Christmas 2017: Four Christian families invite you for a meal

Updated: Dec 25, 2017, 10:21 IST | The Guide Team | Mumbai

Community : Goan, Anglo Indian, Mangalorean and Malayalee Christian families invite us over for a festive meal

A malayalee christian meal with teh plus family
What's served: Non-veg stew and appam, surmai fry, vegetable pulao, marble cake
At the Pius home in Mulund West, dessert has been at the heart of every celebration. Liz Pius, a homemaker, part-time travel expert and professional baker, doesn't remember a day when special feasts at home did not end with an ice cream or chocolate. In Odisha, where she grew up, her mother, she says, was famous for her cakes. So, it comes as a surprise when she tells us that the Malayalee Christmas meal doesn't feature a sweet dish. To compensate, Liz - originally from Ernakulum in Kerala - has incorporated the marble cake and custard pudding into her spread, which, she says, is now part of family tradition. "Can I have the cake first?" her older son Jordan, 13, asks, as he sits down for lunch with brother Gavin, 7. She hands him a plate with rice and chicken, and politely rebuffs his craving, "After you're done eating."

Pic/Sameer Markande
Pic/Sameer Markande

Feasting, we learn, is an important part of how Malayalees celebrate Christmas. "We start with a heavy meal of appam and non-veg stew for breakfast," she says. In fact, appam, which is made from ground rice and coconut milk, is served at all special occasions. "Appam, when traditionally prepared, can be an elaborate and time-consuming process. The batter has to settle overnight. Hence, it's only reserved at festivities," says Liz, adding that a perfectly cooked appam is usually lacy on the edges. If the batter remains, Liz also prepares vattayappam, by adding more grated coconut to the dish and steaming it in a large container.

Pic/Sameer Markande

The stew, which is a thick gravy of stir-fried veggies, mixed in light spices and coconut milk, can be made using either chicken or mutton. For this particular spread, however, Liz opted for a vegetable stew to balance the non-vegetarian dishes on the menu. Liz's Christmas meals are inspired from the years she spent in Angul, Odisha, where her father worked. This explains why the staple boiled red rice is missing. Instead, Liz has prepared a vegetable pulao for us. "We were the only Christians in our colony in Odisha, and I remember how we relished the pulaos and biryanis prepared by aunties in the neighbourhood. That's when mum started making pulao. It's all about incorporating something different and new to make the menu more interesting."

Pic/Sameer Markande

The other dishes that make it to the final menu are chicken and mutton roast. Beef cutlets are popular in Kerala, but here, thanks to the ban, Liz settles for chicken. As fish - meen in Malayalam - is also a staple, especially along the Malabar coast, where Liz's father hails from, she also has a fish preparation during Christmas. Today, it's Mumbai's favourite surmai fry. "Back in our hometown, my mum also makes thoran or vegetables sautéed with grated coconut, and mezhukkuperatti, vegetables stir-fried only with spices," Liz recalls, saying that owing to her busy schedule, she couldn't bring more to the feasting table. Nonetheless, her children appear content. And right after Jordan has had his last morsel of rice, he flashes her a smile. "Pass the cake, please."

By Jane Borges
jane.borges@mid-day.com

Pic/Sneha Kharabe
Pic/Sneha Kharabe

Goan festive spread at the afonso residence
What's served: Pork sorpotel, peas pulav, chicken cafreal roast, mutton xacuti, caramel pudding
When we step into Merlyn Afonso's cosy ground floor home in Vashi, for a while it seems like we are in Goa, especially the backyard that opens to the backwaters of Vashi. Afonso has called us over for lunch to try out her Christmas festive spread, something that she has been serving unchanged for decades. Seated at a six-seater table decorated with bunting and baubles, is the entire lunch spread - Goan stew, whole chicken cafreal roast, mutton xacuti, pork sorpotel and green peas pulav. Sweet treats include caramel cake, cookies and marshmallows.

Pic/Sneha Kharabe

It has taken Afonso two days to prepare the elaborate meal, and she tells us that she is particular about picking her ingredients, right from the meats and vegetables to the masalas. It's main course all the way, so we dig right in. We serve ourselves a helping of the light green peas pulav that's just the thing to go with the hero of the spread, the pork sorpotel. Goan food carries a rich Portuguese heritage, and the sorpotel is an iconic Christmas dish. "Sorpotel, literally means from head or 'sor' to the 'tel' or tail. Traditionally, it is supposed to be made with every part of the pig, although in Mumbai, we have to stick to the liver, heart, belly, kidney and other boneless portions."

Pic/Sneha Kharabe

This is one dish that could well be cooked a week in advance. "When we were young, we'd stand in the kitchen as the dish was made, and that's how I got a hang of it. But, I must credit my mother-in-law for teaching me how to prepare it," she says. The longer the meat soaks in the thick gravy the better it tastes, we are told. "The meat is first boiled, then cooled and cut into small pieces and then fried. The masalas comprise Kashmiri chillis, a pod of garlic, peppercorns and tamarind. "It takes three hours to cook. Because, it is an elaborate dish, it is reserved for occasions like Christmas." Even as we are half way through lunch, the sorpotel continues to be a draw for repeats.

Pic/Sneha Kharabe

The Goan stew also draws from the Portuguese style of cooking, and here, every ingredient needs is cooked separately, like the buff, the pork, carrots, potatoes and macaroni. "Later, they are mixed and boiled in a blend of all the stocks, which is how you derive the rich flavour," says Afonso, who picked up the tricks for this dish from her mother. The light caramel pudding after the rich xacuti is Afonso's version of a Christmas pudding, different from the traditional plum pudding. She prefers steaming it instead of baking. "I'm old-school, you know," she smiles. Light and not too sweet, it is the perfect sign off.

By Kusumita Das
kusumita.das @ mid-day.com

Gitanjali

An Anglo-Indian brunch with the singhs of vikhroli
What's served: Roast buff, chicken salad, mashed potato with butter, boiled vegetables, potato wedges, bread pudding
This year, Christmas will be an even more special occasion for the Singhs of Vikhroli. Thirty-three-year-old Danielle plans to make the entire feast on her own, without letting her mother, Jennifer Singh, 72, enter the kitchen. "Every year, mummy cooks and I help her. But, this year, I am going to do it. I have told her 'you stand here, and I will be in the kitchen'," says Danielle.

When we visit their home though, it's Jennifer at the helm. The menu is a traditional one that she says her mother acquainted her with. While Jennifer was born and raised in Mumbai and later married a north Indian, her maternal family traces its roots to the British. "My mother hailed from Jabalpur," says Jennifer, adding that it's not just the menu but even the style of cooking that has remained unchanged over generations. Our chat is constantly interrupted by Blackie, a black pariah, who is among the nine that the mother-daughter duo have given a roof to. Blackie makes it obvious that she would like to be in on the conversation. After all, no festivity at this home is complete without the canines. "Whatever we make, much of it is fed to them," Danielle smiles.

Gitanjali

On the menu on Christmas day will be roast buff meat, chicken salad, mashed potato with butter, boiled vegetables (carrots, French beans, cauliflower and corn) and potato wedges. But, what really stands out is the dessert menu: bread pudding or homemade custard. Everything in their Kannamwar Nagar home, is made from scratch. Even the jujubes that they offer us as pre-lunch snack. "None of the traditional recipes have been written down," says Jennifer, a retired stunt artiste-turned-social worker. The best part of the family recipe she says, is that unlike the hours that others spend labouring over their roast, the dish in this house is cooked in 45 minutes.

The trick seems to be the switch that they have made from the oven to the cooker. Danielle, much like a student prepping for an exam, tries to remember the process. Fork the entire 1/2 kg of buff meat, add two tablespoons of vinegar. Next come a series of masalas - garam masala powder and akha garam masala, ginger garlic paste - that are well spread on the meat. Oil is usually groundnut oil or soyabean. "Once this is done, we put the meat in the cooker with two glasses of water and keep it there for half an hour. The lid isn't locked up, just lightly placed in the cooker," she adds. And within 45 minutes, the meal is ready.

Gitanjali

Jennifer and Danielle aren't secretive about their recipe. Just like they aren't stingy with their food. Christmas day typically sees a lot of friends and neighbours dropping by. Leftovers, if any, are handed over to the nine dogs inside, and the many more outside. And of course, there's also a crow named George, who will get his share.

By Gitanjali Chandrasekharan
gitanjali.chandrasekharan@mid-day.com

Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

The mangalorean christmas lunch with the salins
What's served: Ginger wine, dates chutney, gunda, pork gassi, chicken sukkha, kori rotti and chicken curry, sweet sanna and rice cookies
It's a good two weeks to go for Christmas when we meet Sapna Salins at her Juhu home, but the festive fever has already set in. While the tree sits pretty in the living room, the kitchen buzzes with prep for lunch. "I cook the pork gassi a week in advance because it takes a couple of days for the flavours to get absorbed. There's a marked difference when you eat it a week later," she says. Unlike her mother's milder recipe, Salins' gassi is a thick spicy one made with curry leaves, chilli and coconut.

Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

Although born to Mangalorean Protestant parents from Udipi, Salins admits that her spread carries a Hindu influence. "My family converted to Christianity a few generations ago. This was when the Basel Mission Society from Germany was working in the region. So, the food I serve is a blend of Christian and Hindu influences," she says. Take for instance, the kottae or gunda, which is essentially idli batter steamed in mini leaf baskets woven with toothpicks from jackfruit leaves. These are prepared on festive occasions in both Hindu and Christian homes. "The leaves lend a lovely fragrance and flavour.

Pics/Pradeep Dhivar

The taste is vastly different from regular idlis," she adds. The chicken sukkha has been made with gavthi or country chicken, because the bony nature of the bird imparts a rich taste to the gravy. The rice cookies, we learn, are Mangalore's answer to Belgian waffles. The crispy deep fried cookies made with coconut milk and maida are a tricky preparation, Salins shares. "It's a tedious recipe and it's easy to go wrong with the consistency. If you do, the crispiness takes a hit." But she is determined not to buy readymade cookies from the market. "Firstly, they don't taste the same. Moreover, I want to keep the next generation in touch with our past."

By Anju Maskeri
anju.maskeri@mid-day.com

Liz Pius' Kerala mutton roast

IN

Ingredients
500 gm mutton
3 onions (small diced)
1 onion sliced
3 tomatoes (small diced)
2 tsp garam masala
½ tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp mutton masala
1 ½ tbsp ginger garlic paste
2 tbsp oil
1 cup water

Preparation
In a pressure cooker, add 1 tbsp oil; add the diced onions and tomatoes, mutton, ginger-garlic paste and spices. Mix well. Pour half cup water, and leave it to cook for 20 minutes.

Once the meat is cooked, take a non-stick pan, add 1 tbsp oil, transfer the meat and remaining water, and slow cook again.
While the mutton is getting cooked, heat 2 tbsp coconut oil to a kadai, add sliced onion, fry till it turns translucent and then brown in colour.
This dish traditionally has no gravy at all, so cook the meat till dry (make sure to roast well without burning); add the fried onions once ready.
To serve, garnish it with the onions.

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