Mix Up Your Holiday Cuisine

Try adding a dish from another culture to your holiday repertoire this year

Conner Newbold Dec 12, 2017

The holidays have a way of bringing people together around a table. Whether celebrating Ramadan, Hanukkah or Christmas, your celebration likely involves gathering cherished family and friends for a tried-and-true traditional meal.

These culinary events occur in every culture around the world with cuisine ranging from bland to bizarre, according to our Western palates. As you plan your customary menu this holiday season, think about introducing a new dish. We’ve curated a few intriguing traditional dishes from cultures around the world, in case you’re feeling adventurous. Enjoy.

Kebab Massalam

Since 610 AD, devout Muslims have fasted from sunrise to sunset for one month of the year, a religious practice called Ramadan. The period of fasting commemorates the first revelations received by the prophet Muhammad. One could expect to see this dish at Iftar, the evening post-fast meal and social gathering.

You can rely on it to please a crowd — after all, Muslims have had 14 centuries to perfect the recipe.


  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 Thai chili peppers, well-chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 5 six-inch bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes 
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into two-inch pieces


Set the oven rack about 6 inches from the heat source and preheat the broiler. Lightly grease a broiling pan.

Combine the lamb, garlic, chili peppers, onion, coriander, yogurt, turmeric, lemon juice and salt with your hands until they are well-mixed. Roll the mixture into 15 balls.

Thread 3 meatballs onto each skewer separated by chunks of red bell pepper. Place them on the baking pan. Broil for 5 minutes, then turn the skewers over. Continue broiling for another 5 minutes, or until there’s no pink in the center.

Serves 5

Recipe adapted from


Kutia is one of the oldest traditional dishes in Ukrainian lore. It’s eaten as part of a ritual 12-course meal every Christmas Eve. Traditionally, it was the very first course eaten, and was said to foretell family luck for the coming year. However, these days it’s become more of a dessert. After the meal, a portion is left out to honor deceased relatives. It’s a wonder there was ever any left.


  • 1 cup wheat berries or kamut berries, rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2/3 cup plumped raisins
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely ground blanched almonds (optional)
  • 5 plumped figs, chopped (optional)
  • 5 plumped dates, chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half


Place rinsed wheat berries in a large pot or Dutch oven and cover with about 5 inches of water. Stir, cover and let stand overnight. When ready to cook, drain the wheat berries, rinse, drain again and place back in the pot.

Add 6 cups of cold water and the salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until tender (anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours). Drain and set aside to cool.

Prepare the poppy seeds by placing them in a saucepan, then covering them with several inches of water. Stir and let stand 20 minutes. Pour off any impurities that rise to the surface, then drain through a sieve, rinse under cold water and drain again. Return poppy seeds to the saucepan and scald with an inch or 2 of boiling water. Cover and let stand 15 minutes. Place saucepan on burner, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Poppy seeds are ready when they can be pulverized between the fingers. Drain and grind once in a poppy seed grinder or three times in a regular grinder.

In a large bowl, combine cooled, cooked wheat, ground poppy seeds, confectioners’ sugar, honey, vanilla, zest, raisins and some or all of the following, if using — walnuts, almonds, figs and dates. Mix well and add half-and-half, incorporating thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serves 6

Recipe adapted from Robert and Maria Strybel’s “Polish Heritage Cookery.”

Blueberry Cardamom Atole

Atole, an ancient hot drink, is a staple of the Mexican Day of the Dead, a celebration of deceased ancestors, as well as nearly every other holiday during the winter months. It usually accompanies a meal of tamales, but some atole recipes are hearty enough to be a meal on their own. There are innumerable atole variations — some with fruit, others with chocolate, a few even have nuts, but all have one thing in common: masa (see chef’s note below).


  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 1/4 tablet (0.8 ounces) Mexican chocolate
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 cup masa harina (instant corn masa flour)
  • 1 2/3 cups blueberries


Bring 3 cups of water and the chocolate to a simmer in a medium saucepan on medium heat, stirring to melt the chocolate. Stir in the sugar and cardamom. Place the masa, the rest of the water, and the blueberries in a blender on high speed until smooth.

Stir the masa mixture into the chocolate mixture. Cook on medium-low heat 8 to 11 minutes or until thickened, whisking occasionally. Sweeten to taste with additional sugar as desired. Serve hot.

Serves 5

Chef’s note: Mexican chocolate is sweet chocolate flavored with cinnamon and sometimes nutmeg, allspice and nuts. It is used to prepare Mexican hot chocolate and mole. It is packaged in tablet form and available in Latin markets and some supermarkets under the brand names Abuelita and Ibarra. Masa harina is the flour made from dried corn kernels that have been soaked in limewater. It is used to prepare corn tortillas, tamales, pupusas and gorditas. It is available in Latin markets or the baking aisle of some supermarkets.

Recipe sourced from

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Community magazine


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