I'm not a fan of Christmas (generally referred to by me as the c-word) . I want to enjoy good food and friends all year, sans guilt (I'm a recovering Catholic so I already have enough of that), so I traded Christmas in for a concerted effort to both eat well and see the people I love often. All year.
The one thing I missed, however, was the seasonal atmosphere provided by people of all ages who, for just once a year, aren't ashamed to be publicly excited like a child over simple things like a special food or a piece of greenery in the lounge. Then a few years ago I discovered pretty much the most amazing thing in the world, my Christmas: Eurovision. And yes, just like so many people are with the holidays, I will pressure you and badger you into participating. I will attempt to make you feel guilty for not loving me enough to celebrate. I might start demanding presents.
Go on, laugh. I sure as hell do. For weeks. I piss myself in tears of laughter watching videos, listening to the entries, wondering who will win, laughing some more. I live for the televised events, where I can watch scantily clad pop acts who don't sing so well change costumes half a dozen times while unicycles or ice skaters dance around them on stage. Then at the required key change I can see fire and more acrobatics and another costume change, all while every single person on stage is still taking themselves seriously.
So that's my Christmas. It's my absolute favourite day of the year. I prioritise it above every other day, including my birthday and anniversary. I started inviting friends around for the event in recent years, so it's become everything I want a holiday to be: eating, dancing around to ridiculousness on telly, and smearing makeup from 1994 (thanks to Sal we got all current make up this year) all over the wrong places on my face so I look like a 3 year old who got into her mum's handbag.
This year's spread was a mezze style theme, loosely based on dishes from participating countries. Served with a heaping stack of bread, Ajvar from Seitan is My Motor made the final cut this year alongside the usual suspects: hummus, banaghanouj, olives... I also threw together a tangy pomegranate and carrot spread with roasted red peppers, but one of my favourites of the night was a half-arsedly made cheese dip based on a central European dish called Liptauer.
Liptaeur is part of the cuisine of several countries in central Europe, all of which participate in Eurovision. One was sure to make it through to the finals, so I knew I'd be safe with this recipe. It's a very creamy spread, great served alongside some toasted rye bread slices or crackers. Striking pungent caraway seed is taken up a notch with a quick toasting (this isn't an absolutely necessary step, but it does affect the flavour), and plenty of paprika adds colour and a very subtle hint of paprika-y sweetness. You can adjust some of the ingredients to suit your own tastes: try a hotter paprika or a smoked version for an added kick, add some capers for extra saltiness, up the onion content for a stronger taste. You get the idea.
Dairy-Free Liptauer Style Cheese Spread
- First make your labneh with this recipe or line a mesh strainer with thin muslin or a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl. Dump in a large container of unsweetened vegan yoghurt (Alpro and Provamel are too sweet in my opinion). Pop the whole lot in the fridge and leave it to strain for several hours or overnight.
- Measure out 150 g of the now thick yoghurt cheese (labneh) and whip together in a medium bowl with the butter and cream cheese until smooth.
- Toast the caraway by heating a small saucepan and dry frying the seeds, constantly agitating the pan, for about a minute. Grind in a pestle and mortar and add to the bowl with the spread.
- Add all of the other ingredients and mix it up. Taste for salt (you may need more depending on the saltiness of the vegan butter you use- I use either Pure or Vitalite. If you live in the states and use super salty spreads like Earth Balance then you may want to omit all salt).