Holiday Fare With International Flair

November 13, 1994|By Jana Sanchez-Klein

Christmas in Rome or Buenos Aries. New Year's Eve in Paris or on a Greek Isle. Sounds good and delicious.

If you can't get there, turn your holiday open house or buffet dinner party into a pleasure trip to foreign locales. Treat your guests to an eclectic and festive buffet that brings home a glimpse of international holidays in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa.

If an entire menu of foreign foods is too exotic for your taste or too much labor, try adding a new dish or two to your holiday standards. The recipes accompanying this article complement a traditional turkey main dish, and can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. Appetizers and desserts, which can be purchased at shops around town, can easily make the meal international.

Don't go overboard with the search for ethnic foods for the menu. Stick with flavors and spices that are familiar. Your holiday party isn't the time to experiment with extremes in flavor.

SCENE SETTING

As guests arrive set the tone by playing CDs of Luciano Pavarotti, the Gypsy Kings, the Chieftains or any group whose music recalls foreign lands. Hire a band, find one that can play anything from klezmer (Jewish folk music) to Latin American salsa.

Stick with favorite linens, candleholders, crystal and china for the main buffet table.

Establish food stations for the other courses and decorate each with a different ethnic theme. For example, multicolored kente cloth from Africa and other Kwanzaa decorations could cover the table where you place a tureen of soup. One of many places stocking tablewares from around the world is SERRV International Gift Shop, 8 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson. (410) 825-5785.

BON VOYAGE

Launch your international voyage with appetizers from around the globe. The coffee table could act as an hors d'oeuvres station for serving a Polish sauerkraut pierogi or a cheesy spanakopita, a favorite of Baltimore homemaker Helen Frangos, whose recipe follows.

Round out the selection with popular Middle Eastern dips, such as hummus and baba ghannouj, which can be bought from local delis and served with toasted pita bread triangles. For an easy and colorful touch of Asia, pick up some sushi made fresh right before the event, and serve it with soy sauce, ginger and wasabi.

A simple baked turkey is an ideal buffet centerpiece dish because so many people associate it with holiday cheer. The recipe that follows is adapted from one for a Chilean Passover turkey, and it becomes moist and golden brown as the dried fruits and honey work their magic.

Traditional Hanukkah latkes, crispy potato pancakes, complement the turkey. Dress them up: The recipe that follows is for "Ultimate Latkes," made with truffles and creme fraiche, by Stan Levy, chef of the Milton Inn.

And ahh, Italy. Traditional Italian Christmas dishes include minestra di scarole (escarole soup) and linguine with clam sauce. Carciofi alla Giudecca (artichokes Jewish style) is a light vegetable dish recommended by Gino Troia of Cafe Troia in Towson. He makes it with baby artichokes available the year 'round from California.

Making a potluck-style soup is "a way of bringing the village together in harmony and thanksgiving and is served at a feast after a bountiful harvest," says Angela Shelf Medearis, author of "The African-American Kitchen" (Dutton, $23.95, 1994). Ms. Medearis' elegant adaptation of this tradition, her Kwanzaa Blessing Soup, calls for a familiar combination of yams and chicken.

The preparation of some holiday foods is so complex and intricate that even with the finest ingredients, a skillful cook might be left with a product that barely resembles the goal. These are occasions for finding a supplier rather than doing the cooking. Every year, my mother and aunts spent many hours making tamales, the most traditional of Latin American Christmas foods, but the daunting task of buying a pig's head, from which the meat filling is made, prevents me from even trying. Luckily, Cuban-style tamales are available from International Market, at 1901 Fleet St. (410) 675-0714.

For a taste of old Russia, without spending too much time in the kitchen, pick up a dish from Irina's Cafe at 3200 Barclay St. (410) 889-1502. Try a kulibiaka -- a puff pastry stuffed with salmon, rice and eggs. A Russian winter salad, a combination of beets, pickles, carrots, potatoes, beans and onions in a horseradish mayonnaise, would add a splash of color to your buffet.

For drinks, Asti Spumanti and champagnes are festive. Other options are the new South African wines or Oliver's Christmas Ale, a British-style ale with hints of cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg brewed only for the holiday season. It's available at the Wharf Rat, 206 W. Pratt St. (410) 244-8900.

Creamy, fresh-brewed Thai tea can be poured into tall glasses with canned, sweetened condensed milk for a layered, delicious treat. Serve it in pottery from Thailand at the dessert table. Thai tea can be purchased at the Thai Philippine Grocery, 523 Gorsuch Ave. (410) 243-6193.

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