The holidays might be my favorite time of year.
It’s such a warm and comforting time: you get to catch up with old friends, spend time with family and of course, eat amazing food. I honestly feel like I’ve been eating continuously since Thanksgiving, because the holiday cakes, cookies, and dinners are never-ending!
Usually on Christmas, we’re either traveling (like our trip last year to New Zealand), or it’s a very low key dinner at my dad’s house with my dad, brother and husband.
But this year, one of my longtime family friends had a Christmas party, and had us over for dinner. You might be wondering, what’s a “family friend”? In South Asian culture, it’s pretty common: it’s basically people who you’ve known your whole life and are like family, but aren’t actually related to you by blood.
When my parents came here from India in 1978, it was just the two of them. All of their family was still back in India. So when they started making friends with other couples and families in similar situations, they ended up with this close-knit network of family friends who became like their “surrogate family” in the Bay Area, outside of their immediate family in India.
I grew up with these families, they’ve all known me since before I was born. And I’m especially close to this particular family whose house we went to on Christmas. The mom, Smeeta, is an awesome cook. Her Thanksgiving Apple Pies are … wait for it…. legendary.
And her Christmas dinner did not disappoint.
The spread was incredible!
This might be the healthiest, most delicious Christmas dinner I’ve ever had. It was 100% vegetarian too.
On the menu was: Roasted cauliflower and roasted vegetables with spices
A potato and broccoli casserole
This recipe is super easy:
- 4 russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- 1 onion, sliced into rings
- 1 head of broccoli, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups 1% milk
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon of garam masala and 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) red chili powder
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray
- Layer 1/2 of the potatoes into bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Top with the onion slices, 1/2 the broccoli, and add the remaining potatoes & broccoli. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- In a medium-size saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in the flour and salt, and stir constantly with a whisk for one minute. Stir in milk. Cook until mixture has thickened. Stir in cheese all at once, and continue stirring until melted, about 30 to 60 seconds. Pour cheese over the potato mixture, top with garam masala & chili powder, and cover the dish with aluminum foil.
- Bake 1 1/2 hours.
We also had Indian pulao – which is rice mixed with spices and vegetables
Chole – which is basically an Indian Chickpea Stew
A spinach, paneer and corn dish with cilantro
There was also quinoa stuffed peppers, salad, and rotis. I just loved how there were tons of vegetables, a good balance of protein and healthy grains, and just the right amount of fat (e.g. olive oil to roast the veggies, nothing excessive, etc.) in the meal.
I could have eaten for days. I honestly wished I had more room in my stomach so I could have kept eating, but I had to save room for dessert!
Yes, three cakes.
Red velvet with cream cheese frosting, “tiramisu,” and a rum bundt cake.
So delicious I can’t even begin to describe it. Mouth-watering-ly delicious.
And totally fine in moderation (or in indulgence) once in a while.
I had a small piece of each – I love making a little dessert tasting plate of my own with a few small bites. It’s super satisfying and then I don’t have to pick which cake to eat.
By the end of dinner, we were all in a food coma. Smeeta’s husband and my husband proceeded to trade notes on movies they’ve seen and enjoyed (they’re both film-o-files)., and the rest of us just hung out and talked.
I started letting my mind wander about how lucky I felt to have such amazing people in my life. Smeeta and her family are like a second family to me. I was her daughter’s first visitor when she was born (she was 0 years old, I was 4). All of us (me, her two daughters and my brother) grew up together and are still friends today. Her mom and my mom used to go on walks all the time when my mom was alive. When my mom passed away almost 8 years ago, Smeeta was one of the people I could count on to help fill that void.
After I got engaged, I was heartbroken because my mom wouldn’t be there to help me plan my wedding, go shopping with me, and be there for this milestone – but Smeeta was there in a heartbeat. She was so involved and helpful that I never felt alone despite my mom’s absence. Every time I was overwhelmed, she fixed the situation. She took me dress shopping. She gave me wedding advice. Her and her daughters were with me every step of the way.
She is a friend, a confidant, silly and zany, young at heart, and one of those rare people who just make things better by being around.
The holidays always make me reflective and nostalgic.
I hope all of you had a great Christmas and were able to spend it with your loved ones like we were.
Happy holidays everyone!