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Chances are good that you’re having one of three main courses for your holiday dinner: turkey, ham, or a beef roast. These workhorses of the winter table are all worthy, but they aren’t the only players out there.
Instead of serving up the same old menu you’ve been preparing for years, might we suggest a riff on tradition this year? There are a number of communities around the nation that each celebrate the holidays in their own way; it’s these traditions that remind us of where exactly we come from within the larger borders of America. They remind of us who we share our state, and space, with. For example, in Minnesota, those of Scandinavian descent fork down lutefisk, an air-dried whitefish that has an acquired taste. Their eastern neighbor, Wisconsin, is famous for its Danish kringles and ships them around the country.
This year, draw inspiration from these feasts, where each sub-culture proudly shows off the specialties of its particular region. It’s the perfect road map for a festive holiday party unlike any you have hosted.
Take Texas for instance. When was the last time you put a Southwestern spin on the holiday table? In the Lone Star State, it’s not uncommon for people to start their meal with a bowl of menudo, a dish from Mexico that features tripe in a red chile broth and is garnished with lime, chopped onions, and more crushed red chile peppers. Beef stomach might sound like an aggressive way to begin a party, so if that’s not your style, you could always substitute an equally warm and cozy tortilla soup, which is similar.
In a state mad for BBQ, Texans are known to smoke their turkeys as often as roast them. (For entertaining you can always buy smoked turkey legs at the butcher and re-heat them at home, or if you’re adept enough, you can smoke them yourself.) For your starch, try tamales, like Texans do on Christmas Eve. Some pretty good homemade varieties are sold at the store, but if you prefer to use your own bare hands, go for it. Once the masa is mixed and wrapped in the corn husks, tamales are almost impossible to screw up while steaming. For those who have a sidewalk leading up to their abode, it’s fun to line the path with luminarias, small paper lanterns constructed by placing candles inside them. The bright rows create a dramatic entrance to your front door.
If you’d rather not mess with Texas, then tour the country’s foodways through the other nine feasts we’ve highlighted. It’s the best way to eat your way around the world — with a group of friends in tow (albeit seated around the table) without having to deal with the airlines this time of year.