Much of the true spirit of the holidays includes what sets upon the dinner table. We lean upon the anticipation of enjoying our favorite traditions, displayed in a welcoming table that only great friends and family understand. It brings us together, to join in prayer, bow our heads, and be thankful for the season and the year. With the reflection of the holidays, and how food enters into the traditional folds of our makeup, I often wonder, what is the world welcoming to its table this season?
In France, Christmas brings about a variety of traditional French desserts. A region of Southern France prepares a bread called Le pain calendeau, which is baked and shared with the homeless population. The blending of culinary expertise and compassion is what the holiday is truly means. Reflecting on what we are thankful for and how we can help others, the people of France welcome a sense of humble humanity to all.
In Spain, La Noche Buena is a time for Spanish families to celebrate to the fullest, and reserve Christmas Day as a day of rest and reflection of religion. La Noche Buena brings to the table Spanish fare like Misa de Gallo and Tamales. Food, drink, conversation, and laughter can last throughout the entire evening, spilling over into the first few moments of Christmas morning. This Spanish tradition reminds me that we can often give credit to the amazing flavors that welcome us to the table, but in many cases, the irreplaceable time spent with those you love can be the most delicious part.
Hanukkah is a time for those of Jewish decent to celebrate a miracle that occurred over the course of eight days. Oil is symbolic of their historic victory, and is seen in some of Hanukkah’s most enjoyed foods, such as latkes, which are potato pancakes fried in oil. The latkes are considered a symbol of the victory, because they are fried in oil. Thus, incorporating the stories that are handed down, the lessons learned through religious study, and delivered into the meal proves that there is much more than a selection of ingredients that goes into the preparation. The hands that peel, chop, and knead belong to a loved one that is preserving a custom while warming a belly.
Kwanzaa takes the deep-rooted cultures of various African tribes and combines them together in a celebration referred to as Karamu. This holiday feast occurs on the sixth day of the Kwanzaa celebration, and welcomes dishes like peanut soup, fried okra, and coconut biscuits. The meals are a marriage of African influences with the soul food ties of the African American kitchen. Kwanzaa is a time of self-awareness and renewal, and in many ways offers a time to view life in a fresh perspective.
There is perhaps, no fresher perspective than understanding that everyone has a perspective, we can feel distant in our similarities at times, live at separate ends of the world, speak different languages, and hold close to our own customary way of life. But the differences are fewer than we think because during the holiday seasons, we all welcome the same possibility of spending time with those closest to us, so embracing another’s history is the first step for not only a full plate, but also a full life.
Southern Fried Okra
1 pound fresh okra
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Wash and slice okra. Pat the okra dry with a paper towel .Combine the eggs and buttermilk, and add okra. Let the mixture stand for approximately ten minutes. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and pepper .Drain the okra carefully, using a slotted spoon. Dredge the okra, in the flour mixture. Pour two to three inches worth of oil into a Dutch oven. Fry the okra at around 375 degrees until it is golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve as a part of your Kwanzaa celebration.