It’s always a mind-boggler to figure out what to serve for the many meals surrounding Christmas. We want it to be special and delicious but not slave away in the kitchen. One really great dinner idea is a Shepherd’s Dinner, Jerusalem Dinner, or Bethlehem Dinner (whatever you want to call it!).
Bethlehem and Christmas:
Bethlehem is widely recognized as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, and the story of the Nativity is central to the Christmas celebration. I’ve actually visited Bethlehem myself and sat in the fields where the shepherds would have been! These are foods thought to be typical in the times of Jesus in that area.
Why Have a Jerusalem or Bethlehem Dinner at Christmastime:
- It can be easy. I put some lentil soup in the crock pot after lunch, and pull out of a loaf of homemade sourdough bread from the freezer (homemade pita bread is more time-consuming but not too bad). I make hummus in advance. Then when it’s dinnertime, I open a can of olives, slice some fresh veggies, put some dried fruit and nuts in a bowl, and it’s ready.
- It’s really memorable. Especially if you sit on the floor and serve foods you don’t normally have (for us, that’s grape juice!) it’s really memorable for kids and adults.
- It’s delicious!
Ideas for a Jerusalem or Bethlehem-Inspired Dinner:
Consider incorporating ingredients and dishes that are common in Middle Eastern cuisine. Here are some ideas:
- Main Dish: Roasted chickpeas made with Middle Eastern spices, such as cumin, coriander, and za’atar. Lentil soup or stew. Falafel. Large Greek salad. Shepherd’s Pie (heh). Or just skip this and eat a lot of sides!
- Sides: Hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves, and roasted vegetables. Olives, nuts, seeds, dried apricots, dates, figs, pomegranates, grapes. Fresh vegetables with hummus, such as cucumbers, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes.
- Bread: Serve warm pita bread or flatbreads or any kind of aritsan bread.
- Desserts: I have never done a dessert for this, but you could do baklava, dates, or a dessert with figs.
- Beverages: Grape juice, mint tea, or water and lemon.
This tradition is a fun way to involve kids and it’s a really simple and delicious dinner! We’ve done it with Passover foods at Easter time (like charoset!) but at Christmas it’s more like a simple dinner shepherd’s would have eaten in the fields. Who knows really, but it’s just fun. We lay a blanket the floor indoor picnic-style. I’m sure the real shepherds of Bethlehem would have loved it.
Links to Recipes
Stuffed Grape Leaves (You can also get these at Whole Foods and Sprouts and other grocery stores premade in the deli section)