Smell that wonderful mix of joy, excitement and yumminess in the air? Oh yes, the festive season’s here! As every community prepares to celebrate the best of their culture, we take a quick peek at what’s cooking this season…
Yes, here it is! A time for giving and receiving and making merry! Of course, that grand dinner is being laid out too. “It adds that colour, you know? A medley of reds and whites and greens on the dinner table, like everything else surrounding it. Well, it’s that time of the year,” chuckles my grandmother in her earthly
pink suit. She continues to cook. I smile a little and welcome her warm words of wisdom on the 25th of December, as I plough my way through the making of the first batch of Christmas cookies.
It doesn’t matter where you are or what you do, but what really gets a celebration going is the perfect dinner table! Recipes passed down from one generation to another are brought to life, with the entire family contributing in the selection of the best ingredients, and preparing for the feast that maketh the festival. It could be the simplest fare or the most lavish one around, but it has to be authentic. After all, it’s not really the extravagance of food; it’s the memories that every smell and every bite evoke – memories that never fail to make you feel warm inside!
The Family Celebrations
Be it Christmas, Eid or Diwali, the prerequisites of a festive feast are the same: a horde of family members, the spectacular cooks that can put the greatest of chefs to shame, and of course, their trademarked dishes that are reserved only for the special day.
In my house, any celebration is incomplete without the finger-licking delicious snacks that my aunt cooks – that is after all the firnis have been consumed! This party usually starts with the irresistible shawarma – perfectly cooked chicken or mutton stuffed inside golden-baked pita bread. Eating one is just not enough!
At the time of Diwali, other than the sweets that are offered to the gods (home cooked in sunflower oil), snacks like Paneer Chilli and samosas are gobbled down until it is time for goodbyes. Christmas, however, has a different vibe. Sweets rule the table, while savoury foods take a backseat. The house is filled with the divine scents of freshly baked goodies. Even the few traditional savoury dishes that mark the day are baked, like the Roast Chicken. This is followed by a rather sumptuous dessert: a Chocolate Pot de Crème. Get a taste of Christmas and try this one at home.
Stir together some vanilla, cocoa, salt and egg yolks in a bowl. Mix this into a fine chocolatey paste. Take a small saucepan and place four custard cups in it. Fill the custard cups with the chocolate paste and then fill the saucepan with water till it reaches half of the pan’s height. Stow this into an oven which has been preheated at 300°C for 30 minutes. After this, remove the cups from the hot water bath, and let them cool. Refrigerate the same. Serve cold, with whipped cream.
In The Community
Festive celebrations are not restricted to the family. After all, festivals are also meant for everyone to come together, no matter how busy you are the rest of the year. Everyone looks forward to the community get-togethers, an excuse to buy some really expensive clothes and flaunt them without the slightest hint of guilt. Local clubs have special functions to mark the occasion, and everyone’s invited! A lot of societies too, take it upon themselves to bring families together for dinner on a National Day or Thanksgiving. People walk to these little get-togethers for some good food and laughter. The community gets together to prepare the traditional dishes on a large scale – food that resonates with every individual present: Roast Chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy for Thanksgiving, homemade snacks for Diwali and so on.
Eateries in areas dominated by the celebrating community are always quick to jump on the festive bandwagon. Every street has something to offer, like the famous spiced Arabic-style chicken with brown rice, which is a must-have during Eid. Eid al-Adha, the Eid of Sacrifice, sees one goat per family being sacrificed as a customary requirement. Streets are suddenly dotted with these animals, being fed and prepared for the day of sacrifice. Restaurants begin cashing in a little earlier, by offering sumptuous dishes with perfectly cooked recipes during the days leading up to the festival.
The festivities in these places are not restricted to the food alone. To add to the festive feel, places usually not only stock up on traditional food but also brightly decorate the place with little symbols and reminders of that particular time of the year. Some chain restaurants are even famous for adding a new catchphrase to their regular dishes and menus and twisting them into a festive theme. And if you are planning to eat out on a Christmas night, not only will the food be filling, there will be a lot of carols serenading the night!
These celebrations aside, being traditional is key to all festivals,
like in the case of Diwali, which is celebrated with sweets and a few snacks that have a religious significance. As goddess Lakshmi emerged from an ‘Ocean of Milk’ (Kshira Sagar) on this day, the milky rice pudding, kheer, is quite popular. This is how it is prepared.
Take one bowl of rice, soak it in water for 2 minutes and then drain. Add two bowls of milk into a cooker and let it boil. Add the rinsed rice and bring it further to a boil. Simmer the gas. As the boiling continues turning the rice softer, add sugar amounting to half a small cup. Churn the contents using a hand-held churner. Let this continue. To this mixture add dry fruits (cashew nuts, raisins and almonds). Mix them well. Cover the cooker with the lid. Let this sit on low flame for some time, around 15-18 minutes or 4–5 whistles. Check on the kheer, it should now be ready. Served chilled or hot, as you like it!
As for the ones who want to cook a sweet dish for Eid, fear not… Firni is prepared thus:
Depending on the quantity you want to cook, drain and grind rice into a thick paste, while on the side you bring milk to a boil in a saucepan. Add the rice paste to the milk. Make sure you mix the rice in a little water before adding to the paste. Let the rice cook, while you continuously stir the mixture. Then add saffron and sugar, mixing it in well. Keep cooking till the sugar dissolves completely. Pour it into earthenware and garnish it with pistachios. Refrigerate for an hour.
Start cooking already! Or else, get yourself a table at the local celebratory venue. The food is the bond and is definitely the highlight of a happy festival and a happy time together!