Instead of a ham or roasted turkey at the center of your Christmas dinner, what about pork ribs or spicy beef stew?
Just as Santa Claus looks and behaves a little differently than St. Nicholas and Papa Noel, Christmas dinners around the world are as varied as the way Christians and even non-Christians celebrate the holiday.
One of the universal truths of Christmas is that it inspires a sweet tooth in all of us, but instead of focusing on all the holiday cookies, puddings and fried doughs, let's take a tour of the variety of non-desserts found during Christmas dinner around the world.
Many traditional holiday dishes, like jellied pigs' feet in Sweden, herring salad in Finland, carp in aspic in Canada or goat pepper soup in Ghana, might not be as warmly embraced on American tables, but here are a few savory dishes similar enough to American favorites that you might consider incorporating them into your Christmas feast.
Just like in the United States, most holiday meals abroad are centered around a large cut of roasted lamb, pork, beef or fowl, the main course and side dishes reflecting the kinds of meat and produce available in local markets. Seafood is popular in many places, the most well-known tradition being the Feast of Seven Fishes in Italy.
Filipinos, 83 percent of whom are Catholic, have earned the reputation of having the world's longest Christmas celebration with Christmas decorations and carols filling many homes as early as September. Because the islands are in the middle of trade routes passing through the Pacific Ocean, the Filipinos celebrate a Spanish-influenced "Noche Buena" dinner on Christmas Eve, which features ham, "bola de queso" or Edam cheese, and a hot chocolate called tsokalate. Many families prepare their own version of caldereta, a tomato-based stew featuring beef, chicken, pork or even goat that is thickened with mashed cooked liver.
Even in countries where Christianity isn't the majority religion, Christmas is often celebrated with holiday displays and great feasts. In Ghana, families gather to kill a goat and make a spicy stew using every part of the animal.
Although ham graces many Christmas tables, in Norway, clove-dotted pork belly ribs are traditionally served on Christmas with lingonberry relish, potatoes and sauerkraut. Both roasted and caramelized potatoes are served alongside roasted pork or duck in Denmark, and Sweden has a special Christmas version of a smörgåsbord called julbord that features an array of meats, fish, cheeses, sausages and cold salads.
In Spain, where almond soup is a popular Christmas dish, vendors on the sidewalks throughout the holiday season roast chestnuts and serve them in paper cones to people who are strolling through the streets to look at the impressive light displays.
Wild mushrooms and herring are at the center of Polish Christmas Eve dinners called Wigilia. Many Russians in the Eastern Orthodox Church fast through the month of December until Jan. 6, when they celebrate with a multi-course meatless dinner that features a wheatberry porridge called kutya.
In Central and South America, tamales with every imaginable combination of filling and masa are served around the holiday season, usually with mole or a chile- or tomatillo-based sauce. In places like Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas falls during one of the hottest months of the year, families often gather outside for barbecues and picnics.
Although the dishes served might vary, the spirit of getting people together to celebrate the goodwill associated with Christmas is the same from Ghana to Guatemala.
Christmas-Spiced Pork Ribs
In Norway, this dish is typically made with ribs that still have the pork belly attached. I used a rack of regular ribs that can be found at most grocery stores, but you could use the fragrant rub and cloves on pork chops or a pork roast as well. Don't have ground anise in your cupboard? Clean out your coffee grinder and pulverize anise, fennel or caraway seeds or star anise.
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
3/4 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp. ground anise seed
1 rack pork ribs, about 3 lb.
11/2 Tbsp. whole cloves
1 apple, cubed
Mix together salt, pepper, ginger and anise. Rub mixture all over the pork ribs. Press cloves into the meat, spacing the cloves about an inch apart. Place ribs in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least four hours.
Remove ribs from refrigerator and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Let meat rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and apples to the dish, cover with aluminum foil and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. After half an hour, reduce heat to 250 and bake for another 30-40 minutes.
Remove foil cover and turn on the broiler. Move the oven rack to the top third of the oven and broil ribs for 5-7 minutes until meat is starting to brown and the internal temperature reaches 160 degress. Serve with lingonberry jam and cooked apples that have been strained from the pan juices. Serves 4.
- Addie Broyles
Russian Crab Salad
1 lb. picked crab meat
1 lb. new potatoes, boiled and diced
1/2 cup fine diced dill pickles
1 medium white onion, fine dice
1/4 cup green peas
2 Tbsp. fresh dill
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Juice of one lemon
1 crisp sweet apple peeled, cored and fine diced
1/2 to 3/4 cup good mayonnaise
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together well, but gently, until evenly distributed and mayo lightly coats everything. Serve on individual small plates or (as I prefer) on one large platter, nicely decorated with parsley leaves, dill springs, edible flowers, olives, pickle slices, etc.
- Rob Moshein
This rich Filipino stew can be made with chicken, pork or goat instead of beef, and many recipes call for carrots, red bell peppers or other vegetables, so feel free to use what you have. Liverwurst can be substituted for the pâté or omitted altogether, but either makes the stew even more flavorful and thick.
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup minced garlic
2 lb. cubed beef round or stew meat
2 Tbsp. oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
11/2 cups canned tomato sauce
2 cups beef stock
2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes
1/3 cup green olives, sliced
1 cup peas
1/4 cup liver pâté (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together vinegar, soy sauce and garlic in a large bowl. Add beef to marinade and let sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Remove meat from the marinade and pat dry.
In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Brown the beef cubes in two batches. Once all the beef is browned, remove meat from pot and add the rest of the oil. Turn down heat to medium and sauté onions and peppers until the onions are translucent, about 12 minutes.
Return beef to the pan and add tomato sauce and beef stock. Bring to a boil and then cover. Reduce heat and simmer stew for 30 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until softened, about 20 minutes. Add olives, peas and pâté. Stew should be relatively thick. Season to taste and serve over rice. Serves 8.
- Addie Broyles
A Danish Christmas dinner usually features both roasted and caramelized potatoes. The salted butter takes away some of the sweetness of this dish, but think of it as an alternative to sweet yam casserole.
11/2 lb. small round potatoes (or 1 large can of canned whole potatoes)
5 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. salted butter
If using raw potatoes, wash and peel them. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until soft. Drain potatoes and pat dry. (If using canned potatoes, drain and pat dry.)
In a nonstick skillet, heat sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. Stir sugar frequently as it liquifies and starts to caramelize. When the caramel turns a golden brown, stir in butter until well combined. Add potatoes and stir until coated and potatoes are heated through. Serves 4.
- Addie Broyles