crisp on the outside and soft in the centre. They’re actually very similar to Turkish lokma,” he explains. Vespero moved to the UK when he was 21 to work as a chef and lived there for 12 years, and consequently describes himself as “half Neapolitan, half Londoner”. He says that while he prides himself on experimenting with flavours and embracing ideas from different cultures in his cooking, when it comes to festive food he’s all about tradition. “In our house there is an Italian-British mix, so we begin our Christmas meal with clams spaghetti and then have roast turkey with all the trimmings for the main course.”

Lebanese-born food blogger Judy Karim favours a slightly different approach to mixing cultural traditions. “Lebanon is wonderfully jolly throughout the festive season: the streets are filled with lights and decorations, Christmas songs play on the radio, candy canes fill the supermarkets,” she says. “When I was younger, gifts were exchanged and good food shared on Christmas Eve, and this is something I still do today in Dubai when I host my own dinners and invite friends over.” Karim admits that while it might not be a particularly Christmassy dish, she always offers meat or cheese-filled sambouseks as a starter, simply because they are a guaranteed people-pleaser. For the main course, she gives traditional roast turkey a Middle Eastern twist (as well as a healthy makeover) and serves the leaner breast meat flavoured with Arabic 7-spice and stuffed with freekeh.

“Not many people celebrated Christmas when I was growing up in Iran, but my parents did – they just loved to gather people together and feast,” Iranian cookbook author and chef Ariana Bundy says. “We lived next door to a turkey farmer, so turkey was always at the centre of the celebration and my grandfather would take great pride in sourcing and cooking it.” The menu being served in Bundy’s home in Dubai this Christmas represents a real mixing of festive customs and cuisines. Her husband is Welsh-Irish and his mother, who is originally from Cork, Ireland, will be in attendance, as will Bundy's own mother. “This year they’re going to get together and have a cook-off: Iran versus Britain,” she says with a laughs. “We’ll have a classic British smoked salmon starter, followed by turkey, which my mom will Persian-ise by marinating the meat in yogurt, saffron and turmeric." Bundy says that in true fusion fashion the turkey will be served with shirin polo, the famous Iranian dish featuring sweet rice glistening with orange peel, spices and silvered nuts, as well as Brussels sprouts, stuffing and gravy.

Although Christmas wasn’t an occasion typically observed by her family in Mumbai, that’s certainly not the case for Indian cookbook author, television chef, food writer and YouTube star Maunika Gowardhan today. “My husband is Anglo-Indian and grew up celebrating Christmas the traditional way, so our celebrations are influenced by the fond memories he has,” she says. These days Gowardhan is a huge fan of all festive fare, and on Christmas Day she often cooks both roast turkey and leg of lamb, as well as goose, and also likes to give traditionally British side dishes an Indian twist. “Try flavouring parsnips with ground mustard seeds, cinnamon and cloves, and when boiling your roast potatoes, add a pinch of turmeric to the cooking water – it flavours them lightly and gives them a gorgeous colour,” she says.

Much like Pagonis and Cedelle, Gowardhan also likes to put together a generous cheeseboard (although she serves hers after dessert, rather than before, as is the British way). This year it will feature a strong blue cheese, Camembert, Manchego and a soft lemony goat cheese, all accompanied by sourdough bread, fruit and her homemade spiced apple and ginger chutney (which also makes for a lovely, edible gift).

Thinking beyond December 25, for anyone faced with a glut of leftover turkey, Gowardhan’s top tip is to make the murgh korma recipe, up on her website, and simply swap the chicken for turkey. Thanks to the layers of flavour and the delicate spicing, it’s fantastic for reawakening palettes jaded by Christmas excess.

Suggestions for a multicultural festive menu

Cumbrae oysters served with shallot vinegar, apple vinegar, lemon and tabasco from Galvin Dubai. Courtesy Galvin Dubai
Cumbrae oysters served with shallot vinegar, apple vinegar, lemon and tabasco from Galvin Dubai. Courtesy Galvin Dubai

To begin: Oysters with mignonette (French shallot vinaigrette)

Starter: Smoked salmon and apple salad with horseradish cream

Main course: Seven-spiced turkey breast stuffed with freekeh and served with date syrup

Shirin polo (sweet rice studded with orange peel, carrots and nuts)

Dessert: Bûche de Noël (yule log)

Cheeseboard: accompanied by homemade spiced apple and ginger chutney

Petit fours: Struffoli

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