Friday, 28 December 2012

A Christmas Eve (or New Year's Eve) feast

In Germany, Christmas Eve is almost as important as the day itself, with families coming together to mark the end of advent by exchanging gifts and tucking into a tasty home-cooked meal. As my mum is half German, we always kick off our traditional English Christmas celebrations with a big weihnachtsabend feast the night before.

Our Christmas Eve spread

In addition to opening the majority of our presents, we celebrate with a spread of cold plates (smoked fish, frikadellen meatballs, salads and dips) and the all important bunter teller - decorated plates piled high with chocolate, sweets and lebkuchen biscuits. This kind of meal would also be perfect for New Year's Eve (or any other celebration to be honest) - because the dishes are all served cold, you can prepare everything in advance and focus on the festivities.

Bunter Teller

Smoked mackeral and poached salmon, garnished with lettuce, tomato, lemon, and spinach leaves

In addition to the fish plate (pictured above) we had cold sausages and home-made frikadellen meatballs, my mum's special German potato salad (chopped potatoes, apples, boiled eggs and gherkins with Heinz sandwich spread - it's amazing!), prawns in a Marie Rose dressing, a selection of vegetable crudites and dips, and - the highlight of this year's feast - two very delicious bean salads.

The first of these was based on a recipe for "butterbeans with sweet chilli" from the Ottolenghi cookbook. This is a lovely dish with a subtle (but not overwhelming) Asian influence; hints of nutty sesame, sweet chilli and soy sauce all combining to bring an interesting fusion feel to the traditional bean salad.

Here is the original recipe:

400g dried butterbeans
6 garlic cloves, crushed
70ml sweet chilli sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 red peppers, cut into 2cm squares
4 spring onions, chopped
35g coriander, chopped
30g mint leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper

Sweet chilli bean salad

Soak the butterbeans overnight in cold water (use enough water to cover the dried beans by twice their volume). The next day, drain the beans and place in a large saucepan. Cover the beans with cold water and simmer for between 35 and 55 minutes, until tender. Skim any froth from the surface of the pan, and top up with boiling water as needed.

While the beans are cooking, prepare your dressing. In a large bowl, combine the crushed garlic with the sweet chilli sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice and mix well. Add the chopped red pepper, and season.

When the beans are done (soft but not mushy), drain in a colander and allow to cool slightly before adding them to the dressing along with the chopped spring onions, coriander, and mint. Mix with your hands, and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve warm or cold.

I richi e i poveri, aka prawn and bean salad

The second bean salad was based on a recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast cookbook, i richi e i poveri, a prawn and borlotti bean dish whose name translates as the rich and the poor (a reference to the combination of luxurious seafood with humble beans).

Here is Nigella's recipe:

500g dried borlotti beans
4 tins of borlotti beans, drained
750g of raw shelled prawns (or pre-cooked if you prefer!)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1 onion
2 bay leaves
1 clove of crushed or finely chopped garlic
150ml extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 heads of raddichio
Fresh flat leaf parsley (optional)

If using dried beans: Soak your beans overnight. The next day, drain and place in a large pan with the bay leaves, onion, and enough cold water to cover the beans by around 13cm. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for around 45 minutes or until tender (removing any scum which appears on the surface). Drain the beans, discarding the onion and bay leaves.

Add your beans (dried beans, cooked as per the instructions above and still warm, or tinned beans) to a large bowl with the crushed garlic, half the olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, and set aside.

If using raw prawns, place your prawns in a saucepan with cold water, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the teaspoon of white wine vinegar. Bring to the boil and cook for around 4 minutes (test a prawn at this point to see if it is done). Drain and set aside. My mum used pre-cooked prawns and they tasted great - so skip this step if you prefer!

Not too long before you plan on serving your salad, combine the beans and the prawns, adding the remaining olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Seperate the raddichio heads into leaves and line a large plate with them. Heap over the bean and prawn mix, and (if you wish) sprinkle chopped parsley over the top.

Note: My mum prepared a big batch of beans - dried cannelloni, borlotti and butterbeans, soaked overnight and cooked until tender, then seasoned and dressed with olive oil and lemon juice while still warm (to prevent them from drying out, and to make them extra flavourful) - and used them in both of her salads. Both dishes were as delicious with the mixed beans as they are with their original ingredients, so feel free to mix it up with your choice of bean!
So there you have it - a few ideas for a feast of your own. Happy New Year everyone!