Yule be different

SICK of mince pies? Fed up with the endless rounds of smoked salmon and cranberry sauce? Rewrite your Christmas menu, says Emma Cowing

WHILE many Christmas traditions around the world are strikingly similar, each country that celebrates the festive season has its own, rich background in culinary Christmas fare. From the baked sweets known as koleicha, made by Christian Iraqi women to give to family and friends, to the slightly suspect-sounding Russian kutya porridge, made with wheat berries and poppy seeds and meant to symbolise hope and immortality, there's a lot more to Christmas cooking than bread sauce and brandy butter. He


Glhwein has more of a kick to it than our traditional mulled wine, and is often found at the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market), where it is drunk alongside a slice of the traditional marzipan Christmas cake Stollen. If you're feeling adventurous, do as the Germans do and substitute the red wine for a bottle of blueberry or cherry wine. Try orkneywine.co.uk or www.cairnomohr.co.uk for ranges of Scottish fruit wines.

Serves 6


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1 litre red wine (Merlot or Burgundy works best) or blueberry or cherry wine.

250ml brandy

60g (2oz) sugar

1 cinnamon stick

3 cloves

1 vanilla pod

pinch of allspice

pinch of mace (optional)

1 orange, sliced

1 lemon, sliced


Pour the wine into a large pot and warm over low heat. As it begins to warm, add sugar and spices. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the brandy. Heat, but do not allow to boil. Add the orange and lemon.

Steep for about one hour over low heat. You may add more sugar during this time if desired, stirring well so it dissolves. Serve hot.


This delightfully colourful dish of beetroot soup and mushroom dumplings is a Christmas Eve staple in Poland. Traditionally, Poles fast for 24 hours beforehand, then break the fast with a 12-course meal – one course for each apostle – with the barszcz, similar to Russian borscht, leading the feast. Uszka, by the way, means "little ears", because that's exactly what they look like.

Serves 4 (makes about 40 dumplings)


For the filling

1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped

110g unsalted butter

300g wild mushrooms, chopped

1 tablespoon breadcrumbs

White of one hard-boiled egg, finely chopped

Sprig of parsley, finely chopped

Pinch of salt


Fry the onions in the butter, add the mushrooms and cook through. In a bowl, thoroughly mix the onions and mushrooms with the breadcrumbs, chopped hard-boiled egg white, parsley and salt. Set aside.

For the dumplings

700g white flour

1 egg yolk

water as needed


Thoroughly mix the flour with the egg yolk and a little water and knead into a soft mass. Roll out thinly and cut into squares about 35mm (1.5in) on each side. Place a dollop of the mushroom mixture into the centre, fold the edges over, then fold and stick the opposite corners together. Cook in boiling water for five minutes.



4 whole beetroot, washed but not peeled

1 litre meat or vegetable stock

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tsp sugar

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Salt and black pepper

Chopped fresh dill and sour cream


Preheat oven to 200C. Wrap the beetroot in foil and roast until tender, about 30-45 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and slice into thin strips. In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the stock to the boil, then add beetroot, garlic, sugar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for ten minutes.

Add the cooked uszka and serve immediately, garnished with sour cream and chopped fresh dill.


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While Japan only has a small Christian community, the Christmas season has been embraced in recent years in the country and is now a major national holiday that includes many western traditions, including hanging up mistletoe and carol singing. Instead of turkey, the Japanese often dine on roasted teriyaki chicken on Christmas Day, although in recent years a tradition of reserving a Christmas chicken dinner from KFC has become increasingly popular. We're sure you'll agree this elegant chicken dish is rather more classy.

Serves 4


500g (18oz) chicken thighs

120ml good Japanese soy sauce

12ml sake

12ml mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine, you could substitute any other sweet wine)

1 tbsp caster sugar

Salt and pepper

Small bunch of spring onions, chopped


Preheat oven to 220C (430F). Prick chicken thighs with a fork. Season well and roast for 20 minutes. In a pan, bring the soy sauce, sake and mirin to the boil. Add the sugar and allow the liquid to reduce down to a light glaze. Take chicken thighs out of the oven. Place them hot in an ovenproof bowl and pour the sauce over them. Coat them well, then put them back in the oven to glaze for 20 minutes. Stir them from time to time. Serve with spring onions scattered over the top.

No-one does chocolate better than the Mexicans, where it has been an important part of the culinary culture in both sweet and savoury dishes for thousands of years. This Mexican twist on traditional hot chocolate makes an excellent festive treat for children, as well as chocaholic adults.

Serves 6


3 pints of milk

170g (6oz) dark chocolate, preferably 70 per cent cocoa solids

170g (6oz) milk chocolate

1 vanilla pod

1 cinnamon stick


Heat the milk over medium heat. Break the chocolate into pieces. When the milk is hot, dissolve the chocolate in it, stirring constantly until everything is melted. Increase the heat and let the mixture slowly boil. Add the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and beat until frothy. Remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick and serve.


No Goan Christmas is complete without Bebinca, a simple and tasty layered cake from this palm-fringed state in south-west India which has a large Catholic population.

Bebinca also makes appearances at christenings and Easter celebrations, and is usually baked in a clay oven. It is also made in the Philippines at this time of year, with rice flour, where it is known as bibingka.

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A traditional Bebinca has 16 layers, each cooked one after the other, but you can make as many, or as few, as your patience will allow.

Serves 8


200ml coconut milk

500g (18oz) sugar

10 egg yolks

200g (7oz) plain flour

1 tsp grated nutmeg

200g (7oz) butter, melted

Almond slivers to finish


Mix the coconut milk and sugar together. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then add the coconut milk and sugar and mix well. Add the flour a little at a time, mixing well, until there are no lumps; add the nutmeg. Preheat grill to a medium heat. Grease an ovenproof dish with a tablespoon of melted butter. Pour 75 ml of the batter into the dish and spread evenly. Bake under grill till golden brown. Spread another tablespoon of melted butter, pour another 75 ml of batter over it and spread evenly. Repeat this process until all the batter is used up, ensuring that the top layer is butter. When it is done, turn the Bebinca out on to a wire rack and garnish with almond slivers. Serve warm or cold.


Bread has always been an important holiday food in Greece, and none more so than Christopsomo. The preparation of this bread before Christmas was traditionally believed to ensure the well-being of the home in the year to come. The loaf is often decorated with a cross, or with pieces of dough formed into symbols representing the family's life, anything from their ages to the animals they keep to depictions of the household members' professions.


1 packet active dry yeast

60ml warm water

75g sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground anise

1 tsp coriander

2 tsp ground cloves

1 egg

60ml whole milk

60ml melted butter

350g wholewheat flour

230g plain flour, plus a little extra for rolling out the dough

2 tbsp raisins

2 tbsp chopped walnuts


Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and allow to stand for a few minutes. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, salt, spices, egg, milk and butter in a large bowl and mix well. Add the yeast mixture, flour, raisins and walnuts. Mix well until it forms a dough – if it is too moist, add a little flour.

Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead by hand until it is smooth and elastic – this should take about five minutes. Shape into a round loaf. Place the dough into a greased 8-inch circular cake tin, cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350C. When risen, bake the loaf for 35 to 40 minutes, or until it is brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.