Christmas is more than just a ritual, it’s a feeling. Traditionally, it is not just a single day, but a prolonged period that begins in mid-December and goes on till early January — and of course — food is a big part of it all!
In fact, the very word Christmas was coined by the combination of Christ+Mass… and it signifies an abundance of meals. Christmas food, besides the famous ‘Christmas Cake’, includes lots of other goodies too. And most of these are really sinful! Let's figure out how to make them healthier one by one.
The Christmas Cake
In the original (traditional) Christmas cake (which actually originated from the plum pudding), the ingredients are precise and include dried raisins, currants, plums, dried orange, lemon peel and more such. The folklore has it that the plum pudding had been doused in spirits and set alight, and the Christmas pudding and cake branched out of it.
Every family usually has its own Christmas cake recipe passed on over generations. If you don’t have one, you could simply badger a friend who has a great recipe to share, and then have a go at it!
Otherwise, there are some good books and websites which have the recipes listed step-by-step with choices ranging from a quick fix to something a bit more complex. Take your pick. The results are usually very satisfying.
Most Christmas cake recipes are for 20-23cm round fruitcakes without any icing, and any good cook will tell you that the Christmas cake, like good wine, gets better with age. That is why, it is made well ahead of time, especially if you intend to feed it with brandy, scotch whiskey or bourbon (some of these cakes can actually make you drunk). Make it healthy:
- Dispense with the marzipan and royal icing layers altogether and cover the cake with fruits and nuts.
- Use natural decorations like holly leaves, small Christmas bobbles; even small pinecones.
- Use plenty of the apricot glaze and put fruits like coloured cherries, prunes, apricots and nuts such as hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds. Pile a good amount of these so that the top of the cake doesn’t show through.
Christmas isn't truly here until the mince pies are on the table. The shape and content of mince pies have changed dramatically through the ages. Original mince pies were bigger, crib shaped and packed full of meat. Today, rich and fruity pies filled with sugar, apples, raisins, candied oranges and lemons are more popular. Both are delicious!
Make it Healthy: Skip the sugar and make pies filled with mince of apples, carrots, pears, raisins so that you can eat them without guilt.
In the medieval period, plum pottage – a meat broth with breadcrumbs and dried fruit and seasoned with wine and spices was served during festivities. With time, this broth gave way to a thicker pudding. By the 17th Century, the meat content was removed, more sweats were added and it took the shape of the now popular plum pudding. By the end of the 18th century, plum porridge had all but vanished, its place taken by the plum pudding. It was christened ‘Christmas pudding’ when it was introduced to the Royal Christmas dinner table by Prince Albert. It is usually prepared on Christmas morning, and sprinkled with brandy and flamed when served.
Make it healthy: There are lots of sugar, gluten, grain and dairy-free pudding recipes available now… got for these.
Meat has always been part of a traditional Christmas feast. The act of serving a large roasted joint of meat at Christmas probably originated from ancient sacrificial rites to mollify the gods to ensure a good harvest in the following year. Earlier beef, mutton, pork, peacocks and swans were usually used. King James-I introduced turkey during the seventeenth century as he felt that it was kinder to his delicate digestive system! Today those who cannot afford the turkey make do with goose.
Make it healthy: Turkey is a healthier meat. It a very rich source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptothan and is lower on saturated fat and cholesterol compared to other meats. To do an even healthier option have a turkey salad with lots of vegetables.
(Kavita is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).)
Other popular traditional dishes are gingerbread, pumpkin and walnut pie, eggnog, fruit cake, potato salad with mayonnaise, smoked salmon, chocolate yule log, Yorkshire pie, pigs in a blanket (sausage wrapped in bacon), qidreh, a wood-fire oven cooked lamb and rice dish (popular in Israel) and more such.
So do tuck into some traditional Christmas fare this year, like I make sure I do every year, and support the spirit of Christmas. Just make sure you tweak the recipes to make a healthier version. After all, it’s a special time to look forward to a miracle.
And yes, keep believing in hope and all things positive.
Happy Christmas and New Year!