The American melting pot is brimming with the holiday foods of diverse cultures

December 12, 1993|By Dotty Griffith | Dotty Griffith,Dallas Morning News Universal Press Syndicate

So many occasions; so much to eat. That's the delicious problem confronting Americans during December. Whatever the reason for the celebration, food plays a major role.

Polish Catholics mark Christmas Eve with a festive, but meatless, meal.

Symbolic foods play a major role on the Karamu table during Kwanzaa, a celebration of African-American community and culture.

And although New Year's Eve is better known for its partying and libations, certain "lucky" foods are as important to that holiday as turkey is to Thanksgiving. In Italy, lentils are the food that brings luck for the coming year.


Once upon a time, the Polish Christmas Eve dinner was 12 meals eaten over the course of this very important family day.

Mark Jedlinski, a graphic designer originally from Poland, recalls large, family-style meals featuring a wide variety of foods. There's a lot of fish, he says, sometimes boiled and served encased in gelatin, as well as baked or broiled. Herring, prepared in a variety of ways, is also traditional.

Of course, there are pierogi, Polish dumplings, often stuffed with mushrooms, cabbage or sauerkraut. Mushrooms are likely to show up in other guises as well, particularly creamed and served over toast points, or in soup. Salads and vegetable dishes are almost always made with potatoes and cabbage.

The feast is readied while children and grandmothers decorate the tree, Mr. Jedlinski says.

Polish creamed mushrooms

Makes 6 servings

6 tablespoons butter (divided use)

juice of 1 lemon, strained

2 pounds fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

4 or 5 green onions, chopped, white part only

1 teaspoon minced parsley

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup half-and-half

1 egg yolk, beaten

salt and white pepper to taste

4 to 6 slices buttered rye toast, cut into points, if desired

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium heat. Add lemon juice. Cook mushrooms and onions in lemon butter until mushrooms shrink and nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with parsley.

VJ In another small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter and stir in flour.

Cook over low heat until bubbly, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir flour mixture into mushrooms. Slowly add half-and-half, stirring gently, and bring just to a boil.

Remove from heat. Whisk in egg yolk and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over toast.

Per serving: calories: 309; fat: 22 grams; cholesterol: 95 milligrams; sodium: 471 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 62 percent.

Red cabbage and apple salad

Makes 6 servings

2 1/2 cups shredded red cabbage


1 large or 2 small red or golden delicious apples, coarsely grated

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons sugar or honey

Place cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle lightly with salt and let stand 10 minutes. Transfer to a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.

Return to clean bowl and combine with grated apple. Combine lemon juice and sugar or honey and pour over cabbage. Toss well; chill before serving.

Per serving: calories: 40; trace fat; no cholesterol; sodium: 183 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 3 percent.


Kwanzaa is a cultural, not religious, holiday that emerged in the '60s. It celebrates black family, community and culture in Africa and America every Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.

One of the high points of Kwanzaa is the Karamu, or feast. Because the evening for Karamu falls on Dec. 31, the meal celebrates the coming year as well.

Black, red and green are the Kwanzaa colors. Black represents the African-American people, red represents their struggle and green represents the future.

The foods for Karamu incorporate the traditional colors, particularly the red and green, says Merikhent Men-Ka-Ra, a professor at Paul Quinn College in Waco, Texas.

Corn, representing children, their hopes and future, is also an important ingredient on the Kwanzaa table, Mr. Men-Ka-Ra says.

Dishes for Karamu can be any celebratory or favorite foods, but some of those favored are corn bread, red soda pop and green beans or peas for their symbolic colors, yams, chicken, chitlins, ham, apple pie, lots of rice and other vegetables.

"I have intentionally stressed eating healthy. . . . Our kids like a little cheese and no meat," says Mr. Men-Ka-Ra, who teaches classes in the meaning of Kwanzaa and its celebration.

The Karamu feast, celebrated in homes and also in community centers, frequently is a potluck affair.

Kwanzaa jollof rice

Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil (divided use)

1 frying chicken, cut into serving pieces

3 medium onions, chopped

2 small green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

1/2 pound raw medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

6 cups water

3/4 cup chopped carrots

3/4 cup cut green beans

3/4 cup green peas

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 sprig thyme, crushed, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice

1/4 cup tomato paste

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