• Vegetarian lentil and eggplant moussaka. (Benito Martin)Source: Benito Martin
Because the day with the least amount of sunlight in a year is the perfect reason to stay indoors and throw a party.
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20 Jun 2018 - 4:07 PM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2018 - 4:32 PM

Drinks

Start out with something to warm the cockles and get the merriment flowing. 

Spiced hot lemon drink

Packed with layers of spice - cardamom, cinnamon and cloves - this drink doesn't need any alcohol added to get your internal flame stoked. But if you're that way inclined, a slug of rum is the best option. 

Smoking Bishop

As you pass around these mulled port drinks, you can pass on a bit of party trivia with the story behind the drink's odd name: the Smoking Bishop was a fireside tipple shared by Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit in Charles Dickens’ classic book, A Christmas Carol. Dickens was known to have a penchant for sweet alcoholic punches, and booze is mentioned frequently in his writings. Sip your way back to Victorian England. 

Ginger ale hot toddy

9 out of 10 times you catch someone sipping on a hot toddy they'll tell you "it's for a cold, my grandfather swore by it" - then give you a wink. No illness is needed to enjoy this spicy and sweetly sour boozy elixir. This version uses ginger ale rather than just fresh ginger, for some extra ginger heat. 

Soups

Soups and some crusty bread at the perfect opener for your solstice party.

Packham pear, parsnip and potato soup with walnuts

This soup is a success on two levels: one, the base is a killer flavour combination of sweet, earthy and nutty; second, the walnut salsa it's served with is a punchy and tangy combination (garlic, capers, roasted walnuts, parsley, red wine vinegar and olive oil) that gives the whole experience that boost it needs to make it really memorable. 

Middle Eastern-spiced cauliflower soup

Aside from mopping up soup with buttered crusty bread, what’s your favourite part of eating soup? The topping, right? This is exactly why half of the cauliflower in this recipe is kept aside and roasted in a hefty dose of spices, and kept warm until the soup is served (or reheated). Then, it’s placed smugly over the soup, drizzled with some yoghurt and scattered with parsley.

Celeriac, potato and roast garlic soup

Seen a celeriac at the markets or greengrocer and wondered, "what on earth would I do with that"? Well, making this soup is one reliable option. It's thick and rich - but with an absence of starchy heaviness - and scented with fennel, thyme and roast garlic. 

Main (meat-based)

Beef stew with olives and fennel (paleron de boeuf aux olives)

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, marinate them overnight, then leave them to cook for a few hours while you prep sides and get solstice soiree-ready. It's really too easy to make something taste this good.

Chicken thigh casserole with rosemary, garlic, tomato and anchovies 

Ok, the name "casserole" doesn't have the same dinner-party wow factor as "tataki" or "sous vide" but who cares when it tastes this good? And people know that casserole = comfort, which is exactly what is in order one of the coldest and the astronomically shortest day of the year. 

Fish stew (cacciucco)

Aside from the seafood, you'll most likely be able to pull the ingredients for this soup from the staples sections in your pantry and fridge: onion, garlic, tomatoes (or tinned tomatoes), olive oil, red wine, fresh chili, parsley, fennel seeds, salt and pepper, bread. 

Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with stout

Cooking up a primal-feeling meat-on-the-bone roast seems fitting for a day marking an ancient tradition of worshipping an astrological phenomenon. All you'll need to do is 5-10 minutes of prep work to get the lamb browned and into the roasting tray, then leave it cook for about 3 hours while you focus on other sides and dinner-party prep. 

Main (Vegetarian-friendly)

Vegetarian lentil and eggplant moussaka

Where traditionally moussaka involves layers of eggplant and potatoes with a spiced lamb filling and topped with a creamy béchamel sauce, this one uses meaty brown lentils in place of actual meat and a yoghurt and ricotta topping in place of béchamel, for lightness and vegetarian-friendliness. 

Chickpea, pumpkin and cavolo nero “cassoulet”

To anyone you want to impress, you'll call this dish "chickpea, pumpkin and cavolo nero cassoulet”. To close friends, you'll probably say "delicious vege stew-thing with crumbs".

Chickpea, pumpkin and cavalo nero cassoulet

Spiced sweet potato stew

A sweet potato stew might sound like the kind of dish you'd whip up for a comfy weeknight TV dinner (true), but it's also the kind of dish that has a comfort level that delivers satisfaction. Dress it up with a few sides, and it's solstice party-worthy. 

Sides

Baked fennel with anchovy crumbs

You may have baked fennel before, but if you haven't baked it with anchovy crumbs it's one for to-do list, and a solstice party is just the place for trying out this sweet and salty, soft and crunchy side dish. 

Brussels sprout and fig salad

What is a cold Brussels sprout side doing on a winter spread you ask? The chill factor brings a refreshing temperature contrast element to the table. Oh, and it involves figs and pomegranate molasses so whatever the temperature, it's bound to be a winner.

Mediterranean tray-bake with haloumi chunks

[Any ingredient] + roasted haloumi chunks = crowd-pleaser.

Parsnip, yoghurt and date salad

To change things up from standard roast-vege side dishes, served this unique salad of grated raw parsnip and sweet dates with a yoghurt dressing. Expect people to be asking you for the recipe as they say their goodbyes. 

Dessert 

Poached quince and winter fruit in spiced wine

Quince has a pink-tinged, perfumed appeal that makes it an elegant and totally dinner-party worthy dessert ingredient. 

Lemon polenta cake with limoncello and citrus syrup

Texture, fluffiness, booze, cake-for-breakfast cred: this cake has it all.

Flourless chocolate, chestnut and rosemary cake (torta di castagna, rosmarino e cacao)

Flavour gods collide with this combination of sweetness, earthiness, nuttiness, bitterness and herbaceousness.

Warm mandarin pudding

When winter gives you mandarins, make warm mandarin pudding. 

Winter warmers
Beetroot and bacon soup

Fresh horseradish lifts this soup from the very good to the sublime. In its absence you could use a top-notch bottled version.

Slow-roasted lamb ribs with thyme honey and ouzo glaze

This is a recipe I created with my mother, Eleni and sweet hint - the thyme honey ouzo makes these ribs so moreish.

Chicory gratin

A beloved classic of Belgian cooking, this is a simple, rustic family dish. The comté cheese can be replaced by any British cheese. And, of course, omit the ham for a vegetarian version.

Lamb and bean stew (pistache de mouton)

This comforting French winter dish, is a very much loved family classic in the Pyrenees region. The cut used in this recipe is lamb shoulder as it gives a beautifully tender result.

Rosemary hot white chocolate

Here in sunny Florida, there are plenty of chilly days when I crave rich and warming drinks, especially hot chocolate. I like to prepare it with nourishing ingredients, and this time I wanted to experiment with making it white.