Christmas is pure tradition–whether or not you attend Mass on Christmas Eve, what foods you eat or when you open your gifts. Everyone has their thing. My family, in the years after my parents divorced, really only had one. This was when all 50+ of us, our significant others and family-less friends gathered at my aunt and uncles house to feast. There would be ham, creamed potatoes, meatballs, deli meats and cheeses. Nothing fancy and all completely buffet style. But, despite our Irish/German heritage, there were no holiday food traditions passed down. Like the make up of our family, our meals were simply hodgepodge. Then I met my partner, a Lithuanian, and a new world of holiday tradition was put in front of me.
Kūčios, their great meal on Christmas Eve, is something that I had heard about from the beginning of our relationship but only had my first taste of it this year. Because of my retail job time off around the holidays, to join her and her family in Florida or Boston, has been nothing more than a hope. But, this year she decided not to travel and treated me to my first Kūčios.
Before now the word ‘herring’ was dropped around a lot and it worried me. Pickled or in sour cream is usually what her family serves, though it’s in nearly every dish for Kūčios. “Herring is bait,” my partner has always said and we opted for crab cakes in it’s place. We had three dishes, far fewer than the traditional dozen, having mushroom buns
(Pyragėliai su grybais) and
Vinegretas (a beet/potato/bean salad) along side our Whole Foods Crab Cakes (working retail during the holidays does a number on your desire to cook).
When I got home from work that evening and saw the table set I asked, “Who’s coming over?” R. told me that you always set an extra seating for those who could not be there. We may have missed the communion like wafer and the hay on the table (again, traditions we chose to ignore) but this was one I’m glad she kept. We both lost family members this year, her uncle and my grandfather, so the empty place setting meant a lot even if I was a bit slow to catch on.
The meal was great with the added bonus of having to do nothing but pan fry the crab cakes. And, like most food that originates in the Baltics, it was ‘stick to your rib’ country food. The vinegretas, for all of it’s beety brightness, was my favorite. In fact, even though we halved the recipe (see below), the Missus still made enough to feed us for several days and I have absolutely no qualms with that.
Christmas Eve was about finally being able to experience the traditions–for as loose as we interpreted them–that my partner holds so dear. It was about finally, after six years of being together, starting to build our own traditions–like enjoying crab instead of herring. We’d wake up the next morning, drink some coffee, lazily open our stockings and cook until it was time to leave to go enjoy some other new traditions that laid a bit closer to home… but more on that in a day or so..
2 cups of the following:
- Cooked navy beans (dried and never from a can–so I’m told)
- Beets (boil whole, unpeeled beets; after cooled, peel and dice)
- Potatoes (boiled, peeled whole; after cool, dice)
- Carrots (peeled, boiled and diced)
- Pickles (‘good quality’ Dill pickles; diced)
- Onions (1 cp diced, left raw; 1 cp gently sauteed until translucent)
Mix all ingredients together
Add about 1/2 cp vegetable oil
Add in juice of 1/2 of one lemon; add more to taste
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Best if made the day before serving. Enough to feed at least 24 adults.