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Christmas Eve Thali

Posted: December 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Cooking | No Comments »

10 Perfect Little Dishes

Thali Plating

Getting ready to plate

My family really celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve. We gather at my folks house in the suburbs, feast on a big meal, drink, and engage in merriment until midnight. At midnight we open gifts and engage in more merriment well into the night. We tumble into our guest beds and sleep off all that merriment. It’s perfect really.

The meal usually involves a roast and a collection of disparate pot luck dishes. All delicious, all in abundance x 2, but maybe a little disjointed. This year, my sister and I took over the family meal. We wanted to push our cooking limits, while having a restrained, balanced, and delightful meal. We settled on preparing a 10-dish thali. Thali is an Indian tradition of serving food in small dishes on a large round platter. Our thali was inspired by this tradition and the meals we’ve had at Jerry Traunfeld’s Poppy, here in Seattle.

Planning took a few weeks. We sat down one evening and perused towers of cookbooks and our favorite sites for dishes. We knew we wanted a main dish and 9 accompanying dishes: 4 hot and 5 cold. Of course there was resistance to the idea. Over the years many family favorites have developed, some were worried about not having their cherished favorites and others were skeptical of the small dish concept. But it was our goal to please and we made sure to include the favorites, while exploring new territory.


A complete thali serving

Here’s what we settled on:

Main Course

  • Prime rib with sauteed greens
  • Smoked mushroom lasagna

Hot Plates

  • Cauliflower gratin
  • Tomato soup with a cheese straw
  • Potato and pea samosa with fruit chutney
  • Seared scallop with a caramel orange sauce

Cold Plates

  • Curried grain salad
  • Fennel salad with pomegranate and sumac
  • Beet and goat cheese napoleon
  • Pickled raisins
  • Marinated carrots with cornichon, pickled red onion, and radish pickle


  • Tapioca with a pepparkakar cookie
  • Lemon tart
  • Buckeyes


  • Mulled cider
  • Champagne whiskey cocktail

We tested several recipes beforehand and made refinements for the final meal. (One lesson learned from testing: you should not bake a samosa.) Dishes and components that could be prepared ahead were started early in the week. I bought the thali settings at my local restaurant supply store: pizza pans for the platter and a collection of small saucers, soup spoons, metal condiment bowls, and small ramekins. We mapped out a detailed schedule for the week and an hour-by-hour schedule for Christmas Eve day. Our plan, the execution of the dishes, and the meal were a success!