KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 — Christmastime evokes visions of roast turkey and hot puddings, of freshly-baked mince pies redolent of cloves and nutmeg, and of steaming mugs of mulled wine. Fine fare... if one lives in a temperate country and Yuletide brings with it a cooler clime, if not a blanket of snow.
In Malaysia, such hearty and hot dishes can feel a tad overwhelming given our sunnier weather (and accordingly higher temperatures). Santa Claus would probably forgo his Christmas feast if he had to sweat it out in the tropics, what with his thick, red coat and all.
Perhaps a Christmas-y dish is about the disposition rather than how warm the dish is when brought to the table. Instead of serving something piping hot for the season, why not try something chilled, something that doesn’t require hours of toil in the kitchen?
A cold pasta salad, for example, albeit one that’s full of seasonal cheer. To match the festive theme, farfalle or bow-tie pasta is a subtle nod to the bows of ribbons on wrapped Christmas gifts. Almonds add the nutty flavour one associates with this time of year and go great with cold pasta.
Christmas colours are red and green, of course. The red can come from cherry tomatoes, marinated the Italian way with extra virgin olive oil and dried herbs such as oregano, rosemary and thyme. That might be a tad too obvious and ordinary though, for a celebratory dinner.
So why not go a little crazy and include some red-and-purple corn too? This reminds me of chicha morada, a Peruvian beverage I first tasted in Cusco before trekking up Machu Picchu.
Consumed by Peruvians even before the Inca Empire, this cinnamon- and clove-scented drink is believed to have even more antioxidants than blueberries. Now that’s what I call a nutritious addition to our Christmas salad!
How about some green next? Baby courgettes add a bit of crunch and are a tenderer version of the full-sized Italian zucchini. Some Japanese influence comes from protein-rich edamame and emerald-green salted seaweed stems.
What works as otsumami (beer snacks) can work equally well in a colourful salad full of interesting flavours and textures.
Christmas doesn’t have to be hot buttered rum, steamed suet puddings, gingerbread cookies and a honey-glazed Christmas ham. Christmas can be whatever we want it to be — or taste like — so long as we celebrate it with family, friends and loved ones.
As this is a cold salad, the ingredients can be prepared earlier and chilled in the refrigerator (or even the day before). After assembly, one only needs to toss the salad together with freshly-made dressing that gives it a lively kick.
Given that all the ingredients are plant-based, this makes for a perfect side dish (or main, if served in larger portions) for vegans and vegetarians. For vegetarians, a tablespoonful of Greek yoghurt to the dressing may give the salad a creamier finish.
For others, some animal protein in the form of shredded meat from a roast chicken or wedges of hard-boiled eggs — both chilled so the dish remains cool and refreshing — will make the salad a more substantial standalone meal.
100g farfalle (bow-tie pasta)
1 red-and-purple corn
4-6 baby courgettes
6-8 cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of mixed dried herbs
50g salted seaweed stems
A handful of almonds
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons coconut oil
Salt and pepper to taste
First, prepare all the ingredients separately: Cook the bow-tie pasta according to packet instructions till al dente.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the corn, baby courgettes and edamame pods. Let it boil for five minutes till cooked, then drain and aside. Once cool, slice the corn kernels off the cob using a sharp knife. Slice the baby courgettes into discs. Remove the edamame beans from their pods.
Marinate the cherry tomatoes in a mix of the olive oil and dried herbs.
Soak the salted seaweed stems in cold water for 15 minutes before draining to remove the excess salt.
Chill all the above ingredients for at least two hours in the refrigerator.
Toast the almonds. Set aside to cool for a few minutes before slicing into flakes.
Mix the sesame oil, soy sauce, coconut oil, salt and black pepper to create the dressing. Toss the chilled ingredients with the dressing and garnish with the almond flakes.
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