Christmas in the Middle East is all about spending time with family and friends, which naturally involves a feast of delicious dishes and beautiful traditions passed from generation to generation.
The holiday season in the Middle East begins on the 3rd of December, which marks the Eve of the feast of St Barbara. On this day, families start preparing for Christmas. They grow wheat by placing damp cotton wool on three saucers and sprinkling wheat on top, all in the hope they’ll sprout by Christmas Eve. The wheat sprouting represents the beginning of new life and a sign of good things to follow.
On Christmas day, families gather over a wholesome lunch that lasts for hours. Everything from the Christmas tree to the white table covers and decorations looks elegant, festive, and refined. The sprouted wheat is now placed by the nativity display.
We talked a bit about traditions, so now’s the moment to move on to the food. In order to do that, I want to share with you a simplified Christmas menu with delicious Middle Eastern recipes that you can recreate for your festive gathering.
Let’s jump straight into it.
Easy Christmas lunch with a Middle Eastern twist
The most important thing is to go through all the details of your Christmas meal the week before the event. Make sure to schedule what you can make in the week leading up to the 25th so when the big day arrives, you’re ready to welcome your guests and celebrate.
The main attraction of your Christmas table is going to be the main dishes, of course. Here, you should maintain a balance of what food can be cooked in the oven and what can be cooked on the stove. Also, you’ll have to decide what dishes can be prepared the day before and what things can be made and put in the freezer a week before the event.
Moreover, some dishes are best cooked right before you serve them while others, such as salad dressings and desserts can be made in advance. To avoid wearing yourself out before your guests seat themselves at the table, you should choose and prepare just one or two of the former.
Now that we got the main preparation tips out of the way, I will share with you an easy-to-make Christmas menu with a Middle Eastern touch that will leave your guests asking for more:
Since you’ve already made the hummus, and the breadsticks two days before, all it remains for you to do is to prepare some of the veggie sticks.
Cut some of your veggies the day before and some the morning of your event. Here’s how you can keep your veggie sticks fresh:
- Carrot sticks – put them in water to prevent them from browning and looking shrivelled.
- Celery sticks – place them in an air-tight container or bag in the fridge.
- Cucumber and capsicum need to be cut on the day of your event
Note: You don’t need to cut up all four varieties, choose whichever you like best. If you decide to go for capsicum sticks, the red and yellow colours will add a vibrant pop of colour to your table.
As you have already made the hummus, why not introduce your guests to these delicious bruschettas.
Cut your bread one day before the event and store it in an airtight container or glad bag. Toast/charr the bread lightly on the morning of the gathering.
You can prepare these up to a week or two before and store them in the freezer.
Place in the oven 45 minutes before your guests arrive. Although they only need 20-25 minutes to bake, this will give you enough time to plate them.
Make sure to put your timer on, as at this point you may forget about them.
Is there a party food more delicious than the one-pan oven-roasted chicken chops? You only need a handful of ingredients for this dish.
You’ll need to cook this recipe on the day of the gathering. Nonetheless, you can do all the prep and marinate your chicken the day before.
Cover the roasting pan and place it in the fridge, ready to cook for the big day.
Serving something like Arabian Spicy Rice is fuss-free despite its impressive look.
Keep the rice covered in the pot, and it will keep warm. This dish can be eaten at room temperature; however, you can always heat it in the microwave if you want. Watch the full recipe video here
This is an extremely simple salad that will complement your dishes and bring colour to your table.
Once you wash the vegetables, make sure you place all the quantities you plan to use in one bag or in one area ready to get chopped on the day of the event. Check out my easy to follow Fattoush video recipe
You can prepare this recipe one day in advance. This lovely vanilla and chocolate custard dessert is made with a biscuit base and topped with cocoa.
Did I also mention there’s no baking required?
You can make this a week in advance and freeze it.
Remove from the freezer the night before for 5 minutes. Cut as desired (shape, size) and place back in the freezer. Now it’s ready for you to plate up the next day.
Again, if you’re a fan of no-baking desserts, you’ll love this one as well.
Dates are a Middle Eastern Delicacy and are a must for any gathering. Stuff and arrange the dates in the serving dish the day before the gathering. Cover and place aside. Did you know Dates make the perfect Edible Gift
How to plan your Christmas lunch from start to finish
It’s time we talked about planning everything. Here’s how I would recommend you approach this simple yet nutritious menu:
One week before Christmas
- Plan the menu in detail and write down the shopping list.
- Print out the recipes ready for the big day
- Sort serving dishes for each dish, label them and put them aside. With only one week to go, either try not to use them or if you do, wash and return them to their pile.
- Buy all the non-perishable items and those ingredients with longer expiry dates such as milk, cream, napkins, etc.
6 days before Christmas
- Make and freeze the spicy lamb pastries.
5 days before Christmas
- Make the coconut and chocolate roll. Place them in the freezer, ready to cut and serve on the day
3 days before Christmas
- Stuff and arrange the dates in the serving dish. Set aside
- Buy fresh vegetables and the rest of the ingredients.
- Wash the vegetables, dry them, and store them in the refrigerator
2 days before Christmas
- If you’re making the breadsticks, today is the day! Fry them and place them in the vase
- Make the hummus.
- Remove the pistachio and coconut chocolate log from the freezer for 5 minutes. Cut as desired (shape, size) and place back in the freezer. Now it’s ready for you to plate up on Christmas day.
1 day before Christmas
- Make your custard dessert.
- Marinate the chicken chops.
- Chop the onion for the Arabian Rice and place it in the fridge.
- Cut the carrots sticks and place them in water. Cut celery sticks and place them in the fridge.
- Set the table and decorate it – now it’s the moment to get creative. You can ask your children or another family member to help you with this.
- 9 AM – Cut the remaining veggies
- 9.30 AM – Chop the Fattoush salad ingredients and store in the fridge (do not add the dressing)
- 10.30 AM – Make the Arabian Nut Rice
- 11.00 AM – Charr the bread for the Hummus bruschettas
- HAVE A COFFEE, YOU DESERVE IT
- 11.45 PM – Place the spicy lamb pastries in the oven
- 12.15 PM – Place the chicken chops in the oven
- 12.20 PM – Check that everything is ready and place the appetisers on the table. Dress the salad, and spread hummus over the charred bread. Begin Plating and garnishing the food. It’s almost time; your guests should be here any minute.
- 1 PM – The guests have arrived, and they’re eager to taste the delicious food you’ve prepared. The table is all set, and the appetisers are there. You’ve done it! 👏
If you’re preparing a cheese board here’s your step-by-step guide to a creative board with lots of colours and textures. This guide is full of great ideas and ingredient substitutions that your friends will appreciate and love.
There’s nothing easier than putting together a cheese board for your guests and it works perfectly for any gathering. Not to mention it will look like you have spent a lot of time crafting it when in reality it takes just 10-15 minutes once you have laid out your ingredients.
While Christmas is celebrated differently depending on the country or region you live in, there’s one thing we all have in common: the food experiences we share with our loved ones during the festive season. I firmly believe that Christmas is a time of giving and sharing, and there is no more sincere way to do this than through the love of food.
Last but not least, a very special thank you to my gorgeous friend Marie Glavas who shared with me her Christmas traditions. This journal is true to her experiences.
From my family to yours, Happy Holidays!