Life with Moxie: Christmas recipes from around the world

One of the greatest joys during the holiday season is the pleasure we take in the traditional foods associated with them. The home cooked meals from recipes created generations before, when ingredients were easily recognized and sourced and most often were grown from the earth. In a time where substitutes and shortcuts are what leads decision-making, this time of year we consciously choose to do old school way, from scratch, to honor the wonderful traditions we grew up with.

Depending on where you grew up determined what those wonderful celebratory foods were. As a this time of year evokes a joyous celebration of friends and family near and far, let us get to know what some of the wonderful foods that others have been using to celebrate the season through history. Here are of few of my favorites. All can easily have ingredients substituted to accommodate for allergies or preferences… Let’s explore!


From Iceland, the land of fire and ice comes this beautiful delicate addition to the holiday table. Made of a thin, wafer-like dough, this crisp flatbread is a holiday tradition in Iceland. Many families make it together a few days before Christmas. Not unlike cookie decorating, it’s a wonderful way to have children participate as each flatbread is designed with it’s own unique pattern.

Children make snowflakes, trucks or trees, while others try and copy traditional designs. Some Icelanders joke that it’s the only time of year the men will help in the kitchen. It’s first cut into intricate geometric patterns, then deep-fried and saved to be eaten as an accompaniment to Christmas dinner. Traditionally, a special tool called a leaf bread iron is used to cut the patterns, but we found aparing knifeworks just as well.

3 1⁄2 cups flour
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
3 1⁄2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. whole milk, heated to 115°
Canola oil, for frying

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Using two forks or your fingers, cut butter into flour mixture, forming pea-size crumbles. Stir in milk until dough forms. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth. Divide dough into twenty-five 1-oz. balls; working with 1 ball at a time, roll dough into a 7″ disk, about 1⁄16″ thick. (Cover remaining dough with a damp towel to prevent dough from drying out.) Using a paring knife and working outwards from the center of disk, cut rows of nested V’s 1⁄4″ apart. Use knife to lift the tip of every other V; fold each tip back to cross over the V behind it, pressing the dough to adhere. (See Saveur’s step-by-step guide to cutting the leaf bread) Store cut dough disks between parchment paper and cover with a damp towel until ready to fry.

Heat 2″ oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 400°. Fry 1 dough disk at a time, flipping once, until crisp, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towels to drain.


From Mexico, the land of glorious food and sun. This stunning recipe is certain to be the show-stopper at the table. Chiles en nogada is said to be a symbol of patriotic and national spirit for native Pueblans, the colors representing the Mexican flag — green, white and red. For us it said Christmas. Recipe can have items easily substituted to be made vegan if needed.

For the Chiles
4 medium-sized poblano chiles
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1/2 lb ground pork (we used ground turkey — a mix of breast and thigh)
1/4 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 Roma or vine-ripened tomato, chopped (or 1/4 c canned crushed tomatoes, drained)
1 medium-sized green apple, peeled, cored and chopped (Gala works fine)
1/4 cup raisins, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

For the Walnut Sauce
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and skins rubbed off
1/2 cup low fat sour cream
4 oz fat free cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup milk, plus more if desired

For Serving

Arils from 1 ripe pomegranate
Chopped cilantro leaves

Roast the poblano peppers under the broiler or on the grill until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place poblanos in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap; let steam 20 minutes.

While the poblanos are steaming, in a large skillet on medium, heat the oil and then add the ground pork (or turkey). Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onions; cook until are translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, thyme and allspice. Add the tomato, apple, raisins, dried apricots and pecans. Salt to taste. Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.

Remove the poblanos from the bowl and rub/peel off the skin, careful not to tear the pepper. Cut a lengthwise slit into each, from top to tip, and remove the seeds and pith with your hands or a grapefruit spoon. Stuff each poblano with one fourth of the filling.

To make the sauce, place the walnuts in a blender along with the sour cream, cream cheese and milk; puree until a smooth, slightly thick sauce forms. Add the cinnamon and salt to taste. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add more milk.

To serve, place a stuffed poblano on each plate and pour over some of the walnut sauce. Sprinkle with pomegranate arils and cilantro for garnish. Serve at room temperature.


From Germany, the land of poets and thinkers comes this very iconic, beautiful, tasty and very simple, granted there are multiple steps… fruit bread. As a Christmas bread stollen was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545, and was made with flour, yeast, oil and water.

3 cups dried fruit such as raisins, pineapple, currants, cranberries, dates
1/3 cup orange juice or rum
1 tbsp.instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 large egg
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup Dry Milk
3 1/2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tbsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

3/4 cup marzipan

2 tbsp. melted butter
confectioners’ sugar


To prepare the fruit: Combine the fruits and orange juice or rum, cover, and set aside at room temperature for up to 12 hours.

To prepare the dough: Using a stand mixer, mix and knead together all of the dough ingredients (except the almonds) to make a smooth, soft dough.

Cover the dough and let it rise until puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.

To make the filling: Divide the marzipan into three pieces and shape each into a flattened 7″ log.

To assemble the stollen: Knead the fruit and almonds into the dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased surface, divide it into three pieces, and shape each piece into an 8″ x 6″ oval.

Place one piece of marzipan down the longer center of each oval, and fold dough over it lengthwise, leaving the top edge of the dough just shy of the bottom edge.

Press the top edge firmly to seal it to the dough below.

Place the loaves on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover them, and let them rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until puffy.

While the stollen are rising, preheat the oven to 350°F, with a rack in the upper third.

Bake the stollen for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown and its internal temperature reads 190°F on a digital thermometer.

Remove the stollen from the oven, and brush them with melted butter. After 5 minutes, dust with confectioners’ sugar.

Transfer to a rack to cool completely. Wrap airtight and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. Freeze for longer storage.

Yield: 3 stollen.


A classic from our friends in Poland, Beetroot soup or ‘Borscht’ is served as a traditional starter around Christmas time in Poland. It can be served hot or cold and is usually served on Christmas Eve, which is the day most Polish people have their main feast.

1 (16 ounce) package pork sausage (sub with meatless sausage for vegans- it will go undetected!)
3 medium beets, peeled and shredded
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. white sugar, or to taste
1/2 cup sour cream, for topping
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley for garnish


Crumble the sausage (if using) into a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir until no longer pink. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Fill a large pot halfway with water(about 2 quarts), and bring to a boil. Add the sausage, and cover the pot. Return to a boil. Add the beets, and cook until they have lost their color. Add the carrots and potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, and the can of diced tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and water until well blended. Transfer to the pot. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt, pepper and sugar.

Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream, if desired, and fresh parsley


From Malta, this sweet treat drink is traditionally served after Midnight Mass and on New Year’s Eve.


2 ¼ cup dried chestnuts
1 heaped tbsp. cocoa
1 cup sugar
A piece of tangerine peel finely chopped


Wash the chestnuts thoroughly. Place them in a large bowl and cover them with water. Leave to soak overnight. Next day remove any loose pieces of skin. Preserve water for boiling the chestnuts. A pressure cooker will save much of the cooking time. Follow instructions given with pressure cooker. in any case allow to boil until tender. Add the other ingredients and continue cooking for about half an hour. If the stew is still watery at this stage reduce it by further cooking. Taste for sweetness and add more cocoa, if necessary.

Serve hot

Serves 4 – 5


It seems so customary and almost typical for us, however there is an enchanting history you may be unaware of! “According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court” -The History Kitchen.

Traditional Gingerbread cookies

3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
4 1/2 cups flour, plus more for rolling surface
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
Royal icing(optional)
Sprinkles, cinnamon candies, or any other decorations of your choice (optional)


In a medium saucepan, heat the molasses to the simmering point. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter until it melts. Stir in the brown sugar. Allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, ginger and cinnamon. Add the cooled molasses and the egg to the flour mixture and mix very well until a dough forms. You may need to use your hands to really incorporate the wet mixture into the dry mixture.

Wrap dough in wax or parchment paper and chill for 1-2 hours, or until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer chilled dough to a lightly floured rolling surface and roll out the dough to one-quarter inch thickness. Roll out a quarter of the dough at a time.

Cut cookies with your choice of cookie cutter. I chose a traditional gingerbread man, but you can get creative with any kind of cookie cutter you’d like.

Transfer cut dough to a baking sheet that has been lightly greased with nonstick cooking spray or lined with a silicone baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 12-15 minutes. The cookies will puff up, but won’t spread much.

Cool completely on a rack before decorating with royal icing, decorative sprinkles and candies.


A longtime favorite in Central and Eastern Europe for Christmas and Easter, this strudel is a decadent, sweet yeast bread. Variations through the years have included walnut and chestnut fillings.


1/2 pound poppy seeds
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup hot milk
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100 degrees F/38 degrees C)
2 tbsp. white sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, or more if needed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter
1 egg, separated – white reserved


Place poppy seeds into a food processor and process until seeds are ground, about 1 minute.

Mix poppy seeds with 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, lemon juice, and hot milk in a bowl; stir to combine. Cover poppy seed filling and refrigerate while making bread (filling will set up and thicken as it chills).

Mix yeast with water and 2 tablespoons sugar in a small bowl. Allow to stand until the yeast forms a creamy layer.

Whisk flour with salt in a bowl; use a pastry cutter to cut 1/4 cup butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Pour yeast mixture and egg yolk into flour mixture and stir to make a soft dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until smooth and slightly springy, about 5 minutes. If dough is too sticky, knead in more flour, about 2 tablespoons at a time.

Cut dough into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a 12×16-inch rectangle.

Spread half the poppy seed filling over each rectangle, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the 1-inch border back over the filling on all sides and press down.

Pick up the shorter side of a dough rectangle and roll it like a jelly roll; repeat with second rectangle. Pinch ends together or tuck ends under to prevent filling from leaking out.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; place rolls seam sides down on the baking sheet and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Beat egg white in a bowl until frothy; brush the rolls with beaten egg white.

Bake in preheated oven until dark golden brown on top, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cover rolls with a clean kitchen towel until cool to keep crust soft. Cool completely before slicing.



A tradition that is becoming popular in China is the giving of apples on Christmas Eve. Most stores in China will sell apples wrapped in colorful paper so people can buy them and give them as gifts. The reason behind this? The word for Christmas Eve in Chinese, ‘Ping An Ye’ sounds very similar to the Chinese word for apple, ‘Ping Guo’ and the two things were brought together.

This fruit and nut baked apples is a simple, delicious and time-old recipe that has been cooked in some form throughout the ages. They tend to always include raisins and spices, along with some sort of sweetener. We’ve turned a traditional recipe into a festive feast, perfect for bringing out either as a sweet but healthy dessert or better yet, as an accompaniment to a savory ham hock. It’s all made in one pan, so less washing up, smells wonderful and looks great in the middle of the table.


4 eating apples, cored
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. raisins
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. cinnamon
7 oz. apple juice
1 tbsp. honey
1 cup blackberries
1/3 cup flaked almonds


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the top off each apple, but do not discard and core each fruit.

Put the raisins, sugar, butter, and cinnamon into a food processor and pulse several times, to produce a coarse, textured mixture.

Fill each apple cavity with the mixture and add the tops. Arrange the apples in shallow over proof dish and pour over the apple juice.

Bake for 30 mins or until tender. Sprinkle over almonds and the blackberries and serve immediately piping hot.


Cooking for loved ones is a cherished way to spend time in the kitchen with friends and family. Why not make an evening or a weekend of it as spending time doing things for others is arguably the best use of time there is. Even better when there’s such a wonderful fulfilling reward for all involved at the end. Cheers to you and yours and Bon Appetite!

Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Let me know!

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