Here in Australia our innate desire to eat lighter foods in the hot months is hampered by some Old World traditions. With a festive season that straddles our summer which is steeped in the cold climate rituals of cooking copious amounts of meat, stuffing, baked starchy vegetables, dense cakes and even richer puddings – our bodies tend to protest the excess, even if our spirit enjoy the feast.
Although summer is suited to fish on the barbecue, lots of crispy salads and cooling tropical fruit, despite an increasing shift in many people’s Christmas fare – there is still some massive resistance to drop the bird, pud and monumental lump of cured pig. In fact in a recent online discussion in the Age mobilized an incredible wrath, after the columnist suggested people cut back on preserved meats in light of the growing evidence linking it with cancer. One commenter feared what her in-laws would think of her if the Christmas table didn’t feature a ham. Her anguish bought home to me just how resistant we are to change.
So even if your yuletide celebration is a feast of epic proportions, there is still room to introduce some kinder to your body, yet delicious, options.
Starting the day
Breakfast is a great time to get a serve or 3 of fruit. An all in one bowl fruit salad, or arranged elegantly on a platter – it is hard to resist such a cornucopia of seasonal goodies e.g. papaya, pineapple (these two also contain great enzymes that help our digestion), mangoes, apricots, nectarines, and peaches. If you want to add the schmaltzy colours of the season add some kiwi and cherries for a bit of red and green, or garnish with fresh mint.
For a festive touch add some red drinks like hibiscus tea, cranberry juice, or a berry smoothie.
The main event
Grilled or barbecued fish kebabs: cubes of firm white fish (eg: blue eye), marinated for 1 hour in 1 part lemon or lime juice, 2 parts olive oil plus some crushed garlic.
Vegetarian kebabs: skewers of capsicum, onion, eggplant, zucchini etc. Tofu marinated in 1 part tamari, 1 part mirin plus crushed ginger and garlic.
Vegetarian platters: wedges of avocado (dressed with a little lemon juice to stop discolouring), halved boiled eggs, grilled eggplant, cucumber, celery, capsicum, blanched asparagus, pistachios or other nuts.
Deli platters: marinated olives, grilled artichoke hearts, felafels and dolmades.
For those that like to cook
Mini frittatas: Choose your fillings e.g. spring onion/garlic/shitake mushroom, tomato/olive, caramelised onion and parsley, smoked oysters or mussels.
Place a small amount of filling in a greased or lined muffin pan.
Beat together 1.5 organic eggs and a dash of water, per frittata plus salt and pepper.
Half fill each pan with egg mixture.
Bake in moderate oven (180c) for about 12-15 minutes until puffed and golden.
(Can be eaten warm or cold)
More vegetarian-friendly ideas from “Confessions of a Food Nazi”:
Roasted cauliflower and tahini dip with crudités (can make the day before).
From “Chocolate and Zucchini”:
Radish and avocado canapés this uses smoked salt but can be substituted with a little sea salt mixed with smoky paprika.
Sun dried tomato and basil polenta squares – these look fantastic, are grilled rather than fried and are both dairy and gluten free.
And don’t forget
Remember to have lots of jugs of water on hand with your favourite garnish – slices of citrus, sprigs of mint etc
In the end, it is just one day of the year. Unfortunately for many of us it comes in a long line of summer celebrations – an extra glass or two of alcohol here, too much finger food and not enough vegetables there – all adds up.
Try to use a smaller plate and eat more slowly.
Take a decent break in all the eating and drinking and go for a walk, kick a footy or be really smart and give someone you will be with on the day a gift that will get you all up and moving like a kite or a frisbee.
If you have eaten too much – herbal teas made from peppermint, ginger or chamomile can help if you are feeling a little off colour, likewise bitters such as lemon juice in warm water or an unsweetened dandelion root ‘coffee’ may aid your digestion.
If you are prone to reflux – avoid the mince pies and any other sweet or savoury pastries as the combination of flour and fat tends to worsen this condition. (More on reflux and indigestion)
Enjoy the season, however you choose to celebrate.