Christmas delights – share the love

Share good times ... Christmas lunch is about family and friends. Picture: SUPPLIED

Christmas 2020 was always going to be a strange one. It has come and gone with very little fanfare and ceremony compared to past years. With COVID, curfews and cyclones disrupting our way of life, this year has been challenging for many as budgets tightened and luxuries have become less important as we end the year with still no sign of when our borders will reopen to a world still dealing with the coronavirus. Those of us with links to overseas families and friends can only reminisce and distantly stay in contact via social media and Zoom with relatives.

A time of reflection 

Growing up in Australia, I would always look forward to festive meals with my extended family. In our household, our Chinese family would come from afar – one of the few times we get to see how grey the oldies are getting and how fast the little ones have grown. It was a time of year we overindulge in so much food that there are leftovers to last the week after Christmas and before the New Year. Chinese families, like many Fijian families, tend to over cater with too much food. My mum and dad would spend many days preparing a huge feast of roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts and dates, an apricot jam-glazed leg of ham, sweet and sour pork ribs and parcels of pastries filled with minced meats. One uncle would drive three hours from his seaside country town each Christmas with Jurassic-sized prawns and lobsters to enjoy with cocktail sauce, while another uncle would stop at the local Chinese barbeque restaurant to pick up two of my favorites; roast duck and crispy skin roast pork. It was always the women in our family graced the table with lavish desserts. My aunt’s perfectly high pavlova was always a highlight with fresh cream, mountains of berries, kiwi fruit and strawberries. My sister, a pastry chef, would spend late nights at home baking cakes and cookies. But it was always my mum’s Christmas pudding that was the happy ending to huge feast. Her steamed pudding would soak for weeks in brandy, and in the old days she used to hide coins inside for us kids to find – until we realised that it wasn’t a very hygienic or safe thing to do.

Adding a festive touch 

No matter what religion you follow, this post-Christmas period is a time that most of the family can come together and food is the attraction that bonds. Every family has their favourite dishes to serve at festive lunches. Many Indian families will be enjoying mum’s jungly chicken curry with dhal roti, or dad’s famous goat palau with homemade pickles and chutney. I’ve been to plenty of villages on Christmas Day and enjoyed a feast of lovo pork and palusami. I especially love palusami that has been infused with rendered pork fat and crackling. Not exactly good for the arteries, but boy, it is a joy to enjoy just once a year. Using the colours of Christmas – red, green and white – can also spruce up your dishes and give them a festive touch. We have plenty of local fruits and vegetables to create festive colours including tomato, spring onions, moca, ota, white onions, cabbage, capsicum and dhaniya.

Avoid getting the family sick 

In these times of COVID awareness, it is all the more important to prepare, cook and store foods that won’t make the family sick. What many Fijians call a running stomach, is actually food poisoning from contaminated food. Christmas Day can create lots of leftover food, which is great to enjoy at dinner or another day, but make sure it is stored properly. Food bacteria, or germs, grow and multiply in warm food over a period of time. It is these invisible bugs that we eat that turn our tummies into a bacterial factory that has us running for the bathroom. So here are some basic food preparation rules that are used in commercial kitchens to help avoid food from spoiling. The 2/4 rule means that once food is cooked and left out at room temperature, you have two hours to either re-heat it or put in back into the fridge for later use. But after four hours, this is when bacteria begins to multiply, and food should be consumed immediately or given to your animals. Some of the worse danger foods are cooked eggs, chicken, pork and rice, which are highly susceptible and perfect environments for bacteria to grow. You can’t see them, but rest assured, in our tropical climate, they are multiplying by the thousands. To prevent them from growing, food should always be stored at either below 5 degrees Celsius or kept hot at more than 60 degrees Celsius. Temperatures between four and 60 degrees Celsius are called the danger zone. So, before you eat that leftover curry or lovo chicken that has been sitting out for more than four hours, be prepared for your tummy to do battle with bacteria. Despite that leftover food tasting exactly the same as if it was cooked fresh, the 6-8 hour digestion period is how long it takes for the bacteria to travel from your mouth through your gastrointestinal tract to your stomach, where an epic battle of the germs will begin. So the next time you fi nd yourself running to the bathroom, calculate what you ate 6-8 hours earlier and you’ll quickly discover where the food poisoning came from!

What to do with leftover food 

Now that you know how food bacteria grows, the priority after any party is to get any leftover food back into the fridge or keep it hot over a stove or BBQ. Stripping leftover meats is a quick way to get rid of the bones and keeping the meat for salads or soups. Just prepare some salad ingredients like lettuce or cabbage, then combine the meat and vegetables with your favorite dressing or mayonnaise, and presto, you have a new dish. If you have steamed rice leftover then do what the Chinese do; refrigerate it for fried rice. Once the rice is cold, separate the rice grains with your clean or gloved hands to make it easier to cook and prevent lumps. With whatever meats, seafood or vegetables you have left, fry this with the rice, eggs, some oyster sauce and light soy sauce to create an instant meal for later in the day or night. Lovo meats and root crops can be turned into delicious stews. Just start a pot off with fried onions, ginger and garlic, add into the chopped meats and root crops with any other vegetables and herbs you have, and add some sort of liquids like coconut bu water, leftover beer, wine, tomato sauce, oyster sauce or soy sauce. The root crops will help thicken this lovo stew surprise, which will not only use up excess food but give the family something different to enjoy after the big party. Stay safe and healthy over the festive period. We still have a way to go before the rest of the world gets the coronavirus under control, and until then we cannot open our borders to international visitors. Let’s pray that 2021 brings more prosperity and joy, and we can put this dreadful year behind us.

Lance Seeto is the host of Exotic Delights: Fijian Superfoods, every Tuesday night 7.45pm only on FBC-TV.

 

Recipes

FESTIVE COCONUT CUSTARD
No matter what pudding or cake you serve for festive
dessert, try this coconut milk-based custard that’s made from
scratch, and not the instant packet custard.
 3/4 cup Rewa milk;
 3/4 cup fresh coconut milk;
 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out, bean and seeds
reserved;
 4 large egg yolks;
 1/3 cup white sugar;
 3 tablespoons cornstarch;
 2 teaspoons Rum Co. of Fiji coconut rum; and
 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.
1. Combine the milk, coconut milk and vanilla bean and
seeds in a saucepan; bring to a simmer over low heat.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a
large bowl. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the egg mixture.
Return the mixture to the pan, set it over medium heat and
bring to a boil.
3. Cook, whisking constantly, until thickened. Scrape the
mixture into a bowl, remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the
rum and vanilla extract.
4. Let the custard cool to room temperature, then serve
with warmed pudding or cake
FAST-KIND ROAST CHICKEN
If you’re running out of time, this recipe will have a roast
chicken meal on the table in under one hour.
 1 tablespoon butter or ghee;
 1 tablespoon virgin olive or coconut oil;
 1 whole chicken, chopped into 8 large pieces;
 1 teaspoon salt;
 ½ teaspoon white pepper;
 2 large sweet potato or pumpkin, peeled, cut into
chunks;
 4 garlic cloves, peeled;
 2 white onions;
 2 lemons, halved;
 3 tablespoons fresh or dried herbs (basil, thyme,
rosemary, parsley);
 1 cup white wine;
 1 cup coconut ‘bu’ water; and
 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard.
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Rub chicken pieces with
salt and pepper.
2. Place butter and oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
Add chicken pieces and brown for 2 minutes each side until
golden. Transfer to a medium baking dish (it is important that
the pan is big enough so that there is plenty of room).
3. Add root crops to the frying pan and cook until light
golden. (They don’t need to be cooked through yet.) Arrange
them around the chicken with the garlic and chopped onions.
Squeeze lemons over the chicken. Sprinkle over half the herbs
and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken
and vegetables to a serving platter.
4. Place the roasting pan on the stovetop over medium
heat. Add the wine, coconut water and mustard and cook,
stirring, for 3-4 minutes until reduced. Pour over the chicken
and garnish with remaining herbs. Serve with a salad.
SPICY LOVO PORK SALAD
If you have some spare pork or chicken from the lovo, this
tangy salad recipe
 2 Tablespoon lime juice;
 2 teaspoon honey;
 pinch sea salt;
 2-3 small chilies, minced;
 2 cups shredded lovo meat (pork or chicken);
 3-4 sprigs fresh coriander, chopped;
 2-3 sprigs fresh mint, chopped;
 ¼ red onion, julienned;
 ¾ cup cherry tomatoes, halved;
 2 Tablespoon roasted peanuts; and
 Lettuce for serving, optional.
1. Stir together chillies, honey, lime juice, and salt. Add
pork or whatever meat you are using and toss to mix. Add all
remaining ingredients and toss.
2. Serve with lettuce, and you can use the lettuce leaf to
make a wrap.

 

CHICKEN, APPLE and KUMALA SALAD
With its crunchy peanuts, apples, and sweet potato, this
protein-rich salad is a great way to use excess ingredients from
the BBQ or lovo.
 4 Tablespoon balsamic, apple cider or white vinegar;
 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard;
 1 teaspoon raw honey;
 4 teaspoon virgin olive or coconut oil, divided use;
 2 cups shredded chicken;
 1 medium lovo sweet potato (kumula), sliced;
 1 medium apple, peeled, cored, sliced;
 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon;
 1 head green leaf lettuce, torn or chopped; and
 2 Tablespoon nuts, toasted.
1. Combine vinegar, mustard, and honey in a medium bowl;
whisk to blend. Slowly add 4 tsp. oil, whisking continuously
until blended.
2. Combine lettuce, sweet potato, apple, cinnamon, chicken
and peanuts; toss gently to blend.
3. Drizzle with dressing; toss gently to
combine
CURRY-COCONUT LAMB CHOPS
WITH MANGO-MINT SALSA
Add some spice to your holiday lamb chops on the BBQ with
a salsa that takes advantage of fresh mangos.
 2kg lamb forequarter chops;
 1 cup fresh coconut milk;
 1/4 cup light soy sauce;
 1/4 cup masala or your favourite curry powder;
 6 garlic cloves, minced;
 1 Tablespoon brown sugar;
 Salsa;
 2 cups diced mango;
 1/4 cup minced red onion;
 1/4 cup minced red bell pepper;
 2 tbsp fresh lime juice (oops, forgot to buy limes…lemon
instead);
 2 tbsp olive oil(didn’t use it, didn’t miss it); and
 1 tbsp minced fresh mint leaves.
1. For lamb chops: Whisk coconut milk, soy sauce,
curry powder, minced garlic, and brown sugar in large bowl.
Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add lamb chops, turning
to coat. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.
2. For salsa: Mix diced mango, red onion, red and green
capsicum, lime juice, oil, and mint in medium bowl. Season
salsa to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate at least
2 hours and up to 6 hours.
3. When ready to BBQ, drain lamb chops and grill to
preferred doneness.
4. Serve with the mango salsa.
CHRISTMAS FISH PIE
Fish and seafood pies are a great way to use offcuts to create
this deliciously creamy seafood pie. If you have any puff pastry
in the freezer, use it to cover the pie before baking.
 1 cup broccoli or cauliflower florets;
 25 grams Rewa butter;
 25 grams normal flour;
 1 cup fish stock (or coconut ‘bu’ water);
 2 tablespoon white wine, rum or brandy (optional);
 150 ml whipping cream;
 1 heaped teaspoon wholegrain mustard;
 500 grams fillets, cut into bite-size chunks;
 150 grams raw prawns;
 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley or dill;
 200 grams potato (or any root crop), very thinly sliced;
and
 15 grams Rewa butter, melted, to brush.
Method
1. Cook the broccoli or cauliflower in boiling salted water
for 3-4min until the florets are just tender. Drain and refresh in
cold water.
2. Melt the butter in a large pan and stir in the flour. Cook
for 1min. Off the heat, gradually stir in the fish stock and
alcohol, then return to the heat, stir until thickened and simmer
for 15min. Add the cream and simmer for 10min. Stir in the
mustard.
3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
4. Stir the broccoli, fish, prawns and parsley into the sauce
and season. Transfer to a baking dish and top with the potato
slices. Brush with the melted butter. Cook for 25min until bubbling,
then brown under the grill for 6-8min.
5. Serve immediately.

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