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Prepping for Christmas and Kwanzaa

We have new holiday recipes for grape leaves, a peanut fish stew and more.

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By Melissa Clark

Christmas is this weekend, and people around the world who celebrate are preparing in all sorts of ways. For many Arab families outside the Middle East, that means stuffing a heady mixture of spiced rice and ground beef into grape leaves to make warak Diwali, and combining bulgur dough with a cinnamon-scented lamb and nut filling for kubbeh pie (above) or croquettes.

Reem Kassis brought us those two recipes and wrote a fantastic article for The New York Times about Arab Christmas traditions. “Regardless of sect or fasting traditions,” she writes, “kubbeh and stuffed grape leaves are nonnegotiable.”

Though they are labor-intensive, these are extraordinary recipes, well worth the time spent — whether you make them for Christmas or even New Year’s. If you gather a group of friends to help in the kitchen, the preparations can be as much of a party as the holiday meal itself.

But for the time-pressed, fear not! We also have oodles of quicker, yet just as special, dishes for your holiday table, including David Tanis’s whole roasted New York strip loin. It’s cut from the same part of the beef as strip steaks, but roasted in one primal, impressively large hunk, with potatoes and parsnips in the pan. It’s stunning. And there’s always my garlicky beef tenderloin with orange horseradish sauce, which roasts in under an hour. (In case you missed it, Genevieve Ko has a new recipe that eliminates the need to sear the meat.)

If you are looking for festive seafood — maybe for Christmas Eve — this Feast of the Seven Fishes pie mixes an Italian American tradition with a traditional British fish pie. It uses several kinds of sea creatures (scallops, shrimp, fish), all baked under a golden puff pastry cap.

Maybe you’re getting ready for Kwanzaa, which is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. The writer Brigid Washington adapted some excellent recipes from the chef Ricky Moore, the owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, N.C. There’s a ginger-spiked peanut fish stew; a brown stew pork shoulder seasoned liberally with allspice; skillet fried plantains; and a bracing dish of spiced pickled celery.

Naturally, you will need dessert. I love the exuberance of sholeh zard, an aromatic Persian rice pudding stained bright yellow with saffron and turmeric, then topped with red freeze-dried strawberry powder and chopped green pistachios. More monochrome but just as delicious is Yewande Komolafe’s sophisticated rosemary honey almond tart, with its wobbly custard baked in a buttery shortbread crust.

You’ll need a subscription for the recipes. If you have a friend who loves to cook in need of a very thoughtful, last minute holiday gift, a subscription to New York Times Cooking may be just the thing. And do check us out on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, where you can learn how to make Rebekah Peppler’s smoky tea-infused no-booze citrus punch. That’s perfect for holiday revelers of all ages, and you can find the recipe here.

Humans have long used punch to break up the long darkness of this time of year, but the author Charles Dickens’s method made clever use of the darkness itself. He would invite some friends and mix a bowl of punch — by his time, a ritual far out of fashion — and then light it on fire. It makes a flamboyant presentation in dim light.

Today is also the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, our shortest day and our longest night. Solstice rituals go back through Stonehenge and into the mists of time, but one of my absolute favorites has been D.J. Gaylord Fields’s “SOUL-stice” special on radio station WFMU. My family has listened to this joyful twice-yearly festival of deep-cut soul singles for decades. I was disconsolate when Fields retired his show in September (after 30 years!), but thankfully everything has been preserved for posterity — just like Stonehenge.

Sam’s back on Friday. Happy holidays to all!

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