As you sit down to make your holiday dinner plans with the wafting images of grandma’s warm and welcoming main courses of Christmases past and scrumptious appetizers that reflect our African American culture that dance so elegantly through your mind, perhaps you should ponder a traditional southern menu this year.
It never hurts to consider those soulful soul food recipes that have been delighting Black families with their distinctly southern food for generations.
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There can be no better way to bring home the Christmas spirit than to fill your home with the rich smells of a well thought out Christmas dinner menu rich with the complex flavors of root vegetables, ham, creamy sauces, chili powder, shrimp, lemon juice, and, of course, the fragrance of sweet potatoes drowning in a gooey brown sugar sauce.
The entire family hardly considers it Christmas without these recipes. It is the bubbling goodness of the sweet corn syrup in pecan pie, a sweet treat for the senses that we long for each year. These traditional black family customs have been with us for generations.
They fuel our Christmas dinner ideas, and the traditions many of us look forward to the most are the holiday desserts. They are also the best place to start when you are planning the Christmas festivities. Many of these dishes are easy and can be made well ahead of time.
They are also those dishes where many family members have their own ideas about what Christmas is supposed to taste like, and they love to volunteer these treasures for your holiday table. Everyone has their own favorite recipes.
There are grandma’s Christmas cookies, Grandpa’s sweet potato pie, your mother’s chocolate pudding, and even your husband’s mother’s flaming ice cream recipe to consider, but when planning, once you know what everyone else is bringing to the holiday, you can start thinking about what deserts are missing. Is someone making peach cobbler?
Even if it has never been a family staple before, maybe it is time to consider it. If not a cobbler, you can buy a puff pastry in the freezer section at the grocery and top it with almost anything from fresh fruit to Nutella.
You can even pair it with a homemade vanilla ice cream and lemon zest for color. Your holiday menu is depending on these dishes, so you can’t go wrong with a little research here.
Your main course has no closing act without a good desert so you need to decide early which deserts are going to be available with the appetizers, which you serve on Christmas Eve, and which deserts you will save for Christmas dinner.
Then, once your desert pantry is full, you can plan for Christmas Eve dinner.
This event is usually the night before Christmas. Many Black families gather their extended family on this night for fun and merrymaking, as a part of a very Merry Christmas.
Still, with the changing demands of a modern schedule, in some families, Christmas Eve must be rescheduled to accommodate family members with work or travel concerns on the night before Christmas.
Some families serve Christmas Eve dinner the following weekend or even the proceeding weekend, it is worth it to bring together geographically distant grandparents and their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren to enjoy crowd pleasing recipes like the banana pudding that has been a staple for this winter holiday since grandma was a child herself.
Sizzling southern fried catfish with hush puppies or some nice bubbling brown pork chops brings your holiday dining table to life on this special occasion, and don’t forget your Christmas Eve side dishes. They are important too.
Potato salad is the perfect accompaniment for a crowd pleaser like southern fried catfish. A nice baked macaroni and cheese smothered in cedar cheese can be sprinkled with parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and crisp bacon, either on top or on the side.
This is just the kind of good food everyone remembers from Christmases past, and you can pair either of these dishes with southern collard greens or green beans in a casserole for a quick, crowd pleasing menu you can either plan ahead or throw into a slow cooker.
After all, this holiday is more about togetherness than spending seven hours in the kitchen boiling under the oppressive heat of a stove, so when you are planning this part of the Christmas holidays, try to remember to leave some time for togetherness.
It is these little things that put the merry in your Merry Christmas dinner.
There are plenty of delicious recipes out there that still leave some time for the whole family, and there is no shame in considering them if grandma’s holiday collard greens recipe requires one to two hours of monitoring the ham hock as it cooks.
Grandma may love to see her recipe recreated at Christmas, but she probably wouldn’t enjoy the couple extra digits on her blood pressure later in the evening if your collard greens are too salty.
It may be better to consider more time conscious recipes when planning your dinner.
An occasion this special only comes maybe once or twice a year in some families. Don’t waste a moment of this precious time.
There will be plenty of opportunity to dazzle later with grandma’s Christmas cookie recipes that you made ahead or that hot chocolate recipe you remember from your mother’s tree decorating parties that was always such a crowd pleaser.
It only takes a few moments on the stovetop, but hot chocolate can be just as good in the slow cooker, and it is a lot less labor intensive.
You can create comfort and keep the soul in your soul food with many new and updated recipes and appliances that grandma never even imagined back in the day, so keep your mind open, and never forget that elegant, fine dining isn’t just lobster tails and shrimp.
It can be whole fish and sweet tooth favorites like gooey lava cake that entices your dinner guests. Your menu should reflect the family it serves, but don’t let that exhaust you. You don’t want to be a wreck by the time you sit down to dinner.
Besides, you still have Christmas breakfast to prepare.
There are many delectable make-ahead recipes online when planning your Christmas breakfast, and you can use quick-cooking grits to create a firm base for a heart-warming cheesy shrimp and grits recipe to start your Christmas morning.
Still, if you prefer to make Christmas morning breakfast your focus, there are plenty of waffle, French toast, and pancake recipes out there you could pair with maple syrup.
You can even keep the left-over maple syrup for later if you decide to serve fried chicken and waffles for a nice brunch or early lunch, and if you have any left over chicken pieces in the refrigerator, you can use those too.
These are all time-honored southern black family traditions, but don’t forget the biscuits and gravy. You can even serve these with a southern hash browns topped with fried or roasted eggs.
If your house is going to be full of the succulent smells of Christmas dinner for the rest of the day, you are going to want to get your family running on full early.
The more that your family eats in the morning, the less their bellies will grumble when they smell the luscious aroma of your soul-soothing, slow-cooked pork roast. It is all just a matter of how you plan it out.
After breakfast, you can keep your family comfortable with appetizers like artichoke dip with a variety of chips, or maybe shrimp cocktail.
Many Black families celebrate the winter holidays with fragrant, attractive appetizers like chicken and waffle bits, bacon wrapped stuffed peppers, or fried pickles.
You can smell these delights before they even reach the coffee table, and you can put them in your air fryer too.
The air fryer is both a fast and a healthier alternative, and at the holidays, you can’t afford to waste any minutes of prep time.
It simplifies the cooking process for most cooks, so you should consider it when you are planning your holiday meals, and if you already have the holiday baking out of the way, you will have a good block of time in the late morning to make some impressive treats for your family.
Fried chicken is a classic comfort food, and the air fryer is much easier to clean than a deep fryer or even a frying pan.
The entire family will love it, most especially the cook. Most cooks love their air fryers, bread machines, stand mixers, and microwaves, and many of these gadgets have been around long enough to have versions of many of our old favorites converted over into recipes specific to this new technology, and it is just as, or nearly as, delicious as the old methods.
The main dishes of a holiday meal like roast beef with fresh herbs slowly simmered in olive oil or perhaps a turkey with cornbread dressing is now much more possible when you can stick the homemade dinner rolls into the bread machine to rise and let your appliances do all the work for you.
Your ham and cranberry sauce are a great addition to those creamy mashed potatoes with just a splash of chicken broth and sour cream that bring your holiday table alive when you have the time to give them the care and attention these dishes deserve.
Whether it is ham or a roast or even pork chops that serve as your main course, the dinner itself usually isn’t made ahead of time. Most cooks want these dishes in the oven late in the morning or early in the afternoon on Christmas.
The convenience of kitchen appliances and pre-planning key elements of the meal can easily set your family celebrations apart from years past, but it takes preparation.
Then, once we are prepared, we can plant new traditions under the Christmas tree for a new generation eager to relax at a holiday table dressed in green, gold, and silver as they breathe in the aromas of this year’s feast, but before you set the table, there are a few more soul food recipes you may want to consider.
Many Christmas side dishes are usually best prepared in that last thirty minutes to an hour before the main course is done, so you will have plenty of time if you are featuring roasted meats in the early afternoon to prepare condiments like sour cream, lemon zest, olives, fresh herbs, and vegetables, or the deviled eggs you made earlier in lovely Christmas themed dishes.
This is also the perfect time to start on the Christmas cocktails you have on this year’s holiday menu.
The hot chocolate from your Christmas Eve gathering can simmer again in the slow cooker for non-alcohol drinkers or perhaps a non-alcoholic egg nogg is a favorite in your family, but we can’t avoid the fact that there are just some people who don’t like egg nogg, so it is always nice to plan a non-alcoholic punch for your holiday parties.
It is always safe to have a Christmas punch with cranberry and pomegranate juice. You could freeze some fresh cranberries and put them in the punch bowl. They would be a great addition to keep it cool and add that extra pop of color.
Throw in a few sprigs of rosemary and tie an enormous b1ow on your punch bowl.
Then, you can put those little airplane bottles of rum and vodka on the sideboard to keep the alcohol lovers happy with the same punch you would serve to a kindergartener or, if you like, late afternoon is still a good time for fizzling bright mimosas.
If not a mimosa, white wine and a deep red vino can chill in an ice bucket decorated with more of those frozen cranberries, and don’t forget to pick up some mistletoe.
You can hang it over the drink counter to add some festive green to your uniquely traditional black family Christmas celebration.
Your job is just almost done.
The house is fragrant and filled with the sights and smells of the season, and, if you plan for it, you may even find time to relax and enjoy your own glass of wine as you commit to memory the sweet flavors of another happy traditional black family holiday.
You can watch the Christmas lights flicker as the acrid warmth of a rich merlot spreads throughout your veins.
What started with only a few simple ideas has become what your family members will remember as the Christmas you introduced that creamy cheese sauce to the bland scalloped potatoes of last year and the warm maple syrup recipe they will ask for in years to come.
It wasn’t as hard as you thought it would be, and there is more to your richly ethnic traditions than you ever knew before you went looking to expand your family’s palette now rich with colors and experiences they never expected.
You have put the soul—your soul—into the soul food recipes that made this holiday so special, and as New Year’s Eve approaches, you can relax and sit back as the leftover ham hock rests in the refrigerator awaiting its chance to bestow good luck on a new year when you put it in the pot with the black-eyed peas.
Don’t worry. You will get the cornbread ready in plenty of time. You know what you are doing. The ideas and new traditions that delighted your family this year were all organized by you, and that is all the luck you need. You did it.