At Christmas time, a lot of people feel like they rarely have choices that are as tasty as traditional Christmas delicacies. Traditional holiday dishes like pastelle, ham and chow chow, ponche de crème and black cake are unique and beloved parts of our culture. We believe that if you are trying to eat healthier this year, you should not have to replace all your favourite dishes with salads. There are many naturally nutritious options and ways to substitute ingredients in holiday dishes, to make them better for you.
The good news is that not all of our local Christmas treats are unhealthy, and there are many ways to tweak existing recipes to allow for healthier fare. Here are our recommendations for making holiday food that is delicious and good for you:
Pastelle is a staple and is actually a very healthy Trini Christmas dish. They are gluten-free (wheat free) and usually made with meat and vegetable ingredients. The meat provides a good source of protein, and the spices and seasonings provide micro-nutrients. Some pastelles contain olives and capers which are a natural source of healthy oils. They are also steamed in banana leaves which is healthier than deep-fried foods.
In order to make it healthier, you can select good quality, lean beef for your pastelles. There are many alternative filling options that would be suitable for vegetarians or people trying to stay away from red meat. Alternative pastelle fillings include:
Fresh fish, saltfish smoke herring
Lentils, black bean, chickpeas
Vegetarian pastelles can be just as tasty as meat pastelles, but you will need to pay closer attention to the seasonings to make sure it is flavourful.
A great way to make your pastelles healthier is to avoid steaming them in aluminum foil. In large quantities, aluminum has been shown to be toxic to the nervous system and has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. We would recommend that you only eat pastelles steamed in the traditional way, with banana leaves.
Ponche de Crème
Ponche De Crème is another favourite, but it is traditionally made with evaporated milk and condensed milk. Some people have a hard time digesting this rich, creamy drink due to allergies. These people may substitute ponche de crème for sorrel and ginger beer. You don’t have to give it up entirely, you can make a dairy free version that is suitable for vegans. You can substitute almond milk or coconut milk, and for diabetes and sugar sensitivity, use honey.
Ham seems to be at the core of local Christmas celebrations. For many people, there is no Christmas without the ham. The problem is that most hams contain nitrates and nitrites, which are synthetic preservatives that have been linked to cancer. To avoid harmful preservatives, you can prepare roasted fresh pork, or try a roasted turkey instead.
Black cake is a favourite and the good news is that compared to other cakes, it has many nutritious ingredients. The cakes are prepared with dried, whole fruits such as currants, prunes and citrus peel. These provide natural sugars and soluble fibers. Some cakes have walnuts and almonds which provide natural oils and fiber. Molasses can be used, which is a rich source of minerals. To make it healthier, try to cut back on the sugar and use more fruit puree for sweetening.
Remember that at Christmas time, you don’t have to give up your favorites. You can make simple, easy substitutions to take care of yourself and enjoy your holiday meals.