Turkey on the table may signal an "American" holiday, but the menu's only the beginning.
"There's a real conscious effort to make it inclusive," says Jamie Oliver, whose newest cookbook explores the rich diversity of America and its food. "Whether you're Jewish, black, white, Muslim, Hindu, every religion can get involved in the holidays. That's quite generous, really."
"Jamie's America" (Hyperion, 2010) will give you recipes for burgers, ribs and fried chicken. But the British chef, famous most recently for his efforts to reform Western eating habits, emphasizes Chinese dan dan noodles, Jewish latkes and chicken soup, Peruvian ceviche, Egyptian stuffed flatbread, Cajun alligator, Navajo venison stew and Mexican chicken mole.
"It's such a young country that really it's just the most incredible melting pot of cultures," Oliver says. "It's so new and fresh and vibrant, and every day there's new waves of immigrants coming in."
So how to bring a quintessentially American touch to every holiday from Hanukkah to Christmas to New Year's Eve?
— Mix it up
Who says Christmas has to be about ham? Eat latkes for breakfast or kimchee for lunch. Try Mexican sweet tamales and chocolate for dessert. "Look, America's a massive country," Oliver says. "There are some classic dishes, but you don't have to do the same thing all the time. It's wicked to just throw in a Mexican dish from East L.A."
— Think potluck
Nothing's more American — or convenient — than a potluck. "There's a table or terrace and you fill it out with contributions from your friends," Oliver says. "Some of it's good, some of it's bad, but it's fun either way. And you've got the competition, people trying to outdo each other."
If you just can't bring yourself to potluck, you can at least cut your stress by planning well. "It's all about preparation," Oliver says. Once you start knocking out 15 or 20 meals, you're essentially running a restaurant. To do it well, you'll need a plan.
"From the minute you close the door and say 'goodbye' you need to work your way back," he says. "Write a timetable. It takes only 10 minutes and it will save you."
Being prepared even means making sure Uncle Bobby's not telling his fish stories — again. "If you've got someone in the family who's a bit boring and miserable, get a couple sidecars in them," Oliver says, only half-joking. "They won't be boring anymore."
FIERY SHRIMP COCKTAIL
Start to finish: 30 minutes
For the shrimp and sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound raw large shrimp, shells removed
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup tomato sauce
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 3 limes
Zest of 1 lime
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 2 red or green chilies, thinly sliced
2 scallions, trimmed and sliced at an angle into 1/2-inch pieces.
Handful of soft, fresh herbs (basil, dill, cilantro or a mix), leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1 medium cucumber