Christmas without the turkey …

Updated Friday, 26 May 2017

Have you ever noticed how inappropriate a huge meal (turkey and all) is in our warm South African climate? The thought of toiling over a stove and oven for hours only to produce a hot meal to consume on a boiling day is fast losing its allure for many. Add to this the concern for the ordeal though which the turkey goes in order to make it onto our table, and it becomes apparent why there is a growing upsurge of turkey-less Christmas dinners.

This is not a rant about eating a vegetarian meal (even if modern meat production is energy and resource intensive and anything but humane). I risk much ire from meat-loving family, friends and readers if I begin to expound.

However, one can choose to know more about where one’s meat comes from, if you do decide to go for a joint of ham or a chicken. A number of small farms are now producing organic and truly free range meat, sold more often than not at local markets (although Woolworths is known to stock the odd organic chicken, and Wellness Warehouse in Cape Town stocks Spier free range chickens). …

So it is probably more of a conscientious change of shopping habits than a change in diet that I’m advocating. And hey, if the Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving without the turkey, as many of them did this year, then Christmas in South Africa without a turkey (or meat) can’t be that difficult.

Here follows my favourite alternative menu that one can serve up with or without the accompanying meat dish. These are perfect for both midday lunches in the heat of the day, or wonderful late Christmas eve dinners shared with friends, preferably outside al fresco.

Starter – Jamie Oliver’s cucumber soup

This is a wonderfully cool starter for warm days. It’s a Jamie Oliver recipe that he claims you can eat hot or cold. I’ve never had cucumber soup hot and am not going to start now, but at least you know you have the option. It also freezes well.

  • 1 tblsp butter
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • 150 g onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 100 g potatoes, peeled and chopped (I’ve done this recipe without the potatoes)
  • 3 cucumbers, washed, seeds removed and chopped
  • 250 ml veg stock
  • 250 ml white wine
  • 200 g cream (if serving cold, replace this with double-thick yoghurt)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1 tblsp dill
  • 2 tsp sweet mustard

Put the butter and olive oil in a pan, let the butter melt. Add the onions, garlic and potato, stir-fry until the onions are glassy. Add the cucumber and stir-fry for two or three minutes. Add the stock, wine and cream and let the soup boil slightly until the potatoes are done. Blend, add all the spices. Stir and wait for for two or three minutes and then check to see if you need additional spice.

Pour into a glass bowl and place in the fridge to cool. Add the yoghurt just before serving and garnish with mint.

Main meal – Antoinette’s butternut and vegetable lasagna

This is a recipe I’ve stolen from a friend of mine. She served it recently when we were on holiday in a large group and it caused something of a sensation. It’s tasty, filling, easy to make and the incorporation of cream means it easily qualifies as ‘soul food’. Antoinette also sometimes adds corn and cauliflower to the vegetable mix – the choice is yours. The important part about making this dish is that you treat it as a creation. As she says – the dish is a work of art, not a recipe.

  • 1 very large butternut (or pumpkin)
  • 500 g carrots cut into chunks
  • a punnet of mushrooms
  • 1 large head of broccoli
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 500g lasagna pasta
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup stoneground flour
  • 2 cups milk (can use half cream), heated until warm but not boiling
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Peel the butternut, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Then cut into 1-inch chunks. Mix in a bowl with the 1 tbsp olive oil, some salt and black pepper, and the nutmeg. Add the carrots. Spread out in a baking tray and roast for 25-30 minutes, turning once or twice, until the butternut is tender. Remove and turn the oven down to 160°.

Whilst the butternut is roasting, heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the pinch of sugar and reduce the heat to medium/low, stirring continously until the onions become soft and golden brown. Add the mushrooms until they are soft. Set aside.

Prepare the lasagna sheets according to the package directions. Drain but don’t rinse.

In a saucepan heat the butter over a medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Add the milk (with or without cream) whilst whisking to avoid any lumps. Bring slowly to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and let the sauce cook for about 5 minutes. It should coat the back of a spoon.

Antoinette adds coriander pesto and vegetable seasoning to her white sauce to give it that extra something special – it’s delicious and makes all the difference.

Choose the baking dish in which you intend baking. Layer onions, mushrooms, broccoli, butternut, carrots, cheese and pasta, holding some of the butternut and carrots back for the top. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella and bake for an hour. Drizzle over honey once it is out of the oven.

Serve with a green side salad that includes rocket, and a tomato and mozzarella cheese salad, with fresh ciabatta on the side.

Dessert – Chocolate truffles

I found this recipe on the joyofbaking.com as I’ve misplaced my chocolate truffle recipe, but this is very similar, and you can’t go wrong with the simple delight of rich mouthfuls of creamy chocolate. I find these better than a rich and creamy dessert, which no-one can handle after two courses, nevermind the conventional Christmas pudding.

Truffles are made with a heady mixture of chocolate, cream and butter, called a ganache, that is then rolled into rounds, said to resemble the truffle fungus that pigs so enjoy in Europe. After they are formed, you roll them in cocoa powder (if you can afford raw cacao, then that is even better, and healthier).

Tip: the better the chocolate you use, the better your truffles.

To make roughly 30 truffles:

  • 230 g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa is best), cut into small pieces
  • 180 ml of double cream
  • 2 tbsps unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsps alcohol (frangelica, brandy, kirsch, kahlua, rum etc.)
  • raw cacao and/or nuts for coating

Place your pieces of chocolate in a stainless steel bowl. Heat the cream and the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Don’t let it boil, you just want to get it hot enough to melt the butter. Pour this immediately over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Then stir with a whisk until it is smooth. If you want liqueur, add it now (Jamie Oliver suggests adding a pinch of salt at this stage as he claims it makes the chocolate ‘taste even chocolatier’). Then cover and place in the fridge until the tuffle mixture is firm – several hours, so it is best to make this the night before.

You’ll need to get it out of the fridge roughly half an hour before you intend making the truffles. This recipe advocates using a melon baller or small spoon, but it’s far more creative, and places you in touch with your food, to use your hands. Form the chocolate into a round (ball) and then roll in the cacao or cocoa. Place back in the fridge until you need them.

Conversely, follow Jamie’s direction and get your guests to roll their own – a really fun way to end a meal. Arrange the chocolate ganache in a bowl, set up little bowls with the cocoa and chopped nuts for rolling, and arrange a little cup with a bit of boiling water in it for the teaspoons. If they’re not into rolling and dipping, simply smear the ganash on biscotti! Num.

Merry Christmas!

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