Gezellig (good luck pronouncing that after a glass of wine) is a Dutch word that is untranslatable, but kinda means cozy and inviting. It’s basically the warm feeling you get when you sit around the dinner table with your best friends and family, totally stuffed and a little bit tipsy.
To celebrate this feeling, we’ve asked a few friends to tell us about their favourite festive recipe and what it means to them. They’re from different cultures, from Portugal to Australia, so don’t expect your traditional turkey and stuffing. All courses include a natural wine pairing tip by booze experts, Salon Vin Naturel.
Recipe by Miguel Andrade
From my years growing up in Lisbon, Portugal, I remember Christmas Eve as a time when I would invariably be paying more attention to the dessert trays than the long-standing family debates on politics during which no consensus existed. Sweets, which didn’t require a discussion, were the peak of our shared, Pantagruelic feast, and its leftovers were the perfect start to the following morning. Among these was my favorite: arroz-doce.
Portuguese eat rice pudding — arroz-doce — made from short-grain rice (such as arborio rice) that is cooked slowly. There are, however, ten recipes of this holiday dessert in the book Traditional Portuguese Cooking by Maria de Lourdes Modesto. You can enjoy it warm or cold; with or without egg yolks; creamier or set; decorated with powdered cinnamon or not; really sweet or just a little.
So during my childhood, when I asked my grandmother to make arroz-doce for our Christmas Eve dinner, she decided to prepare her own version. “A few yolks will make a huge difference,” my grandmother said, as we visited our neighbor to get fresh eggs. Later, with amazingly little effort, and apparently without measuring any of the ingredients, the pudding was set in a tray and dusted with cinnamon. Then she hid it inside a cupboard so no one could have a bite before the long-awaited evening. She had been in the kitchen for the last three days for many (sweet) reasons: sonhos (fried dough rolled in sugar), rabanadas (similar to French toast), leite creme (Portuguese egg custard) and farófias (poached meringues).
That night, Christmas Eve dinner came to an end and everyone went to bed. The table was left untouched and filled with leftovers (“so that the family souls could take their turn at the banquet while we were asleep” my grandmother explained). I remember having listened to a variety of conversations during the three-hour dinner, but nobody ever mentioned the arroz-doce. I lay in bed thinking about it. I had to get a taste of my grandmother’s very own creamy, custardy pudding before one of our dead ancestors would beat me to it.
So, with a flashlight in hand, I sneaked into the kitchen, where the pudding was still totally intact in the dark and cool air of the cupboard. But suddenly I heard a whisper. “Do you want to know a secret? I forgot to add the rice” my grandmother admitted, and then promised she would make another pudding with rice in the morning.
Method: Heat 1.5 litres of water with salt and the lemon rind and bring to the boil. Wash and drain the rice. Add to the water and boil until all the water is absorbed. Then, gradually pour over the boiling milk and the sugar. Remove from the heat. Leave to cool a little bit and add the egg yolks. Return to low heat to cook the yolks. Serve in a dish or individual bowls and decorate with powdered cinnamon.
Supernova by Domaine Danjou-Banessy
This fragrant Muscat upends your expectations for a dessert wine, serving dryness and complexity that adds structure to the comforting Portuguese rice pudding. Two weeks skin contact gives the Supernova a glowing apricot hue and surprises you with bergamot on the nose. Notes of mandarin and orange blossom nod nicely to the citrus zest in the pudding, while a slightly bitter finish plays the perfect foil to all that sweet creaminess.
Brothers Benoit and Sébastien Danjou-Banessy inherited the 70-year-old vines from their father and grandfather in Espira-de-l'Agly, at the foot of the Pyrenees. With a style that distinguishes them from their peers in this southern region of France, the brothers aim for pure and precise wine — achieved through patience, non-intervention and lovingly shielding their grapes from too much French Catalan sun and wind. Really good stuff.
Recipe by Long Prawn
This ad-hoc, hock hack came to us as we quickly prepared for our uncomfortably early Christmas party. Any Australian who embraces the festive cheers or jeers of the most wonderful, corporate, Christian and colonial celebration knows how culturally fraught it is for us. In fly-struck, swelteringly hot summer days we put on our ovens to prepare an English roasted fare, turning away largely from thousands of years of indigenous knowledge to listen to her majesty the Queen’s speech or we feed the flames of stereotype by literally chucking some seafood on a grill and getting sunburnt. While there is some comfort in giving in to the tinsel and tradition, there is also great reward in macerating cultures together – giving birth to your own.
This November (yes November), Long Prawn held its inaugural Uncomfortably Early Christmas Party. An event which pilfers all kinds of festive canapés of interest. None specifically indebted Christmas yet all presents in their own right. Fruit Sandos from Japan, Angels on Horseback from the UK, Russian potatoes with Caviar. Each came with a long lineage and back story; all but one. As pioneering as we thought we were, we really couldn’t give up slices of moist Christmas ham. Gridding out, then pressing cloves into some fat is a surefire release of saliva and nostalgia for us. So for this bastardised affair, we questionably married the English Christmas ham with the excellent Cantonese-style of roast pork, Char Siu. Literally meaning fork-roasted, we marinated a pork neck in a rich red, sweet glaze for two evenings, before grilling slowly over coals. Studded with cloves, for old times sakes, sliced thickly and skewered with cubes of charred pineapple. The final coup de grâce was the very Australian inclusion of some grilled pineapple. A dish which celebrates the important modern gestation of traditions. An invitation to all to turn any rigid monoculture on its head. A call to find out what others eat and you will inevitably be invited to their table.
Method: One - two days prior to serving
Mix all ingredients except pork and cloves in a bowl. Taste the mix it should be sweet, salty and a prosperous red colour. Season one way or the other, to taste. Slice the pork across the top 2cm deep, working your way across the meat leaving about 5cm between each slice. Then, make cuts at 90 degrees to your previous cut and work back the other way. You are looking to create a diamond shape with this second cut. In the intersection of each cut, press a clove deep into the fat or meat, allowing the top of the clove to remain out. Place pork in a sealable bag, adding the marinade before squeezing our any air and sealing. Massage gently to cover the whole cut.
To Cook: Prepare your charcoal so it is a consistent low heat on an even bed. Remove the meat reserving the excess marinade for glazing. Place the meat over the heat on a wire rack and let exterior caramelise and burn-in areas for about 10 mins before turning.
Turn and brush glaze liberally, continue this for a little while. Cooking time will vary according to the size of your pork yet when there is good deep colour on the outside and an internal temp of about 62C, the ham is cooked. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Slice to serve, while onlookers pick the good bits of your chopping board.
Fou du Roi by Axel Prüfer — Le temps des Cerises
We’ll always take a punchy red, but especially when balancing out an aromatic char siu. Axel Prüfer’s Fou du Roi Equal boasts equal parts grenache, carignan and cinsault — all grapes that yield a beautiful balance of fruit and smoke on the palate. This wine will hold up to the rich pork marinade with notes of cherry, strawberry and black pepper.
Axel Prüfer originally comes from Eastern Germany but just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he moved to the south of France to learn the art of wine making. His Fou du Roi comes from 68 year-old vines on slate-based soil and go through a three week carbonic maceration before bottling. A true, complex, natural wine.
Recipe by Clemency Newman
Christmas in the UK is a pretty standard affair. Every year, we follow the same schedule, from the TV we watch, to the food we eat. It’s comfortable, familiar and any deviation usually results in a mishap.
My first Christmas away from home in 2010 featured one such mishap (for me, anyway). My flatmates and I had decided to make a communal dinner and I volunteered to prepare swede mash — easy enough, right? Add in a hefty dose of pneumonia, however, and it all becomes much more hazardous.
The sight of my pale face and sound of my chesty cough made people flinch: I’m amazed my friends allowed me to prepare food for them at all. I was a danger to myself and others; from the contagious disease to the careless wielding of a large kitchen knife.
Getting that dish on the table was a huge relief — I think there were tears. I ate two bites, then retired to convalesce and feel sorry for myself. Lying in bed, a new appreciation for the Brit copy-paste Christmas welled up inside me. At home, mum or dad did all the cooking and I was free to lounge in my pyjamas and gorge on chocolate. I’d only made one measly side dish and it had almost killed me.
Try it yourself, if you dare.
Method Chop the swede (and other vegetables) into small chunks. Put the veg in a saucepan, cover with water and boil for 15 minutes. When the swede is soft (check with a knife or fork), remove from the heat and drain. Mash the veg. Mix in a lot of butter, (milk if you want), salt and pepper with a wooden spoon. It should be creamy in consistency, but a few lumps prove it’s homemade. Serve in a large bowl.
Sulk off and cry.
Kalkundkiesel Weiss by Claus Preisinger
With its soft acidity, the deep complex flavour of the wine perfectly escorts the cabbagey tartness of the swede and fruit notes of pear, apple and quince beautifully complement the subtle sweetness of the veg.
Austrian winemaker, Claus Preisinger started making his own wines at the sweet age of 22. His 19 hectares of vineyards lie next to Lake Neusiedl, where soils are dominated by limestone (Kalk) and pebble (Kiesel), hence the name. From Claus (and us) with love.
Recipe by Isabel van Zeller
My mum hates cooking. I don’t mind, because she’s not very good at it. However, there is one thing that she makes better than anyone I know. Every Christmas, me, my brother and my sister beg my mum to make her famous chocolate mousse. She doesn’t particularly like to make it, but since it’s so important to us, she makes the effort. Not too much effort though, because that’s her special ingredient: indifference. Some people’s culinary specialty is their sablé, my mum’s is being blasé. Sure, she puts some love into it, but mostly it’s her nonchalance that makes this mousse so great.
Method: Add the expensive chocolate into a pot and melt it over medium heat. Go watch TV and forget all about it.
As soon as you smell burnt chocolate, run to the kitchen. Note: this is how you get the chunky, toffee-like bits. Trust me, it’s fantastic. Add the sugar, butter and 6 egg yolks into the melted chocolate. Use a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients. Mix well. Use fingers to taste. Taste until you feel you’ve had enough.
Beat the egg whites in a large bowl using an electric beater. Talk on the phone while you’re doing this — it helps to pass the time.
Once the egg whites are nice and fluffy, fold in the chocolate mix, making sure not to beat any air out. Pour the mix into a fancy bowl and place it in the freezer. Scrape the leftovers like it’s your last meal.
Serve rock frozen — you’ll probably need to use a knife to serve. Eat with a fork, never with a spoon.
Love you, mum.
Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo by Emidio Pepe
The Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo rosé from Emidio Pepe is much darker than a typical rosé. The nose is strawberry with some subtle woody and herby notes. This wine fits perfectly with the strong & sweet taste of a chocolate mousse, since the wine is so fruity, some might even think it has some residual sugar in it.
Emidio Pepe founded his winery long before natural and biodynamic winemaking was a ‘thing’. His first vintage dates back to 1964 and he is still following the same winemaking techniques as decades ago. The vineyards are farmed biodynamically, the red grape bunches are picked by hand, pressed by foot, fermented in cement tanks and then aged in those same tanks for 24-30 months. A real treat for your taste buds.
Selected by Salon Vin Naturel
By now, you should have everything you need to make a (pretty weird) Christmas dinner. We hope you’ll have a go at our recipes — but we know you probably won’t.
Happy holidays, everyone!
Illustrations by Peter Steineck