Because of its position on the globe, Australia doesn’t have white Christmases. December is actually a summer month Down Under, and the holidays here aren’t exactly your usual ugly-knitted-sweater-and-hot-chocolate-near-the-fireplace type.
Up until the nineties, an Aussie Christmas dinner table was done in the tradition of the country’s European forebears. There were the typical roasted meats, hot puddings, and glasses of mulled wine, which meant that many household kitchens turned into saunas in the run-up to their version of Noche Buena.
Nowadays, Aussies are less concerned with traditions and are more keen on seasonal and climate appropriate food. Instead of slaving over a turkey in a hot stove or oven when it’s 26 degrees Celsius outside, Christmas menus Down Under often involve fresh produce and fired-up barbies enjoyed al fresco as a nod to year-end summers.
So, what sort of food should you serve for an essential Australian Christmas? Here’s three recipes to take you on from appetizers to pudding:
December is basically prawn season Down Under. Jamie Oliver’s recipe for Prawn Cocktail lets you enjoy this month’s fresh catch in this light, refreshing, and easy-peasy starter.
½ a clove of garlic
8 unpeeled, large, raw tiger prawns
¼ of an iceberg lettuce
¼ of a cucumber
1-2 ripe tomatoes
1 sprig of fresh mint
1 small punnet of salad cress
50 g peeled little prawns
100 g mixed white and brown crabmeat
50 g small brown shrimps, optional
For the Marie Rose Sauce:
Half a lemon
1 swig of brandy
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 heaped teaspoon ketchup
4 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably made from free-range eggs
Heat a glug of oil in a pan over a high heat. Crush and add the garlic, then stir in 1 pinch of cayenne pepper and the tiger prawns (you can butterfly them first if you like).
Toss the prawns for 3 to 4 minutes, or till cooked through. Remove from the heat and set aside.
For the Marie Rose sauce, combine the lemon juice with the remaining ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Shred the lettuce, dice the cucumber, thinly slice the tomato, and pick the mint leaves, then layer in bowls or jars. Snip in most of the cress.
Add the peeled prawns, dollop with Marie Rose sauce, and finish with crabmeat, shrimps (if using), and more cress.
Add a pinch of cayenne pepper and hang a hot prawn or two off the side of the bowl or jar. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.
Herby Lamb Kebabs
Looking for an alternative to the usual roasted turkey or ham? Lamb happens to be a leaner and equally flavorful option, especially with the aromatic marinade put to use here. Pro-tip: You can marinate the lamb skewers in advance and simply transport them to the barbie come showtime.
8 long woody sprigs of fresh rosemary (or use wooden skewers)
600 g quality lean lamb, such as cannon, loin, leg
2 large red onions
200 g ripe cherry tomatoes
½ a bunch of fresh mint
300 g fat-free natural yoghurt
Extra virgin olive oil
For the Marinade:
1 large handful of wild garlic leaves or 3 cloves of garlic
2 big pinches of fennel seeds
For the marinade, tear the wild garlic or peel the garlic cloves, then use a pestle and mortar to smash it up with the fennel seeds and some sea salt and black pepper.
Mix with the lemon zest and about 80ml of olive oil, or until you get a good consistency for coating the lamb.
If using rosemary skewers, remove the leaves, apart from 2cm at the top, then sharpen the opposite ends so you can pierce the meat. Otherwise, soak the wooden skewers in warm water for at least 20 minutes before using.
Cut the lamb into 5cm pieces, peel and slice each onion into 6 wedges, and then place on a large baking tray. Add the cherry tomatoes and mix with the marinade.
Thread, alternating ingredients, onto the skewers, and then refrigerate until ready to cook.
Pick and finely chop the mint leaves. Mix with the yoghurt, a pinch of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a splash of extra virgin olive oil.
Preheat the barbecue, grill, or griddle pan. Grill the kebabs, turning occasionally, for about 7 minutes, or until evenly cooked and crisp and golden on all sides.
Serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and the minty yoghurt.
Black Forest Pavlova
(Serves 12 – because we all need more dessert in our lives)
Anna Pavlova was a famous Russian prima ballerina, but this heavenly meringue dessert named after her (its round white surface is reminiscent of a ballet dancer’s tulle skirt) was said to be invented in Australia after she toured the country in the 1920’s.
This version calls for cherries, which, incidentally, also happen to be in season during Australian Decembers, and chocolate, which, well, let’s be honest, is always a good addition to a dessert any time of the year.
1½ cups (330g) caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
6 egg whites, at room temperature
½ tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 cups fresh cherries or 500g frozen cherries, defrosted and drained
½ cup each dried raisins, currants, and sultanas
1 cup (250ml) Marsala or any other fortified wine
For the Chocolate Mousse:
400g dark (70%) chocolate, finely chopped
200g milk chocolate, finely chopped
3 egg whites
1 cup (250ml) thickened cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
To make the mousse, place both chocolates and 1 cup (250ml) boiling water in a blender and whiz until melted and smooth. Add egg whites and whiz until smooth and combined. Gradually add cream and vanilla, and then whiz to combine. Pour into a 2L dish, and chill for 4 hours or until set.
Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease a large baking tray and line with baking paper.
Place sugar and vanilla seeds in a food processor, and pulse until fine and combined.
Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and whisk to soft peaks. With the motor running, add 1 tablespoon of the vanilla sugar every 30 seconds, whisking until well incorporated. Continue to whisk for a further 5 minutes, or until the mixture turns thick and glossy and sugar has completely dissolved.
Gently fold through the vinegar and cornstarch, and then spread meringue onto into a 22cm-diameter round on a prepared tray . Using a palette knife, spread the sides upwards to make a slightly higher edge and a lower centre to create a well for the topping.
Place pavlova in oven, then immediately reduce oven temperature to 100°C. Bake for 1½ hours or until dry and crisp. Turn off the oven and cool with the door ajar for at least 4 hours. (Don’t worry if the pavlova cracks slightly afterwards.)
Meanwhile, place the cherries, dried fruit, and Marsala in a bowl and macerate (this means to soak the fruit in liquid, or in this case, Marsala) at room temperature for 2 hours.
To serve, whisk the mousse lightly to loosen, and then spoon into the pavlova centre. Top with macerated fruits and serve.
Whether you’re spending your first Christmas in Australia or would like to whip up something for your expat wife or husband who might be missing home while you spend the holidays in the Philippines, the aforementioned recipes ought to help you come up with what’s sure to be a memorable feast.