One of the things I love most about this time of year is bringing together festive flavours, customs and traditions from around the world when I’m cooking.
From sweet delights like Italian Panettone and German Stollen to traditional lunches like roast lamb in Iceland and the yuletide buffet table of cold meats favoured by the Swedes, I’m fascinated with how people from around the world celebrate Christmas with food.
It’s not just the dishes that interest me, it’s the ingredients themselves. And the one that positively screams Christmas for the Greeks just happens to be one of my most favourite of fruits – the pomegranate.
Having originated in the Middle East, the pomegranate holds strong symbolic meanings in Greece, not least during Christmas when it is customary to hang a pomegranate outside the front door.
Although its links with Christmas is more to do with it representing prosperity, affluence and fertility, the pomegranate certainly looks the part too. With its ruby-red jewel-like seeds encased in bauble-esque round husks, it is a thing of beauty that looks stunning in festive table decorations.
Most importantly for me, pomegranate has a sensational flavour which is all packed into the ruby-red seed sacs inside the fruit. To prepare, cut open the fruit and scoop these out, discarding the bitter, pale yellow pith.
These glorious juicy taste bombs are gorgeous scattered liberally over salads or mixed into cous cous dishes, where they also add much-needed vibrancy in the colour department.
For impressive Christmas canapes, try these beauties:
Crisp flatbread, babaganouj and pomegranate canapes
- To prepare the babaganouj, brush the aubergines with olive oil and then grill under a high heat, turning as each side blackens. Put the charred aubergines in a paper bag, close and let them steam in their skins for 15-20 minutes.
- Scoop the aubergine flesh from the aubergines into a large bowl and mash well. Mix in the minced garlic, a good glug of olive oil, tahini, cumin, 2 tbsp of the lemon juice, salt, and a pinch of cayenne. Mash well.
- Leave to cool while you prepare the flatbreads. Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Stir together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in centre, then add water and oil and gradually stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently on a work surface 4 or 5 times.
- Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out one piece into a 10-inch round.
- Lightly brush top with additional oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Slide round onto preheated baking sheet and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer flatbread to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds (one at a time). Break into large pieces.
- Place a good spoonful of the babaganouj onto each broken piece of flatbread and then top with a generous scattering of pomegranate seeds.