Before I leave for the holidays, I would like to post something about Christmas. This is my last post for the year. Wishing Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to you and yours. See you in 2010.
Just nearing the end of term during my uni days in the UK, my friends and I would mount our bikes, cycle down to the local Café Rouge for what we thought at the time to be a posh evening out celebrating Christmas, to sip mulled wine served alongside mince pies. The one-pop-and-they’re-gone-pies with a little star cut out of the short-crust pastry, cushioned by the mincemeat of apples, currants, almonds, orange peel, cinnamon and other dark, intense whole spices. My favourite scent being that of ginger. The mincemeat, thick, spicy-fragrant and jammy.
We drank the warm, inky wine contently, even if Café Rouge’s brand was lacking in that perfect balance between sweet and tart and showed no evidence of the addition of whole spices.
This time, no cold milk with our mince pie. We were grown-ups now.
Fingers greasy from the mince pies, lips and teeth stained a dark plum from the mulled wine, we stayed at Café Rouge till they shut down. Mounting our bikes again, happy and a bit dizzy, we knew we would be saying good-bye tomorrow, getting on the train to leave for London, and onwards to our respective homes. Athens, Nicosia, Beirut, Karachi and Dhaka. The sight of any Café Rouge to this day makes me weep.
Just a little. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.
Upon reaching London, my Aunt would drive me around the West End, to get a glimpse of the lights, especially the ones draped over Regent Street.
Liberty would be all lit up in bright hues. A stunning window display with the latest heels or frock in fashion for that perfect Christmas gift for your lover. On the way back home, I would get some take-away. My Aunt would park outside Maroush, my favourite place in London for a shish taouk pita sandwich, a few blocks away from home in Sussex Gardens. The man behind the bar would slip in a maamoul for me, a date-filled biscuit from the Levant. She would sip her port when we would get home, while I would have my shish taouk sandwich with an Apple Tango.
The next morning at the WHSmith at Heathrow, I would fill my carry-on with Smarties tubes for my two younger sisters, Polo mints for Baba, and Dairy Milk Whole Nut for Ami. As the plane would take off for Dhaka, Bangladesh, where my father was posted, I realised gleefully that I would be seeing my family very soon. Despite being a Muslim, I was a part of Christmas, somehow. London does that to you…
I prepared this recipe bearing Christmas in mind; all those spices I was introduced to in mulled wine and mince pies inspired me to create a cardamom spiced wine-reduction which is drizzled atop roasted figs. In my humble opinion, figs should be prepared in a manner which doesn’t mask their shape and fresh tenderness. I adore the fleshy sweetness of the figs swimming in a pool of milky, creamy whiteness, lacquered with the cardamom-spiced red wine reduction.
I also like to have them solely in their opaque burgundy-tinted juice, sprinkled with neon-green pistachios for textural contrast.
I would skip the main course; go straight for dessert.
For this recipe I used a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riparosso Illimuninati 2007.
For the recipe for mince pie, please do visit Ginger Gourmand’s beautiful blog.
* 16 figs
* 2 cups dry red wine
* 4 + 8 cardamom pods
* 1/4 cup sugar
* vanilla ice cream
* handful of slivered pistachios (unsalted)
*Pre-heat oven to 425 F.
*Make a 1/2 inch cross at the tip of each fig, place in the oven on a baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes. By the time they are ready, you will see some juices bubbling at the base of the figs.
Cardamom Red-Wine Reduction:
*Remove the seeds from 4 cardamom pods and with a mortar and pestle, crush to a powder. Set aside.
*Prepare the red wine reduction. In a small saucepan, add the wine, 8 pods of cardamom (make sure the tips of the pods are slightly open) and sugar. Set on medium heat and reduce (approximately 10 minutes) till thick and syrupy.
*Remove the cardamom pods. If the escaped seeds bother you, you could sieve the reduction. I just left them in.
*Place 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream in a bowl, arrange 4 figs atop the ice cream, drizzle with the red-wine reduction and sprinkle with slivered pistachios and cardamom powder.