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A Chile-Blessed Christmas Around the World PDF Print E-mail

By Nancy Gerlach, SuperSite Food Editor Emeritus

A Colorful Pinata
'Tis the season to count our blessings and I've always counted the years I lived in New Mexico as a blessing. A big part of that is our wonderful chile and chile-based cuisine. At Christmas time there are so many tasty traditional chile dishes that are served here: posole, tamales, green chile stew, and red chile to name a few. But New Mexico is not the only place where the pungent pod plays a roll in holiday fare.  In many countries where Christmas is celebrated, chiles are an integral ingredient in traditional holiday foods.

Christmas is a truly a global celebration, spent with family, friends and great food. Traditions and  and foods may vary but chiles are a common thread.  So, heat up your holidays with my selections of chile-blessed Christmas meals.

(Pork and Posole Corn)

This dish is traditionally served during the Christmas season in New Mexico, when a pot simmering at the back of the stove provides a welcoming fare for holiday well-wishers. I can't remember any holiday party or dinner that I've attended that this stew hasn't been served. At my house this is a staple on Christmas Eve. I always have a pot ready to warm my husband and I up after strolling Old Town and enjoying the luminarias. Similar to, yet different from the "pozole" served in Mexico, this popular dish is served as a soup, a main course, or a vegetable side dish. Posole, the processed corn, is the main ingredient of this dish of the same name. If posole corn is not available, you may substitute hominy--the taste won't be the same, but it will still be good.

3/4 cup dried posole corn
1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 to 1 1/2- pounds lean pork, cut in 1 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups pork broth
2 to 3 tablespoons ground red New Mexican chile
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
Salt to taste
Garnish: Chopped fresh cilantro, chopped onions, New Mexico red sauce, either purchased or see recipe below
Flour tortillas

In a large saucepan or stockpot, cover the posole with water and soak overnight. Bring the water and posole to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Add more water if necessary.

Heat a heavy skillet over high heat, add the oil, and when hot, reduce the heat to medium, add the pork, and brown. Remove the pork when it is browned, and add it to the posole. Add the onions to the skillet, and fi needed, additional oil. Add the onions to the skillet, and if needed, additional oil. Saute the onions until they turn a golden brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Transfer the mixture to the pot with the posole.

Add the broth to the pan, raise the heat, and deglaze the pan, being sure to scape all the bits and pieces from the sides and bottom. Pour the broth into the posole pot.

Add the remaining ingredients to the stockpot, bring to just below boiling, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the posole is tender and the meat is starting to fall apart. Add more broth or water if necessary.

Place the chopped onions for the garnish in a sieve and rinse under cold water to remove the sharpness.

Place all the garnishes in small serving bowls, ladle the stew into individual soup bowls, and serve accompanied by warm flour tortillas.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Glazed Gammon
(South African Glazed Ham

Christmas is celebrated in South Africa much the same way as in other countries except that for them it occurs in summer instead of winter. Families gather for a large Christmas feast with ham, in a variety of forms, as a very popular entree. The most popular is gammon, which is a Chinese type of cured ham that is uncooked and very salty. Since it is not readily available, probably Smithfield and Virginia hams are the closest we can come to a true gammon. If an uncooked ham is unavailable, you can alter the cooking time in this recipe and still have an elegant entree to grace any holiday table. After lunch, families then visit the homes of friends to exchange a "Christmas box" of food.

1 5-to-6 pound ham
2 cups vegetable broth
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons ground piri piri chile or substitute ground piquin
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
6 canned apricot halves
10 to 15 whole cloves

1 cup apricot nectar
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup Dijon-style mustard
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons ground piri piri chile or substitute ground piquin
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and liberally oil a large baking pan.

Place the ham, fat side up, in the baking pan, and pour the broth over the top. Dust the ham with the ginger, mustard and chile, add the bay leaves and peppercorns and cover the roast with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake the ham for 3 to 4 hours, or until an internal thermometer reads 125 degrees F. Remove the meat from the oven and raise the heat to 400 degrees F.

Remove the meat from the pan and pour off the liquid. Peel the outer layer of the skin off the fat of the ham, leaving a good layer of fat. Score the fat with a sharp knife to form a crisscross diamond pattern.

Combine all the ingredients for the glaze in a bowl and stir to mix. Spoon the glaze over the ham and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or to an internal temperature of 140 degrees F., basting often with the glaze.

Remove the ham and place on a large serving platter. Garnish with the apricot halves using the cloves to anchor them in place, and serve.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Heat Scale: Mild

Jamaican Rice and Peas

In Jamaica, Christmas carols are sung to a reggae beat and, in the small villages, Santa arrives riding in a cart pulled by a donkey, not a reindeer. A typical holiday feast would consist of curried goat, oxtails, and rice'n' peas. Rice and peas (or beans) is a popular dish on many of the Caribbean islands. Maybe its popularity is due from the fact that rice helps tame the burn of chiles, although this version of the dish is not tame. The peas used are called pigeon peas and are about the size of garden peas and are available dried or in cans. Kidney, or red beans are also used in this dish, but during the Christmas season, only the gungo or pigeon are served in Jamaica.

1/2 cup dried pigeon peas, washed and picked over, or 1 8-ounce can pigeon peas, drained and liquid reserved
2 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups rice
1 cup coconut milk     
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 green onions, chopped including some of the greens

If using dried peas, place them in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and cook until the peas are tender, about 30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium high, add  the garlic, chile, and onion and saute until soft. Add the rice and continue to saute until the rice browns slightly. Stir the peas into the rice.

In a large saucepan, combine the coconut milk with 3 cups of the reserved bean liquid. (If you do not have enough bean liquid, add water to make up the difference.) Bring to a boil and add the rice mixture. Bring the liquid back to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Fluff the rice with a fork, stir in the green onions, and serve.

Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Hot

Linguine con le Vongole
(Linguine with Spicy Red Clam Sauce

La Vigilia di Natale, or Christmas Eve, is the most important holiday for many Italians. The meal served is a holiday feast with deep religious roots. Traditionally it has to be "di magro" or meatless, a custom which dates back to older church doctrine that limited the eating of meat on holy days. For those who follow the custom, the meal consists of fish or seafood and a number of side dishes. Depending on the availability, meals can have seven to thirteen seafood dishes, and in landlocked areas as few as three. Whatever the number, the number has religious significance. Linguine served with chile spiced clam sauce is a popular "il primo piatto" or the first course in a meal of many courses.

4 pounds small clams, such as manila, scrubbed and discard any that are not closed, or 1 10-ounce can baby clams, drained reserving the liquid and using to make the 2 cups
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons crushed red chile piquin
2 anchovies, minced
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
2 cups bottled clam juice
1 cup white wine
3 tablespoons finely crumbled toasted bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound linguine, cooked

In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over a medium heat. When hot add the onion and garlic and saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the parsley, chile piquin, and anchovies and saute for an additional couple of minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes and their juice, clam juice, and wine. Raise the heat and bring to a boil or over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced by 1/3 to 1/2.  Add the clams, cover and cook until the clams open, about 8 minutes. Discard any clams that don't open.

Add the bread crumbs, basil, and butter and simmer for an additional minute. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Place the linguine in individual pasta bowls, top with the clams and serve.

Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Marinated Barramundi on the Barbie with Spicy Sauce

Christmas Down Under falls in the middle of summer and is often celebrated on the beach with the holiday feast cooked on the "barbie." Prawns, steaks, chicken, and lobster, as well as fish, are all popular entree choices to be cooked on the grill. Barramundi is a white-fleshed fish popular in Australia but seldom found outside the country, but other fish such as cod or swordfish can be substituted.

4 fish steaks, 1-inch thick, barramundi, cod, swordfish, or halibut

1/4 cup lime juice, preferably fresh
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Dijon-type mustard
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 large jalapeno, stem and seeds removed, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

Barbie Sauce:
4 tomatoes, seeds removed, chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon crushed red chile, such as piquin
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients for the marinade. Place the fish in a non-reactive pan and cover with the marinade. Marinate the fish for an hour, turning frequently.

To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the sauce in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Adjust the seasonings.

Remove the fish from the marinade and grill over a medium-hot grill, basting frequently with the marinade.

Serve the fish with the sauce on the side.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Mild to Medium

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