Art good enough to eat: Holiday foods from around the world to spice up your table

Often referred to as Christmas pie, mincemeat pie is a popular holiday tradition.

Devin Schwarz, Assistant A&E Editor

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and casserole.

This American holiday meal is one of tradition and minimal variation. We all love a good tryptophan-coma-inducing meal, but variety is the spice of life and you’ll find no lack of spice on the holiday dinner tables of cultures throughout the world.

All over the planet people celebrate winter in their own unique ways. One thing binds them all together: food. Make your meal a multicultural menagerie with these simple recipes that break the American holiday norm.

Ancient civilizations in Latin America enjoyed the combination of spice and cacao for over 5,000 years, and Peruvians enjoy it even today on their holiday tables, and you can too. 

Mix cocoa and honey into a paste in a mug of your choice, then add spices of your choosing such as ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon or even chili powder. Slowly add heated milk or water, mixing constantly until you get frothy chocolaty deliciousness.

Keep in mind this is not your grandmother’s hot chocolate—this is hot cacao, as enjoyed by Mayan god-kings, and can pack a serious punch if you spice liberally.

Across the pond in England we find a whole host of foods that scare the bejesus out of Americans. Among these we have mincemeat pies; powdered sugar-covered pie crusts that hide a delicious secret.

It’s unclear when exactly mincemeat arose as an English treat, but it’s reported as early as the 15th century.

The mixture consists of dried nuts, fruits and spices mixed with meat that has literally been minced. Today this pre-made mixture can be found jarred in most grocery stores. Combine this with your choice of fruits, such as apples or oranges, add additional goodies like hazelnuts, brandy or zest, and pop these into mini-pie shells to make a delicious holiday treat.

Move over hashbrowns, there’s an old potato pancake back in town; latkes are the go-to dish for any Hebrew celebration since their invention a millennia ago. Latkes came about long before the potato arrived in the Middle East from the new world.

Originally, the crispy cake was made with various other root vegetables, cheeses, legumes and starches, depending on local ingredients available to the chef.

Today, latkes are typically made by mixing one pound of shredded potatoes, drained of all liquid, with a chopped onion and an egg. This base mixture allows for hundreds of augmentations such as the addition of cheese, garlic, apple and various other spices or produce. The cakes are then fried and served with the classic toppings of sour cream and/or applesauce.

Take arms against the monotony of your holiday feast and transform it into something that will dazzle all without scaring off your relatives.

Experiment, explore, effervesce; the kitchen is your canvas, flavor is your brush.