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A globally inspired holiday meal

Spruce up your festivities by mixing in other holiday traditions

By Stacey Stein

While a traditional holiday dinner in Canada typically includes well-loved staples such as turkey with stuffing, fruitcake and eggnog, festive meals in other countries can be very different. In Mexico, tamales are a traditional Christmas dish, fish soup is popular in Poland during the holidays, and in Greece, cheese features prominently in a typical holiday meal.

If you’re looking to branch out during the festive season, why not mix things up – and surprise your guests – by borrowing from a few different holiday traditions?

Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Holiday inspiration: Mexico

  • Tamales are a signature dish during Christmas in Mexico and there are many variations of this popular staple. Cornhusk bundles are filled with masa (dough made from corn flour) along with a variety of different ingredients ranging from meat and pork to vegetables and cheese. Vegetarian tamales stuffed with cottage cheese would make a great side dish for your holiday meal, pairing well with a turkey dinner.
  • Pozole soup is another staple for Mexicans during the holiday season. This spicy soup is made with hominy and meat, and seasoned with chili peppers, onion, garlic, avocado, radishes, salsa and lime. This can make a great starter for your holiday dinner, and you can kick up the flavour a notch by adding a sprinkle of goat cheese with lime or topping the soup with a piece of grilled halloumi.
  • Potato salad is popular during a Mexican holiday meal and is an easy side dish to prepare. This version uses sour cream rather than mayonnaise. To lighten things up even more, try using a low-fat sour cream.
  • A few app ideas that will add some Mexican flair to your holiday meal include veggies with a cilantro lime dip (make it lactose-free by using a lactose-free sour cream and cottage cheese), or this fiesta layered dip.

Holiday inspiration: Poland

  • Poles enjoy kicking off their holiday meal with soup, typically either a fish, beetroot, or mushroom soup. You can borrow from this tradition and start your meal off with a warming seafood chowder or for a vegetarian option, you can try this carrot and coriander soup. You can also try making a traditional beet soup, but to lighten it up replace the dumplings with a dollop of low-fat sour cream or some crumbled goat cheese.
  • Pierogies (also known as Polish dumplings) are a popular staple both year-round and during the holidays. These mini ricotta and potato frittatas are a twist on the traditional pierogi and can be prepared ahead of time. Any leftovers from your holiday meal can also be repurposed for a holiday brunch the next morning. Try serving them with some sour cream, either regular or lactose-free.
  • Cabbage is popular in Poland and cabbage rolls are usually eaten during a Polish holiday dinner. Try making a vegetarian version by stuffing the cabbage with cottage cheese instead of meat.

Holiday inspiration: Greece

  • Cheese has a starring role at a Greek holiday dinner table, and is featured within dishes such as spinach and cheese pies and also on its own, served as a platter. To give your holiday dinner a Greek twist, try making this herbed cottage cheese pasta primavera dish, which you can top with sundried tomatoes, kalamata olives and a sprinkle of feta cheese.
  • Salads are typically served at the holiday meal in Greece, and are easy to include in any holiday dinner. You can serve a chunky Greek salad filled with large hunks of tomatoes and cucumbers and top it off with this Mediterranean cottage cheese salad topper.
  • Shortbread cookies called kourabiedes, typically made with lemon zest, are a traditional Christmas dessert staple in Greece. These lemon sour cream drops replicate the lemony flavour found in kourabiedes.
  • Don’t be afraid to keep it simple – lay out a few platters of fruit with different cheeses, including slices of feta.

Other holiday food traditions

The holidays of Chanukah (an eight-day Jewish celebration) and Kwanzaa (a week-long holiday honouring African culture and traditions) fall around the same time as Christmas. Both holidays feature unique foods, many of which would blend in nicely with a traditional Christmas dinner.


Many of the foods eaten at Chanukah tend to be laden with oil, which is tied to the meaning of the holiday. Oily Chanukah foods include latkas (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (deep-friend doughnuts filled with jelly or custard).

There are many different takes on the humble potato latka, including versions that swap sweet potatoes for white potatoes, or this veggie version, which also incorporates carrots and zucchinis along with cottage cheese, giving them a hit of protein. Latkas are traditionally served with applesauce or sour cream for dipping, and make a great app or side dish at a holiday dinner table.

It’s customary to eat dairy foods during Chanukah, such as cheese blintzes, which also make a great side dish for any holiday meal. For a sweet finish that just about any guest will enjoy, you can try making this bumbleberry cheesecake.


The week-long celebration of Kwanzaa features traditional African, Caribbean and South American dishes. The holiday culminates with a special feast called Karamu on December 31st, when dinner tables are overflowing with favourite recipes. Corn bread and dishes made with sweet potatoes are especially popular during this holiday. You can try this cheesy take on corn bread, which will make a great addition to your holiday dinner table, or this sweet and savoury coconut and sweet potato mash that uses coconut whipped cream to jazz up the flavour.

Mixing in a few dishes from different holiday traditions when preparing your own dinner table will give your festivities a fresh new twist.

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