By: Shantanu David
From the Chef’s kitchen:
KOURAMBIETHES (GREEK ALMOND CHRISTMAS COOKIES)
30 gm almonds
125 gm unsalted butter (softened)
120 gm icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 Tablespoon brandy
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
180 gm cake flour
1 gm baking powder
*Heat oven to 180’C.
*Blanch the almonds in hot water for 10 minutes. Remove the skins and spread them on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; cool, then chop coarsely.
*Beat butter in large bowl with electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add half of the icing sugar; continue beating for three minutes. Add egg yolk, brandy and vanilla; beat until smooth. Mix the almonds, flour and baking powder well. (If dough is too soft, add flour for soft texture.) Shape a tablespoon full of dough into small crescents.
*Bake on ungreased baking sheets until set and very pale golden in colour for about 15 minutes. Remove cookies and place on a cooling rack.
*Dust the cookies while still hot, with the remaining icing sugar. Repeat twice. Store in airtight containers till Christmas.
My earliest memories of Christmas is getting a tiny tree for the house and decking it up during foggy Delhi Decembers. At home, we were encouraged to celebrate all festivals, and which child doesn’t like to do up a tree with all manner of adornments? We didn’t do a lot of Christmas cooking at home, but we had several Christian family friends drop by with saltpeter beef and puddings, so food was always a big part of the celebrations.
While I was studying and working in New York, the entire city was filled with a sense of bonhomie during Christmas. There, the Christmas spirit is something tangible, you can feel it all around you. There are Santas from the Salvation Army, and the giant Christmas tree at the Rockerfeller Centre. Everyone takes time to wish people, something rather unusual for New Yorkers! The restaurants I worked at used to go crazy, dishing out festive delicacies, and sending out complimentary items to every table.
One year, I spent my holidays with some Greek friends, and it was incredible. There was this enormous mousakka and special Christmas almond cookies called Kourambiethes and a whole lot of other dishes along with mulled wine. I was also lucky enough to spend another Christmas with an Irish-Korean family in Conneticut. There, the food was an intriguing mix, bolstered by copious amounts of whiskey.
I think such exposure influenced my approach to Christmas cooking. At Olive in Bangalore, we always try and make Christmas more than just a big spread of food and booze. Basically, we try and recreate that bonhomie that is so popular in the West. All this goes on till new year, so it’s about 20 days of celebration. In that sense, I love Christmas in Bangalore; Olive has four large churches around it, and, during the holidays, you see families walking down to and from the church, exchanging wishes and hugs. You can actually feel the cheer in the air.
We’re doing a special Anglo-Indian menu at Monkey Bar for the first time this year and we’ve already got a great response from the community in Bangalore, as well as from the East Indian Christian families. I was fortunate enough to find these old books, a treasure trove of Anglo-Indian recipes, owned by a Bengali family that collects old books. We cherry picked some recipes from there (yes, I returned the books). Anglo-Indian food isn’t a compromise on cultures; rather, I like to think of it as one of the first successful instances of fusion cooking.
(As told to Shantanu David)
Manu Chandra is executive chef, Olive Beach, Bangalore, and partner and executive chef, Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao.