Sunday, 30 December 2012

Drinking in the New Year

During the holiday season we often spend a lot of time with family, chatting, eating, drinking and reminiscing, reviving traditional recipes and passing them along to the next generation. And as the temperature drops, as it does in many countries at this time of year, people around the world indulge in warming foods and drinks that are as comforting as the traditions they represent. So, rather than pouring out the obligatory champagne this New Year's Eve, try one of these traditional seasonal beverages.

Navegado, glühwein, or gløgg
Sipped in South America, Western Europe and Scandinavia,navegadoglühwein and gløgg respectively are all variations of mulled wine – a delicious way to warm up during the cold winter months. In Chile, navegado is made by first caramelizing sugar in the bottom of a pot, adding a box of cheap red wine (even boxed wine in Chile is tasty), and then simmering it with some cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange slices. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria, mulled wine is called glühwein, and can include lemon, vanilla beans and brandy or port in addition to the staples of red wine, sugar, cinnamon and cloves. Alpine skiers often warm up with a mug of glühwein after a long day on the slopes. Gløgg, meanwhile, is enjoyed in Scandinavia and incorporates cardamom and often the native spirit aquavit, a clear liquor made from potatoes or grain and flavoured with caraway seeds. In Sweden and Norway, "gløgg parties" can be thrown from the beginning of Advent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Christ's birth (which typically starts on the fourth Sunday before 25 December), until Christmas Day.

Grown in Jamaica since the 1700s and enjoyed in Trinidad and Tobago, sorrel is the local name for the hibiscus sabdariffa flower, also known as roselle, from which this drink is made (not to be confused with the leafy green herb of the same name that grows in other parts of the world). After the fresh sorrel is picked (a task sometimes given to children during the holiday season), it is added to a pot with boiling water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and other spices like cloves, allspice and ginger. The punch is then strained, cooled and served over ice, with non-alcoholic sorrel served to the kids and rum added to the adult version. If fresh hibiscus is not available, the flower -- which is said to help boost the immune system -- is often dried and/or powdered and sold as a tea.

During Turkish winters the locals warm their insides by imbibingsahlep, a sweet, soothing drink made from the powdered roots of wild mountain orchids (which are rare, meaning the powder can be hard to find and pricey). The sahlep powder is simmered with milk and sugar and then dusted with cinnamon for serving. This piping hot concoction can be found on the streets of cities like Istanbul, where street vendors serve it from traditional copper urns. Sahlep is thought to have medicinal properties, serving as a home remedy for the common cold.    

The Lunar New Year, the date of which changes annually, is celebrated with traditional regional recipes throughout Asia. In Korea, a persimmon punch called sujeonggwa is often served with sweet cookies or sweet rice cakes, eaten in anticipation of an auspicious year filled with good health and prosperity. Sujeonggwa is typically served both on 1 January and during Lunar New Year festivals in teacups, garnished with pine nuts. It can be made ahead of time by combining dried persimmons, cinnamon sticks and ginger in a pot with boiling water and then adding sugar or honey to taste. After cooking, the persimmons can be left to steep in the mixture for anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days (though the spices are removed). Some in Korea believe that sugeonggwa is an effective hangover cure -- making it the perfect beverage to enjoy the morning after New Year's Eve.

The origins of eggnog, a custard-like drink popular in North America, may date back to the 14th Century, when a popular drink called posset was made in England by curdling hot milk in wine or beer and adding sugar and spices. Drinking curds has since gone out of fashion, but when the English colonized the US, a new incarnation of the drink came about. According to the magazineMental Floss, eggs were scarce in England due to their high price, but plenty of Americans raised livestock, meaning eggs were easier to come by. The addition of beaten eggs to the warm milk concoction provided the thick custard base for today's eggnog. The name "eggnog" may have been derived from the small wooden mug used to serve this drink, called a "noggin" in Middle English.

In the US, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve can all be celebrated with eggnog, which is typically made by beating eggs, adding sugar and then mixing with milk, cream, nutmeg, and liquor -- usually bourbon, rum or brandy. (Egg yolks and whites can also be separated and beaten individually.)

The Aztecs may have been the first to make the comforting winter drink of atole, but the popular corn-based drink is still enjoyed throughout Mexico today, usually around Christmas and during Día de los Muertos celebrations (1 and 2 November). Often eaten in the morning, atole is made by dissolving corn flour in hot water and then adding cinnamon sticks, milk, cane sugar or honey, vanilla pods, anise and sometimes even chillies and epazote (a strong Mexican herb whose use dates back to the Aztecs) for an extra kick. For a more dessert-like atole, chocolate can be added for a version called champurrado, often served with churros, long and thin deep-fried doughnut-like pastries. The result is a thick, luxurious take on hot chocolate -- self-indulgence in a mug.



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