Saturday, December 29, 2007

Groaning with Christmas/Seasonal/Holiday Joy: Part (how do you say “two” in punjabi?)

Our to-die-for Indian feast took place on Christmas Eve, that holiest of nights when families observe sacred traditions, passed on through the generations. The Midnight Mass tradition. The “just one” gift opening tradition. The visits to loved ones tradition.

Or in our case, the visit to the brewpub tradition. Each year since we moved here in 2002, we have stopped by “our” brewpub on Christmas Eve. Devoid of crowds (I mean, who goes out drinking beer on Christmas eve, geesh! Scoundrels!), dark and quiet, it is as sacred to us as any cathedral. The gigantic tree sweeping the thirty-foot ceiling made us feel all festive inside—or was that the sublime IPA or seasonal winter brew we quaffed? No matter, we were sure happy to be there.

And this year was no exception, but for the MASSIVE CROWD OF SCOUNDRELS that preceded us. Where normally about a half-dozen worshippers shared the sanctity of the place with the proprietors (all the staff was off duty), this year the word got out and we could barely get ourselves a table. Behind the bar, where once the owner pulled our Christmas pints (and give them to us for free), were two bartenders scrambling to keep up. In place of the manager, stopping by our table to visit with a plate of homemade macaroons, was our favorite friendly, but frenzied, waitress, who was trying to get home to be with her kids. Our manager friend was swamped in the kitchen, and we had to go back and stick our heads in the door to get a Merry Christmas! in. Worst of all—there were so many people drinking WINE* in the place that I thought we had entered the wrong building by mistake. Oh, it was sad, alright. We could not believe our eyes. The owner even apologized to us! I’m sorry, guys, he said, I don’t know what happened this year.

And so another Christmas tradition has become commercialized and ugly. I don’t blame all those folks for wanting in on something good. Oh—wait—of course I do. They should have kept their wine-drinking asses at home where they belong! Sniff, sniff. This was OUR tradition, dammit. *I love wine, oh I do, but not in a brewpub on Christmas Eve when the beer lovers can't get a table.

Afterward in years past, we would head over to our Unitarian Universalist fellowship for the Christmas Eve service, buoyed by the happiness in our bellies hearts.

This year, we had another service in mind: make some gooooood Indian food and serve it up as soon as possible. So we went home and got busy.

With no casualties or cut fingers this time, and no bugs in the food to deal with, we measured, chopped and stirred, and presto! presented the following for our friends’ and family’s enjoyment (and kids, DO try this at home):

Christmas Eve Indian Feast Menu

Dal with Basmati Rice (simply the best ever)
Lentil, Pea & Potato Curry, courtesy of Mediterrasian, a lovely website by a New Zealander and an Australian
Basmati Rice with Dried Fruit, Almonds, and Coconut (I'm eating some now. Yum! Friend D. brought it, let me know if you'd like the recipe and I'll post it)
Some chicken dish that our friend D. brought over for the carnivores in the house
Naan from Trader Joe's (so easy! and so good! why make it yourself?)

The Lentil, Pea, and Potato Curry was one of the best I've ever made or eaten anywhere. Note the recipe is for two servings, so double or triple at will. It is soooo good.

We make the Dal often. It is a combination of two recipes: Dal with Coconut Cream and Red Lentil Dal with Aromatics from Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone, by Deborah Madison, food goddess:


  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro stems
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoon ghee or clarified butter*, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 15 oz can unsweetened coconut milk
  • salt
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 1 dried red chile, broken into pieces
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

  • Wash the lentils thoroughly and drain well. Combine with 3 cups water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until they have disintegrated and turned mushy, about 20 minutes. If needed, add more water.

    Meanwhile, pound or puree the garlic clove, cilantro stems, and ginger together. Add them to the cooked lentils.

    Heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium-high heat, then sauté the onion, garlic, and jalapeño chile for 1 minute. Add turmeric and sauté everything until the onions are soft. Add to the pot of lentils. Pour in the coconut milk. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired.

    Heat remaining 1 tablespoon ghee over high heat. Add the shallots, dried red chile, bay leaves, and mustard seeds, and sauté about 1 minute, until mustard seeds turn grey. Stir into lentils and serve with cooked basmati or jasmine rice.

    *Note: I always use regular butter, because I am far too lazy to clarify it or to make ghee. However, I recently read that ghee is the only acceptable fat to use in Indian cooking, and that it makes all the difference. I plan on making some soon, and will likely regret every dish I ever made without it.

    Perfect Basmati (or Jasmine) Rice
    from Rebar Modern Food Cookbook

    Rebar is our most favorite restaurant in Victoria, BC. Amazing food! You will see more in Part Tres of our Holiday International Food Frenzy

    Prepare yourself for rice ecstasy!
    Combine in a heavy saucepan:
  • 3 ½ cups water
  • 2 cups uncooked rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter

    Heat to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling, put a tight-fitting lid on the pan and lower the heat to the lowest possible setting and set the timer for 18 minutes.

    When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and let it sit for 5 minutes.

    Fluff with a fork, and amaze your friends.

  • And it came to pass that a new Christmas Eve tradition was born, on a star-filled night in the Pacific Northwest.

    And peace abounded in the hearts of all who shared it.


    Mrs. G. said...

    Indian food is my absolute favorite. I weep that I was not there to partake. Thanks for the recipes

    Professor J said...

    Thanks for the recipes!