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Bird, brisket, babaganouj … and beyond

December 28, 2018

I wouldn’t dare print this article before Christmas Day. My intrepid readers can be militant about their turkey dinners, and my Cape Gazette email box doesn’t have the stamina to accommodate tryptophan-fueled reactions from pugnacious turkeyphiles.

However, there’s got to be a morning after. And faced with the prospect of turkey tetrazzini, turkey croquettes, turkey flautas, turkey milkshakes, turkey cheese logs, turkey Popsicles, or even turkey-infused beer (I wouldn’t put it past the Dogfish Head gang or the Crooked Hammock boys to come up with that), even the most strident gobbler gobbler might be open to suggestion.

Of course, there are the obvious alternatives. Goose, duck, ham or a rib roast (standing tall and wearing those tiny paper hats) are cherished traditions in many households. But a bit of research can reveal a bounty of Christmas Day dining experiences that might not immediately come to mind. Presented for your consideration: A hot & bubbly seafood pot. Or maple-glazed chicken & ribs. Or how about a ham bubbled in Coca-Cola? Or a whole roasted pumpkin, stuffed with deviled short rib, onions and spices, and drizzled with ginger tomato sauce?

My friends of the vegetarian persuasion can add to this list. Macsween brand vegetarian haggis comes to mind (doesn’t it always?). Traditionally, haggis is chock-full of lamb and beef, but those who eschew meat can get it with fresh vegetables, mushrooms, beans, oats, onions, spices and seeds. Think of it as Scottish scrapple with an attitude. Of course, there’s always the Christmas nut roast (no, not the emotionally charged Xmas dinner with extended family). The roast to which I refer comes with chestnuts, mushrooms, cheese, eggs and a dash of soy sauce. So what’s all this leading up to, you might ask? (Please ask. I need to fill the rest of this page….)

This year I decided to think (and eat) out of the box. I had three out-of-the-ordinary invitations for a Christmas feast: The first was to join a group of friends at Shawn and Danielle Xiong’s Confucius restaurant on Wilmington Avenue for freshly made-to-order Chinese. Traditional? You’d be surprised! Most Chinese restaurants are packed on Christmas Day, and we’re lucky to have one of the best right here in Rehoboth Beach. Confucius (along with Danielle’s welcoming hugs) was certainly tempting.

The second invitation was from Semra and John Tekmen at Semra’s Mediterranean Grill on Rehoboth Avenue. I grew up on Middle Eastern food, and those tastes remind me of family holiday gatherings so long ago. Semra brought her mother and grandmother’s Turkish recipes to the beach, and everything – including the creamy, snow-white yogurt – is homemade. I love the nutty, lemony taste of her hummus, and the babaganouj with fire-roasted eggplant. John and Semra couldn’t be more hospitable as brightly flavored Turkish teas and aromatic coffees make their way to the table.

This year I opted for invite number three: to join friends Minnie Waters Shorter, Thomas Michael Crowley and Teller Wines’ Catherine and Kevin Hester at Rosenfeld’s Jewish Deli in Rehoboth Beach. Seemed like a good time for a decidedly Old Testament repast. This Catholic-raised boy has always been a nondenominational eater, so the menu at Rosenfeld’s is no mystery to me. I started with the holishke. Think of this as a Jewish burrito, wrapped in a cabbage leaf. It’s topped with a savory beef and rice filling and a slightly sweet marinara reminiscent of good stewed tomatoes. Matzoh ball soup was next, hot and soothing on a frosty Christmas afternoon. If you like to crumble crackers into your soup, you’ll love the baseball-size orb of matzoh that dominates the center of the bowl.

I can get turkey anywhere, but Rosenfeld’s is one of the few local spots where I can get a lean corned beef sandwich on fresh rye with swiss, crunchy cole slaw and thousand island dressing – on Christmas Day. Or the same thing grilled reuben-style with a layer of kraut slathered in horseradish mustard. You’ll need to be hosed down after tackling those.

If all this sounds good to you (Christmas or not), why not escape from the ordinary next year and try something different? You’ll understand my enthusiasm when you get home and there are no dishes to wash, pans to scour or unidentified second cousins to evict. A worthy hidden agenda if there ever was one.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.