The most wonderful time of the year

It only comes about once a year. Sugarplums, snowflakes, nutcrackers, candied orange peel, bows, bells, baubles and holly. Christmas. This year, mine was a collaboration between two families in a cozy, rain-flecked cabin on Bowen Island. Everyone pitched in to put a rich, rainbow of a feast onto our forks, into our bellies. 

Sean started us off with all kinds of good stuff - caramelized onions, blue cheese and roasted apple - in one bite. I laid out a spread of prosciutto and fiery-orange persimmon slices to nibble on before supper. There was the usual last minute kerfuffle as gravy was whisked into existence, Brussels sprouts hit hot bacon fat, steel carved into meat and tin foil fought to keep everything warm. When the dust settled there was dinner to be had. Purple potatoes mashed with a bit of celery root, courtesy of Dad and Daniel. Sweet squash mash from David who also handled the Brussels sprouts (with a little help from his friends). A medley of beets, carrots and parsnips, thanks to Anne. Christmas coleslaw, a la me. Tart cranberry sauce, a rosemary-scented, garlic-studded heck of a leg of lamb, complete with sauce, all Simon. A delicious turkey, missing only one wing, with great gravy, that'd be Mom. Stuffing, Pamela. Hot, tender, tear-apart oatmeal molasses rolls, yeah me. I'm an overachiever.

Given the option, I like to call dibs on the salad course at these Christmas/Easter/Thanksgiving extravaganzas. It's always nice to provide a light and fresh antidote to all the usual rich fare on offer as well as something more exciting than say spinach salad. (Not that I be hatin' on the spinach). I look for a salad that is simple and sturdy enough to stay put, given the vagaries of the occasion, but that can also be made partially, or even totally, in advance. This Thanksgiving it was a shaved Brussels sprouts salad and at Christmas it was this coleslaw. It was a bit brighter, tarter than your typical coleslaw but sure tasty. It had shreds of cabbage and crispy, sweet kohlrabi. Vitality from a generous amount of alfalfa sprouts with a whiff of royalty from rubied sour cherries.

All from my current culinary crush, a man I've been rather enamoured with lately. It's actually been going on since last Spring. Prawns with Fennel, Feta and Pernod. Rhubarb and Beetroot. Chicken Salad with Sprouting Broccoli and Sorrel. I never failed to be intrigued by the fusion of disparate ingredients and whiff of exotic spices that emanated from his weekly column at the Guardian. I queued at my local library (position 72) for a chance with his new cookbook Plenty then, tummy-rumbling, bookmarked half the recipes. Mango and Coconut Rice Salad. Sweet Potato, Dried Persian Lime and Quinoa. Cardamom Rice with Poached Eggs and Yogurt. During the Summer, while in London, my brother and I visited one of his locations for brunch and couldn't resist picking up lunch which fueled our brisk (and ultimately blistered) tour of the town. Beetroot, Plum and Feta Salad. Melt-in-your-mouth marinated Eggplant. Spiced Potato Wedges. Who is the man behind all this? None other than Yotam Ottolenghi. I've already given you one of his recipes, but how about one more?

Cabbage and Kohlrabi Salad
From Plenty

A few days after Christmas I made this salad again but added celery, which blended right in and provided more juicy crunch. Leftovers taste even better the next day, despite the sprouts becoming a bit soggy, and are excellent crammed into a turkey sandwich. Finally, while typing the recipe out I noticed that I didn't follow the last step in which you transfer the salad to a serving bowl, leaving most of the juices behind. The salad was still scrumptious.

1 medium or 1/2 large kohlrabi
1/2 medium head green cabbage (about 1/2 pound total)
large bunch of dill, roughly chopped (about 6 heaping tbsp)
1 cup dried whole sour cherries
grated zest of 1 lemon
6 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups alfalfa sprouts

Peel the kohlrabi and cut into thick matchsticks that are about 1/4-inch wide and 2-inches long. Cut the cabbage into 1/4-inch thick strips.

Put all the ingredients, apart from the alfalfa sprouts, in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to massage everything together for about a minute so the flavours mix and the lemon can soften the cabbage and cherries. Let the salad sit for about 10 minutes.

Add most of the alfalfa sprouts and mix well again with your hands. Taste and adjust the seasoning; you need a fair amount of salt to counteract the lemon.

Use your hands again to lift the salad out of the mixing bowl and into a serving bowl, leaving most of the juices behind. Garnish with the remaining sprouts and serve at once.

Serves 4, or more if it's part of a feast.

End Note: I just realized I seem to have a penchant for gay, British food writers.

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