A Middle Eastern Christmas

IMG_0345They say the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and that certainly seems to be true in our household this Christmas.

Christmases overseas were spent pursuing the British traditions of my childhood – a decorated tree with gifts piled beneath it and dinner of turkey with stuffing, brussel sprouts, roasted potatoes and of course mince pies and Christmas cake in abundance.  None of which was an easy achievement when living in Muslim countries and often involved shopping for vital ingredients and supplies while on summer vacation (Christmas crackers and mincemeat in August?  Hmmm).  It also involved learning to cook a lot of things from scratch, as there were no microwave stuffing mixes or pre-basted turkeys in Baku in 1998.

When we first returned to Canada I enjoyed the convenience of having everything to hand just when I needed it, but this year, having cooked a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, the thought of doing it all again so soon seemed, well, blah.  A foodie friend (who will also be my guest on Christmas Day) suggested a lamb tagine and the idea caught my imagination.  Why not a Middle Eastern themed Christmas Dinner?  After all, Mary & Joseph wouldn’t have been tucking into turkey and cranberry sauce all those years ago, more like hummus and tabouleh.

So now here I am again tracking down elusive ingredients like tahini paste, sumach and rose water as I prepare for the big day next week.  I’ve pulled out the cook book which friends in Dubai gave me as a leaving present and I’m chopping and blending as I cook from scratch, just as I did in my days in Baku.

Seems no matter where I am, I’m thinking of someplace else.


24 thoughts on “A Middle Eastern Christmas

  1. Hey Judy – I’m not much of a traditionalist so I LOVE the idea of your lamb tagine. A three fondue extravaganza has become our default Christmas menu. Decadent, kid-friendly and doesn’t require hours of prep and clean-up. Also lends itself to leisurely, social consumption vs. the 20-minute gobble fests of my childhood…. Have a lovely Christmas.

  2. I suppose, in a way, expat life makes it a lot easier for us to try new ideas and create new traditions – I can’t imagine ANYONE back home willingly giving up their turkey or goose dinner!
    Merry Christmas Judy, I can’t wait to hear what you cooked up…

    • The menu was home-made hummus & tabouleh with drinks as the guests arrived. Lentil & lime soup for a starter. Lamb tagine, couscous (with vegetables), lemon & garlic zucchini, dahl and fatoush. Dessert was Umm Ali, chocolate mousse cake and apple pie with ice cream (we went a bit off-theme, lol). And the best thing….? Way too much food, so lots of leftovers 🙂

  3. Merry Christmas to you, Kevin and Colin, Judy. So how did the lamb tagine go? Its the same for us in Eid…when we are here in Kuwait we cook Malaysian Eid dishes from scratch and when we started celebrating Eid in our KL apartment, I have cooked paella and middle eastern dishes! I guess we expats (or ex-pats) are all the same in the end eh?

  4. Your last sentence, “Seems no matter where I am, I’m thinking of someplace else,” struck a cord in me, not surprisingly! Having lived in Palestine, I of course have learned to love Middle Eastern food, and I am now at this moment going to make me some humus. Fortunately I have the ingredients, and a recipe personally learned from a Lebanese neighbor.

    I did the expected turkey routine for Christmas, but it was the first one in years in my own house with my own family sharing the table. We had a Moldovan village goose last year in Moldova, with two other lonely expat friends.

  5. I wonder if a Moldovan goose is anything like an Azerbaijani turkey? One of the local teachers at my son’s school offered to source one for the school’s Thanksgiving dinner. At the time there were about 14 students, half a dozen students and assorted parents planning to attend. She produced one turkey about the size of a North American chicken. It was more like loaves and fishes than Thanksgiving …. 😉

  6. I understand that feeling so well and was completely surprised by it when I was living away. I realized that, no matter where I was, I was going to miss somewhere … originally I thought this was quite sad, but then realized that it meant I had a rich life.

    • That’s a great way of looking at it. The Ying and Yang of expat life. I have often said that you can’t fully appreciate what you have until you’ve lost something.

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