Writing from home just before the last weekend of Advent, it seemed a fine time to share just some of the thoughts and recipes gleaned from the wonderful Catholic kitchen pilgrimage I’ve been on during the last four weeks.
This year, more than ever, thanks to assignments from The Monitor, there’s been a chance to explore recipes from traditions around the world that celebrate the saintly observances sprinkled throughout the month of December.
It was a treat to spend time learning about, preparing and writing about just some of the foods that are such special components of the feasts that began with those of St. Nicholas and Our Lady of Guadalupe and will culminate soon with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Over the past two weeks, for a story that appears in this week’s edition of The Monitor called “A Catholic Christmas the world over and right here at home,” there was a wonderful opportunity to learn about dishes that will grace family tables from Guatemala, Poland, Italy and the Philippines.
Because of this Advent kitchen pilgrimage, my recipe file has expanded greatly with dishes savory and sweet that I’ll be sharing with family and friends – including the Mexican bread pudding from last weeks KTF and recipes that appear below for a Polish mushroom soup served on Christmas Eve and the sweet, tasty and surprisingly easy to accomplish “Ponche de Frutas” a hot punch served in Guatemala on Noche Buena/Christmas Eve.
Along with the mushroom soup – “Zupa Grzybowa” and the Ponche, I’ve included a recipe for our of our family’s Christmas brunches. This one – for smoked salmon sandwiches – harks back to the Irish heritage of my father’s side of the family.
And on Christmas morning, it’s customary for me to present a cooler with as much smoked salmon as I’ve been able to muster up, at the family gathering in Newark, Del. It will be feasted on in a variety of ways including the sandwiches represented below.
In Ireland, salmon is known as “the king of all fish” and so, it always seems appropriate to set sandwiches composed of it on the table to celebrate the birthday of our king.
Polish tradition calls for a meal of 12 meatless dishes to be served on “Wigilia” – Christmas Eve. According to tradition, the dishes should reflect the “four corners of the earth”: forest, sea, field and orchards. Mushrooms figure prominently as an ingredient in the throughout the meal, an appropriate meat substitute, for instance in pierogi.
– 16 ounces fresh portabella mushrooms
– 2 ounces dried mushrooms (optional)
– 1 large onion
– 4 tablespoon butter
–juice of ½ lemon
–1/4 cup water
–6 cups mushroom or vegetable stock
–1 cup sour cream
–salt and pepper to taste
–1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
Directions: If using dried mushrooms, soak them for two hours in hot water, then squeeze and drain out the excess water and chop finely. Wash and coarsely chop the fresh mushrooms. Saute onions in butter over medium heat until they are nicely softened – about 20 minutes. Add the lemon juice and water and cook covered for another five minutes.
Transfer the mushrooms to a soup pot, add the broth and bring to a slow simmer. Blend the sour cream with the flour and mix well. Gradually add one cup of the hot soup to the sour cream mixture and mix well. Then, pour the sour cream mixture slowly into the soup pot, stirring constantly. Simmer for five more minutes, stirring until all is well blended. Serve garnished with fresh dill.
Ponche de Frutas for Noche Buena
This delightful concoction is a savory hallmark of the Advent and Christmas season in Guatemala and one destined to become a fixture at my Christmas table as well.
-1 box of raisins, soaked in water
-1/2 cup dried apricots
-1/2 cup dried prunes
-1/2 cup dried apples and cubed apple pieces
-1 cup pineapple
-2 tsp. Cinnamon
-1 tsp. Allspice
-sugar to taste
-10 cups water
Directions: Chop the dried fruit and finely chop the pineapple. Put all the fruit in a pot and cover with water, add spices, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 45 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar to taste. Fill cups with punch and fruit and be sure to include a spoon to eat the fruit with.
Smoked Salmon and Dill Tea Sandwiches for Christmas Brunch
This recipe yields four tea sandwiches so double or triple the recipe according to the guest
– 8 ounces cream cheese
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
-sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
-1/2 loaf whole wheat sandwich bread (8 slices)
-½ loaf white sandwich bread (8 slices)
-8 ounces smoked salmon
-1/2 cup onion of your choice – I prefer a sweet onion- minced (about ½ cup)
-1/2 cup capers, well drained
Mix the cream cheese and dill and add lemon juice to taste, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the crusts from the sliced bread (I like to use round top loaves) and then, use a rolling pin to gently flatten each slice of bread.
Take 4 slices of the flattened whole wheat bread and spread with a quarter of the cream cheese mixture. Cover with 4 slices of white bread. Spread with another quarter of the cream cheese mixture. Divide smoked salmon, onions and capers evening between the four sandwiches. Spread another quarter of the cream cheese mixture on remaining white bread and place cream cheese side down on top of salmon. Spread with remaining cream cheese mixture and op with remaining whole wheat bread. Slice into quarters on the diagonal and serve.