Festive dishes from around the world

Tradition reigns supreme during the holiday season, but perhaps this year is the time to up the ante just a notch at the dining room table. Make your family and guests sit a little straighter and hold their forks with a little more eagerness as they tuck into a beautiful dinner.

Nothing weird and wacky, mind you. Just a few twists on old traditions, a few flavourings from parts of the world you may not have incorporated into your repertoire yet. Throw open the pantry, sharpen your chef’s knife and indulge in a delicious new collection of celebratory dishes destined to become family classics.

Carrot soup with cumin and caraway

This smooth, voluptuous soup takes its inspiration from Middle Eastern and northern African flavourings and spices, which perfume without overwhelming the mild carrot base. Jalapeno and gingerroot provide a subtle but welcome note of heat to balance the sweetness of the carrots and sweet potato.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 tbsp vegetable oil (15 ml)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Half jalapeno, minced
2 tsp minced fresh gingerroot (10 ml)
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin (7l)
1 tsp caraway seeds, crushed (5 ml)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper (2 ml)
1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped (750 g)
1 small sweet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 cups (approx) chicken stock (1.25 l)
2 tbsp lime juice (25 ml)

Garnish (optional):
2 tbsp cumin seeds (25 ml)

– In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion, garlic, jalapeno, gingerroot, cumin, caraway, and salt and pepper for about 3 minutes or until softened. Stir in carrots and sweet potato until well coated. Pour in 5 cups (1.25 l) chicken stock; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes or until carrots are very tender.

– Working in batches, purée in blender or food processor until very smooth. (Soup can be refrigerated at this point for up to 2 days.) Just before serving, return to saucepan and reheat. Stir in lime juice and up to 1/2 cup (125 ml) more chicken stock if soup is too thick.

– Garnish (optional): In small heavy skillet set over medium-high heat, toast cumin seeds, shaking pan constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes or until very fragrant. Sprinkle over each serving.

TIP: Gingerroot keeps well in the refrigerator crisper, wrapped in plastic wrap. Its subtle heat and bite goes a long way in livening up everyday dishes. Try steamed fish with julienned pieces of gingerroot or grate some into your next vinaigrette.


Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons

Although chicken has been tragically miscast as the mundane mainstay of a weeknight meal, here it positively shines, kissed by the sweet tanginess of lemons and magically transformed by cumin, ginger, turmeric and saffron.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1 1/2 tsp paprika (7 ml)
1/2 tsp each ground ginger and cumin (2 ml)
1/4 tsp each turmeric, cayenne and salt and pepper (1 ml)
Pinch saffron threads, crushed
1 chicken (about 31/2 lb/1.75 kg)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (25 ml)
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp coarsely chopped Preserved Lemons (recipe follows) (45 ml)
1/2 cup chicken stock (125 ml)
1/2 cup black olives (optional) (125 ml)
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (50 ml)

– In bowl, stir together paprika, ginger, cumin, turmeric, cayenne, salt and pepper and saffron. Cut chicken into 8 pieces. Coat each piece in spice mixture.

– In large skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Brown chicken, in batches if necessary, on all sides, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer to plate.

– Drain off all but 1 tbsp (15 ml) fat. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes or until softened. Add preserved lemons and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Pour in stock, scraping up any browned bits on bottom of pan. Return chicken and olives (if using) to pan, along with any accumulated juices. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced.

– Remove chicken to platter. Simmer sauce for about 3 minutes or until thickened slightly. Pour over chicken. Sprinkle with coriander.

TIP: For dark meat lovers, use four whole chicken legs, separating the drumstick from the thigh, instead of a whole chicken.

Preserved lemons:

1 large lemon, sliced
1 cup (approx) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup coarse salt (125 ml)

– Toss together lemon slices, juice and salt. Transfer to sterile jar with tight fitting lid. Seal and let stand at room temperature for 7 days, shaking jar every 24 hours. Store in refrigerator for up to 2 months, adding more lemon juice to ensure slices are always immersed in juice.
Makes about 2 cups (500 ml).

TIP: Preserved lemons are also delicious on fish, in a lamb stew or to flavour the cooking water for rice.

Asparagus and wild mushroom fricassee

Tarragon, known for its distinctive anise-like flavour, really zips up this delicious side dish. Because of its assertiveness, be sure to measure the herb judiciously; it can easily dominate the gentle flavours of asparagus and exotic mushrooms.
Makes 6 servings.

1 lb asparagus (500 g)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (15 ml)
1 large shallot, minced
1 lb assorted exotic mushrooms (i.e., crimini, shiitake, oyster), stemmed and sliced (500 g)
3/4 tsp salt (4 ml)
1/4 tsp pepper (1 ml)
1/4 cup dry white wine (50 ml)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (15 ml)
2 tsp chopped fresh tarragon (10 ml)

– Trim asparagus by snapping ends off where they break naturally. Cut into 1-1/2-inch (4 cm) lengths; set aside.

– In large non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shallot; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add mushrooms, and salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Add wine, vinegar and asparagus. Cover and cook for about 3 minutes or until asparagus is tender-crisp. Stir in tarragon and cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer or until all liquid is absorbed. Serve immediately.


Israeli Couscous Stuffing

Israeli couscous is popular among restaurateurs. Unlike ground semolina couscous with which most of us are familiar, Israeli couscous is actually pea-sized pasta, which cooks in a similar fashion to pasta – by boiling, not steaming. It’s available in Middle Eastern stores and upscale grocery stores. Somewhat bland on its own, it adopts flavours readily and is a satisfying accompaniment to roasts and poultry.
Makes 6-1/2 cups (1.625 l), enough for 8 to 10 servings.

2 1/2 cups Israeli couscous (625 ml)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (25 ml)
2 onions, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 cup chopped roasted red pepper (250 ml)
1 tsp dried sage (not ground) (5 ml)
1 tsp salt (5 ml)
3/4 tsp each thyme and basil (4 ml)
1/2 tsp pepper (2 ml)
3 3/4 cups chicken stock (925 ml)

– In large saucepan over medium heat, toast couscous, shaking pan often, for 5 to 8 minutes or until couscous is lightly browned. Transfer to bowl.

– In same saucepan, heat oil; add onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Stir in red pepper, sage, salt, thyme, basil and pepper; cook for 1 minute. Stir in couscous until well coated. Pour in chicken stock. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender but still slightly chewy.

– To use as stuffing, let cool slightly. Loosely stuff into cavity of turkey and roast as usual.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

The addition of pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to a traditional dessert raises the bar in terms of sophistication and elegance.
Makes 6 servings.

2 cups whipping cream (500 ml)
1/3 cup granulated sugar (75 ml)
5 egg yolks
1/3 cup canned pumpkin purée (75 ml)
1/4 tsp cinnamon (1 ml)
Pinch each ginger and nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla (5 ml)

2 tbsp granulated sugar (25 ml)

– Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C).

– In saucepan over medium-high heat, heat cream with half the sugar, stirring occasionally, until mixture is steaming and sugar has dissolved.

– In bowl, whisk together egg yolks and remaining sugar. Whisk in pumpkin purée, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. In thin steady stream, gradually whisk in hot cream mixture. Stir in vanilla.

– Divide mixture evenly among six 3/4-cup (175 ml) ramekins or custard cups. Place in large shallow baking dish. Pour in enough boiling water to come half way up sides of ramekins. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until edges are set but centre still jiggles slightly when pan is gently shaken. Remove ramekins from water; let cool on racks. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours or until chilled and set or for up to 2 days.

– Topping: Place ramekins on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle sugar evenly over each. Broil 6 inches (15 cm) from heat for 3 to 6 minutes or until sugar bubbles and darkens. Remove ramekins individually as they are ready. Chill, uncovered, for 30 minutes or for up to 2 hours (after that the topping will start to soften).

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Lisa Thornberg

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