It’s that time of year again, a season that raises the perennial question: what are we to do about Christmas? While our non-Jewish neighbours, despite the credit crunch, are busily stocking their freezers with all manner of exotic goodies, buying up crates of wine and beer and donning Santa outfits, should we restrict ourselves to dull, everyday menus brightened only by re-runs of Morecambe and Wise?
Ok, we don’t buy into the religious significance of December 25 (although many non-Jews these days see Christmas as little more than an opportunity for conspicuous consumption and pagan-style revelry). But surely, especially when Christmas coincides with Chanucah as it does this year, we too should indulge in a little ho-ho-ho.
Maybe a fir tree festooned with lights in the lounge is a no-no (you can call it a Chanucah bush of you like, but we all know what it really is) and perhaps mistletoe and paper-chain decorations are not called for.
But when it comes to eating, what is wrong with mince pies, roast turkey and plum pudding along with the doughnuts and latkes to mark our own festival of lights and miracles? If there is no way of escaping the epicurian traditions of a British Yuletide, should we not embrace them?
My grandmother, who was far from being unobservant, was renowned for her “winter” pudding, which in shape was suspiciously similar to the Xmas puddings enjoyed by most of her neighbours.
A glistening, oval pud, packed with raisins, sultanas, candied orange peel, allspice, nutmeg, molasses, treacle and glace cherries, it was a wonderful place to hide the Chanucah geldt.
Washed down with a glass of good quality, sticky-sweet wine, it was melt-in-the-mouth heavenly. (Try the White Muscat Dessert Wine by Carmel Mizrachi or the Late Harvest Muscat produced in the Golan Heights.)
Search the web and you will find acres of material discussing ways to eat and drink your way through the holiday season without compromising kashrut. Ideas include canapés with smoked salmon, salmon roe (kosher caviar) and chopped herring accompanied by Israeli sparkling wines including Yarden’s Blanc de Blanc and Brut, made using the traditional Champagne method.
Follow with turkey soup with lockshen and kreplach to provide a warming second course. Whether the main course is turkey, goose or chicken, don’t forget the stuffing. There are plenty of vegetarian or kosher meat versions.
Chestnut stuffing is a popular and easy to prepare vegetarian alternative. You will need 400g of tinned chestnut puree, three sticks of celery and a medium onion, all chopped finely, 85g of breadcrumbs, a tablespoon of chopped sage and a dash of soya sauce.
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and shape into balls. Place them on a greased baking tray and pop them in the oven at 190°c for 20-35 minutes.
The vegetables do not need to be restricted to roast potatoes and tired looking Brussels sprouts. Sweetcorn, sweet potato, roast parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are all good alternatives. And don’t be scared to use frozen vegetables — nutritionally they are often better than “fresh”.
There is no shortage of good quality, Israeli-made kosher wine to accompany your main course. For a white try a Yarden Chardonnay and for a red Gamla Merlot hits the spot.
The sweet course can be a traditional Christmas pudding, but to be absolutely sure it is kosher it should be home-made. If you have overdone it with the turkey soup and kreplach you can always serve fresh fruit.
It is amazing that even after such a huge lunch one becomes a little peckish as evening approaches. This is the time to light the Chanucah candles, serve doughnuts and latkes with apple sauce and, of course, to exchange gifts. Who needs Santa?