Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light, from now on all troubles will be out of sight…
And hopefully it will be. However, we all know how traditional Slovak Christmas can turn into a quest for a doctor when the carp bone gets stuck on one´s tonsil, or when all the unhealthy food eaten in huge quantities puts us all in need of some kind of antacids. The problem begins with the core matter of the feast which is the tradition – and the Slovak tradition to fast all day for kids to allegedly “see a golden pig” or basically to appreciate the food more when you´re older brings us into a difficult position. There is a lot to eat at a Christmas Eve table ranging from nuts, apples, oranges, dried plums and apricots, traditional sour cabbage soup and fried fish with potato salad, to gingerbread, poppy rolls, and many other sweet treats. While the fact that we try to stay away from these all year makes them a perfect annual feast food, it´s still highly acidic, over-sweetened, or fried meals that can make us no good, especially after the whole day of starving ourselves. We´re not trying to make you cut these foods from your Christmas table at all since we know how important it is that everything is the same every year; however, we´re going give you a few tips on how to make it all just a little bit healthier and make yourself a real merry little Christmas!
Sour cabbage soup
For the majority of Slovaks, this traditional cabbage soup represents one of the most important parts of the Christmas Eve´s dinner. There are many different traditions before the soup is served, for example throwing whole walnuts into the corners of the room and wish for 4 different qualities for the next year – health, happiness, love, and peace. Most Slovaks then take two pieces of special Christmas wafers, spread some honey on it, and eat it with small pieces of garlic. The next tradition would be cutting a carefully picked apple in half the way that a seeming star will appear in the middle of both halves, representing health of the whole family for the next year. So far, so good. Then, it´s time to serve soup. Some people came from families where the tradition would call for a mushroom soup which also has its potential threats if the mushrooms don´t come from a reliable source, however, most of us keep the tradition of sour cabbage soup. Here begins the issue though – the Slovak Christmas cabbage soup used to be cooked only with sour cabbage and some kind of meat or mushrooms and then was served with sour cream to suppress the spiciness. As time passed by though, people started changing the recipe and adding more things to it. Some use a spicy sausage, some use smoked meat and mushrooms, and some even add dried plums for this distinct taste. All the types of cabbage soup bring the festive atmosphere to the Christmas table but although it´s only once per year, you should be aware of how much you might be hurting your body. If you decide to use spicy sausages, the combination with sour cabbage and sour cream which was created will increase your stomach acidity so much that you might get heartburn immediately and that will save some more time for the unhealthy fats to get absorbed inside your arteries and increase the LDL cholesterol levels. If you really think you cannot manage a Christmas dinner without spicy-sausage cabbage soup, let it cook inside but don´t eat the sausage itself. It won´t save too many calories but the little here – little there will add up and save you some days of sweating in the gym and eating omega-3s to get back on track.
Our beloved fried fish comes already with two problems – bone stuck in your throat and the fat it´s fried in. Firstly, try to find a kid that would love to eat a carp at Christmas – we suppose you won´t be able to. Not mentioning the trauma from being a witness to a murder of a fish that´s been peacefully swimming in the bathtub just minutes ago to whom your child has created a special bond. You are going to want them to eat the so-called “friend” when suddenly, one of the millions of its tiny little bones gets stuck in someone´s throat and you have to run to the emergency room. Not a pretty picture of a peaceful night that it´s supposed to be but sadly, it happens more than we´d like. That´s why we appeal to you – stop creating this unnecessary drama around your Christmas table and buy a different kind of fish. We personally recommend one of the most-advertised healthy sea fish, such as salmon, tuna, or a less-known shark. These are easily prepared – no killing and crying – you can buy them portioned as fillets and basically fry them up, while, we dare say, their taste is much better, as well as the nutritional value, plus they come with this boneless bonus on top. Then, to keep your LDL levels down after the sausages in the soup, basically use an extra virgin olive oil to fry in and you´ll be just fine.
If you thought the fried fish was the unhealthiest meal on our Slovak Christmas menu, you couldn´t have been more wrong. That´s because the fish comes with a salad – and not any salad – but the one with potatoes, vegetables, and of course, mayonnaise. Hopefully we don´t have to go over why mayonnaise is bad for you again so we´ll just tell you how to deal with it. First, you can substitute it for sour cream which you already have at home as a spiciness suppressant for the soup. Nutrition-wise, it is great – it has probiotics that will help you with digestion and keep your immune system going, and compared to mayonnaise, it has more than 4 times less calories (670 kcal for mayo, 153 for sour cream). However, we realize that traditional Christmas dinner won´t feel the same if the taste is somehow adjusted. If you don´t feel like trying it with sour cream or a yoghurt to see the difference because of a rush before Christmas, you may still try to cut down on calories and cholesterol by creating your own mayonnaise. Katie, a blogger and a very health-conscious mom of one, suggests a recipe for a homemade mayonnaise based on her willingness to help other parents of the “new generation kids” to raise them to health instead of a “shorter life expectancy than their parents,” as forecasted by experts. Her recipe consists of egg yolks, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, olive oil, and coconut oil. If you read the label of the most sold mayonnaise brand in Slovakia, you may find out that the ingredients don´t sound as bad as you expected. The only real difference in these two recipes is the type of oil used. As you can read in our article dedicated solely to extra virgin olive oil, it is absolutely amazing regarding health. EV olive oil contains a component called oleocanthal which protects you from diseases and basically heals the throat when eaten, plus its fats are in majority unsaturated omega fatty acids thanks to which you don´t have to worry about clogged arteries and stroke or even weight gain from fat even if you eat it in larger amounts. Coconut oil, on the other hand, contains saturated fatty acids in almost 90%, however, most of it is lauric acid which was found to actually protect the heart and arteries because it´s short-chain. It was also associated with destroying overgrowth of Candida and improvement of immune system. Since the taste of coconut may change the salad to an extent that you won´t feel like Christmas, that´s why we suggest to try it at least a day before. Anyway, the health benefits are really convincing…
Gingerbread & chocolate candy
The baked goods are a part of Christmassy atmosphere, especially when all the family members gather around the kitchen table and help with mixing of the dough for gingerbread, roll it up, cut out gingerbread men and reindeer, and finally decorate it with the egg-white paste. Here we could certainly say “no more sugar” or “don´t use white flour” and we´re kind of going to but we´ll let you decide which small change you want to make to create a little bit healthier Christmas cookies without losing the atmosphere. First – sugar. Since in Slovakia we use sugar AND honey, substituting sugar for maple syrup or Stevia extract shouldn´t be so noticeable. Then, you can use shredded oat flakes with 1/3 of buckwheat flour (since buckwheat has a quite distinct smell and structure) instead of the white one and see what the texture is. Butter can be easily substituted by coconut oil which can also help those with milk allergies. Since these are usually baked quite early before Christmas, you have lots of time to try different healthy alternatives and see what works best. Then, to appeal to those with allergies to nuts or milk (which are very widespread now), we suggest to make your own chocolate candy which you can later pack into a cellophane and hang them onto your Christmas tree. It is absolutely easy – just buy a dark chocolate in an unnamed drug store or in an organic store (these only contain cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and sugar), let it melt, and pour the chocolate into Christmas silicone forms and put it into the fridge to set. If you want it to have a smoother texture and kind of milky feel to it, add some oat cream (without palm oil) or coconut oil and enjoy!
We wish you a very merry and HEALTHY Christmas!!!
by Katarína Vicová
Free Images (2015). [picture]. Christmas table.
Organic Facts (2015). Health benefits of coconut oil. Retrieved from: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/oils/health-benefits-of-coconut-oil.html
Wellness Mama (2015). Healthy mayonnaise recipe. Retrieved from: http://wellnessmama.com/1739/healthy-mayonnaise/