This year has been tough on our poor battered wallets, and thanks to an ailing economy, rocketing petrol prices and the ever-rising cost of living, it’s easier to feel more boo-hoo-hoo than hoho-ho this festive season.
You might even be tempted to yell, “Christmas is cancelled!” at the thought of feeding many mouths come 25 December. But don’t go to that extreme just yet.
We asked local culinary experts for advice on how to put together a fabulous festive meal without being broke by Boxing Day.
Here’s what they had to say.
Christmas is in the height of summer so a light starter is a great option, chef Lesego Semenya says.
“Starters that won’t break the bank include bruschetta with a homemade dip and cold meats, and avocado and a biltong salad with Parmesan shavings.”
Chef Andrew Draper agrees summer fare is the way to go. “Serve something chilled,” he says.
“A watermelon, strawberry, rocket and feta salad has all the festive colours and keeps your budget in check.”
Yolanda Nomoyi and Mathapelo Montsho of Why Cook suggest a simple caprese salad (mozzarella cheese, slices of fresh tomato and basil leaves drizzled with olive oil) or chicken liver pâté. And chef Bruce Burns recommends a selection of cheeses with mushrooms and pickles served with sourdough bread.
Instead of going the whole hog – or bird – with a large and probably costly turkey, Otto de Jager of Otto De Jager Events suggests using chicken.
“It’s a cost-effective option that goes well with our warm climate and outdoor lifestyle. A simple coronation chicken salad and a bean salad are a treat.”
Coronation chicken salad is easy to whip up: dice a cooked chicken, and in a large bowl whisk together mayonnaise, curry powder, lemon juice, chutney, jam and mustard. Fold in the chicken and –voila! – you’re done. If you want to get a little fancier, add a few grapes and almonds.
Serve on a bed of lettuce.
Draper agrees chicken is a good Christmas option. “A lovely roast chicken is always a favourite and serving it with festive stuffings – such as apple and bacon stuffing or a traditional sausage stuffing – and glazing it with maple syrup makes it a perfect alternative to turkey.”
Pork belly is another more budget-friendly alternative to turkey, chef Mogau Seshoene says.
“And it’s so simple to cook – virtually fail-proof.”
Prefer to stick to the traditional? Then gammon is a good, relatively affordable choice, she adds.
If you opt for roast pork, Draper recommends cooking it in apple juice with aromatic
spices for a festive twist.
When cooking cheaper cuts of meat, Burns recommends braising – sautéing the meat in a pan, then finishing it off by letting it simmer in a covered pot at a lower temperature.
“With braising you get a fantastically tender and flavourful product. Braised pork shoulder with fennel and olives served with sweet potato mash, or red wine-braised rolled beef with mushrooms, red cabbage and jacket potatoes are both wonderful.”
There’s no need for pricey cook-in sauces or spices, De Jager says. “You can never go wrong with the age-old classics of lemon, garlic and paprika.”
Semenya’s go-to spice is smoked paprika. When it comes to sides, Seshoene suggests adding red, green or yellow peppers to jazz up a simple starch such as rice, samp or pap.
Draper’s favourite side is crispy roast potatoes.
“I love to coat my pre-boiled potatoes in English mustard, garlic, lemon juice and fresh herbs before I deep-fry them until they’re crispy.”
A big tub of ice cream is often a good budget- friendly option, but when you’re feeding lots of little mouths, one tub might not be enough. Semenya recommends you try making your own.
“You can play around with flavours you like. The ingredients are affordable – most basic recipes don’t call for much more than milk, sugar and ice.”
You don’t need an ice-cream maker either – there are plenty of recipes on the internet and YouTube videos that show how to make the treat without fancy machines.Another option is to take various flavours of ice cream, let them soften slightly, then layer them in a round bowl, Burns says.
“You can add layers of nuts, coconut, crushed ginger biscuits and puréed fruit.”
He also loves colourful trifles.
“There are so many variations you can do with the trifle concept – layering jelly, fruit, nuts, sponges and caramel – and doing it in a lovely glass bowl where everyone can see the layers.”
Seshoene’s go-to is a local family favourite: Peppermint Crisp tart. “It’s affordable, easy to make and will be ready in about 30 minutes, leaving you lots of time to be with the family and not stuck in the kitchen.”
No matter how cost-effective you make your meal, drinks are often what push your budget out of the black.
But, as Draper points out, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask your guests to bring their own drinks. Or instead of laying on beer, wine and spirits, you could whip up a delicious, refreshing punch.
“A Pimm’s cocktail is my festive favourite, with the added perk of the non-alcoholic version looking just as pretty and perfect for a hot day with kids,” he says.
Instead of buying sugar-loaded cooldrinks for kids, Semenya suggests getting creative with sparkling or soda water.
“Get the kids involved in flavouring their own water with sugar-free cordials, tea, fresh berries and fruit,” he says.
Berry-infused water is an elegant option for the grown-ups too.
“A jug of tap water with ice and a few strawberries is always welcome, looks great and takes no effort at all,” De Jager says.
With our sun-soaked Decembers, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to hosting outdoor festivities.
“I love being outdoors, so a decked table on the lawn under umbrellas is my ideal setting for a South African Christmas dinner,” Semenya says.
“These days table settings are minimalistic and rustic.”
If you know your merry-making will go into the evening, put a few strings of fairy lights in your trees
and plants, he adds.
“It will give the scene a more festive feeling than the standard straight-out-the-box plastic Christmas tree.”
Flowers are pricey so go outside and pick leaves, sprigs or small branches from plants and trees in the garden, De Jager suggests.
“These can be used as is or sprayed gold or silver and put in vases instead of flowers.”
And if you don’t have a garden, ask a friend or family member if you can raid theirs.
Nomoyi and Montsho suggest getting smart with things you have in your home – for instance, that pot plant in the bathroom could make a great table centrepiece. Draper loves using potted herbs as table décor.
“I always put pots of herbs in hessian or brown paper bags down the centre [of the table] and add leaves or flowers from the garden,” he says.
“I then either plant the herbs as a reminder of a great day or give them away as gifts at the end of