The church loudspeaker in the little village of Attur in southern India is at full volume, blaring Christmas carols in both English and Konkani, my native language. It is almost midnight, Christmas Eve. My grandparents’ house is close to the church and the music is loud and clear, interspersed with announcements of church services.
At home, the air is cooler than it was at midday, but the ever-present ceiling fans rattle loudly. There is a murmur of conversation, as my sleepy relatives start getting ready for the midnight service, the sarees and dresses extravagant, and the sparkle of jewellery everywhere. The air is strongly perfumed with the fragrance of cooking fires — deep in the village, the traditional fires are still the number one way to cook festival meals — the pork and chicken are the most aromatic, followed by the steam of fluffy rice cakes that will soak up the curries. The vegetables will be cooked after the holy mass, not taking as long as the braising of the meat.
The church services done, guests troop back to my grandmother’s house, to partake in port wine, plum cake and platefuls of spicy food. Both family and food obligations complete, the house dims, but for the bright paper stars and fairy lights outside which continue to light the courtyard with their many colours.
The next day is a busy one, filled with visitors, well-wishers, family and friends. We don’t exchange presents — cake is usually the currency of Christmastime, and everyone, Catholic or otherwise, gets some. The house fills with visitors attending the early morning services, and the stream of guests does not stop until late in the evening when the food is almost all gone.
India has never met a festival it doesn’t celebrate with full on gusto and flair — and we take our traditions everywhere. Whether it was graduate school in England, or after my family’s move to Edmonton, Christmas always has had the tang of smoking wood fires from my grandparents’ village.
Here in Edmonton, however, Christmas is a little different from that small Indian village, and I have adapted to the season. I do, however, tinker with the traditional Christmas dinner, adding colour and spice. Whether it is a tandoori turkey, spice-crusted roast potatoes, coconut green beans or masala stuffing, a touch of India reminds me of where I come from and the cultures that make up my life.
In a multicultural world, it is almost inevitable that traditions mingle and, to me, with a mixed-race family, it is important to celebrate all the influences that have shaped our world. Whether it is sharing a tandoori turkey, or the recipe for my masala bread stuffing, I see it as an union of cultures that allows me to create my own, particularly during a festive season. And my family — and me in particular, as a first-generation immigrant — is grateful for this opportunity that Canada offers us.
MANGO AND GRENADINE MIMOSAS
400 ml mango juice, chilled
Prosecco, chilled, to top
4 tbsp grenadine
To build each cocktail, pour 100 ml mango juice into each of four champagne glasses. Top with Prosecco. Slowly add one tablespoon of grenadine into each of the glasses and serve. Serves 4.
12 – 15 lb whole fresh turkey
5 tbsp tandoori spice mix + more if required (see notes)
2 tbsp coarse sea salt (see notes)
¼ cup unsalted butter
chicken stock, as required to deglaze
2 fresh lemons
2 fresh limes, to serve
Dry-brine the turkey two days ahead of when you plan to cook. Place the turkey in a shallow roasting dish and pat dry. Mix together the salt and tandoori spice mix. Rub the turkey all over with this mixture. Gently loosen the skin and rub mixture under the skin as well. Rub extra on thicker parts like the breast, thighs and drumsticks, using a little more tandoori spice mix, if required.
Cover the turkey loosely with plastic wrap, then place in the fridge. After 24 hours, baste the turkey with any liquid in the pan. Cover and place back into the fridge for another 12 hours.
Twelve hours before you want to cook the turkey, uncover, and do a final baste of the turkey with any more liquid that might have been released, rubbing it into the bird well. Leave uncovered in the fridge.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 450 F. Cut the butter into small cubes, soften and rub into the turkey, placing some pieces between the skin and breast. Put the turkey in the oven for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F. Loosely cover the turkey with aluminium foil, if it is browning too quickly. Roast the turkey for about three hours, uncovering the foil, if needed, to let it brown some more at the end. Baste with the juices occasionally. The turkey is done when the juices run clear, or the temperature at the thickest part of the thigh reads 170 F.
Carefully take the turkey out and let it rest for at least 30 minutes.
Skim any fat from the roasting juices, and deglaze with chicken stock. Squeeze the juice of one half to one full lemon, and season the pan juices, until they are the perfect balance of spicy, tangy and salty. Strain into a bowl and serve with the carved turkey.
Note: You can make your own tandoori spice mix. If using unsalted spice mix, increase the sea salt to three tablespoons. If using shop-bought tandoori spice mix which tends to be pre-salted, reduce the salt to one tablespoon.
1 large loaf of day old crusty French-style bread, around 1 – 1.5 lbs
2 tbsp butter + extra to grease
½ tbsp grapeseed
1 tsp mustard seeds
10 – 12 small fresh or frozen curry leaves (1 – 2 sprigs)
1 large onion, finely diced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 tsp or to taste, salt
1 tbsp or to taste, sugar
1 cup chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C)
Slice and cube the bread into ½” (1 cm) cubes and let them dry out a little.
Heat the butter and oil, on medium heat, in a large, deep, heavy-based pan. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves to the pan. Fry together for 30 – 45 seconds until the mustard seeds start to splutter and curry leaves crisp up.
Add the onion and celery to the pan and fry together for three to four minutes until they begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, salt and sugar to the onion mixture. Taste and add a little extra salt, if required. Fry together for about five to seven minutes, until the tomatoes are cooked and soft.
Tip the bread cubes into the pan and stir together until the bread cubes are coated with the savoury mixture. Take off the heat and let cool.
Gently pour over the stock and stir until the stuffing is well moistened.
Scrape out the stuffing into a butter-greased baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the top is golden and crisp.
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