a holiday feast

Christmas

Last month, I wrote up a Thanksgiving meal plan, with a schedule organized for one person who's cooking everything on their own. But while it doesn't have to be overwhelming to cook a big meal by yourself—especially if you're the kind of superhero who can pull together a holiday feast with one hand tied behind your back—it's always easier when you have someone to help you. Well, at least in theory...

The thing is, if you're the one who does most of the cooking in your home, your partner, kids, or housemates might very well have no idea what they're doing in the kitchen. That means that whenever you ask one of them to help you cook, you end up having to act as teacher, manager, chef, (and sometimes therapist), which is more trouble than it's worth, and you probably usually end up shooing everyone out the kitchen door and just doing everything on your own. If that sounds familiar, then this is the meal plan for you.

alone or together?

I've split all of the tasks up into "chef" and "helper" checklists, so you don't have to spend time or energy thinking about what to delegate. You'll have so much more fun spending time together, making memories, and getting stuff done. But if you want to do the whole menu on your own, most (but not all) of the helper steps can be done before the chef steps. The whole menu can be done in one day by one person, but you won't get many breaks.

tips on working a day or two ahead

If you want to work ahead at all (either on your own or with your family):

  • the burek can be filled and wrapped the day before frying

  • you can totally cook the lamb the day before (it's arguably better that way)

  • and the simmered banadurah harrah can be made one or two days ahead of time.

helpful tips

  • If you're the chef, remember not to automatically measure or prep all the ingredients you're working with, because your helper is probably already on it (and you don't want to make them redundant).

  • If there's a doable step that a novice might not know exactly how to do, I've also included more information (e.g., directions on how to wash herbs and veggies , and reminders not to cross-contaminate raw meat with veggies).

  • If you're planning on working with a kid, just make sure you read through the helper checklist to cross off any potentially dangerous steps—some older kids are ready for chopping and using the oven, but you're the best judge of what's right for your own child.

The Menu

serves 6

pomegranate lamb shanks *
banadurah harrah roast squash
burek (Assyrian egg rolls) with simmered banadurah harrah on the side (salsa)
yarcah (greens)
pomegranate tabbouleh **
riza sh'ariyeh (jeweled rice and egg noodles)

* omit the figs, if they're out of season (as in December)
** use any combination of parsley and cilantro. Parsley will last longer as leftovers (I have you buy 1 bunch of each for this).

the grocery list

stuff you probably already have

salt and pepper
1 pint stock (either beef, vegetable, or chicken)
red wine vinegar
olive oil

pantry

basmati rice
1 small can tomato paste
2 13.5-ounce cans of diced tomatoes
1 to 2 quarts oil for deep frying (e.g., peanut, canola, olive oil, but not extra virgin)
extra-fine #1 bulgur
fine egg noodles
slivered almonds
golden raisins
pine nuts (optional)

spices

cayenne pepper
dried oregano
crushed red pepper
dried mint
pomegranate molasses

produce

3 plum tomatoes
2 large or 3 medium onions
1 1/2 pounds kabocha or acorn squash
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 lemons (or more if they don't look juicy)
2 big bunches of your favorite greens (if you go with spinach, buy way more than you think you'll need)
1 package large wonton wrappers (1 pound / 20 to 21 wontons; usually found in the produce section)
2 bunches parsley
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
1 small bunch mint
1 small pomegranate

dairy

1 cup loosely packed shredded mozzarella (not fresh mozzarella) *
1 stick of unsalted butter (8 tablespoons)

meat

4 1/2 to 5 pounds lamb shanks (about 3 to 4 shanks), preferably split at the shank end
1 pound sirloin, minced finely into very small pieces (or ground) *

squash

the schedule

morning

chef

  • chop 2 large or 3 medium onions.

  • prep the first few ingredients for the simmered bannadurah harrah, and get it simmering; then keep stirring it every minute or two, until the juices evaporate.

  • once it's reduced, add the remaining ingredients and finish the banadurah harrah.

  • purée the banadurah harrah with an immersion blender.

  • fry the almonds, pine nuts, and raisins for the rice, then fry the egg noodles separately.

helper

  • squeeze and measure the lemon juice for the banadurah harrah.

  • measure the jeweled rice and noodles ingredients (keep each ingredient separate).

  • wash the greens by submerging them in a big mixing bowl full of cold water, swishing them around, and then lifting them out (the sand and dirt will settle to the bottom), and then use your hands to separate the greens from the stems.

  • set the table.

afternoon

chef

  • brown the lamb shanks, finish putting together the dish, and throw it in the oven.

  • seed the pomegranate for the tabbouleh

  • make and garnish the tabbouleh. Use 1 bunch parsley and 1 bunch cilantro.

  • slice the squash into rounds or wedges, and place them in the casserole.

  • pour 3/4 cup of banadurah harrah over the squash, coat them, and drizzle with olive oil (to be roasted later).

  • chop the greens into bite-sized pieces.

  • cook the burek filling.

  • wrap the first few burek to show the helper how it's done.

  • deep fry the burek, cover them with aluminum foil, and keep them warm in a 200° F oven, if you're less than a couple hours away from serving.

helper

  • preheat the oven to 350° F

  • measure the ingredients for the pomegranate lamb shanks (omit the figs).

  • measure the bulgur for the tabbouleh, squeeze and measure the tabbouleh lemon juice, and combine the two.

  • wash the tabbouleh herbs and veggies in the same way you washed the greens earlier.

  • wash the extra bunch of parsley, and measure and prep the rest of the ingredients for the burek filling (mince the meat separately from everything, and wash up very well afterwards).

  • oil a skillet or casserole for the squash.

  • wrap the burek while the chef fries them (watch the chef do the first few).

evening, the hour before serving

chef

  • take the lamb out of the oven and skim the fat from the surface (raise the oven temperature to 400° F). Keep warm on the stove over a very low flame.

  • cook the rice and noodles. Let it rest off the heat until you're ready to serve.

  • roast the squash in a 400° oven for 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.

  • Blanch the greens in the boiling water your helper prepared, and then finish cooking the greens with the onions.

  • Plate the squash and garnish with some of the remaining banadurah harrah.

  • Help plate more things and hand them off to the helper to bring to the table.

helper

  • fill a big stock pot with water (leaving a few inches, so it doesn't boil over), and bring it to a boil. (this is for the greens).

  • measure 1 cup of onions, and squeeze/measure 1/2 cup of lemon juice for the greens.

  • 15 minutes before serving, plate and garnish the lamb with parsley and some pomegranate seeds, if you have a few left over.

  • 10 minutes before serving, fluff the rice with a fork, place it in a serving bowl, and top it with the pine nuts, almonds, and raisins.

  • Help plate everything that hasn't been plated (extra banadurah harrah, burek, greens) and bring everything to the table

christmas lamassu