Most holiday foods fall under the heading of “comfort food.” Turkey, ham, or roast beast. Green bean casserole, stuffing, dressing, mounds of mash pitilessly drowned in a deluge of homemade gravy. But if Americans know how to do anything well, it is coming up with something unique for the holiday table. Some dishes are a rite of passage, if we’re being honest. Who really enjoys cranberry sauce, fruitcake, or gingerbread outside of the holiday season? While candy canes are the candy corn and circus peanuts of Christmas, some foods are stunts: When America gets bored, turkeys get “turducken-ed” or fried; pies and cakes are baked with cakes and/or pies inside; riddles are wrapped in mysteries, stuffed in enigmas, covered in brown sugar, and baked. Here are five beloved, unusual holiday foods available in the Omaha metro.
Heringssalat (herring salad). What could be more Christmassy than a dish from the land of ice, snow, midnight sun, flowing hot springs, and Sinterklaas? From Westphalia to Ragnarok, proud Nordics enjoy this traditional End Times dish at many family occasions, but especially on New Year’s Eve to remind themselves that no matter how bad life gets, one can always stop eating heringssalat. For the basic version, fold together pickled herring chunks, bread and butter pickles, apples, and onion. Mix in mayonnaise at the last minute to “keep it fresh.” Advanced optional mix-ins include cream, sour cream, beets, capers, mustard, potatoes, eggs, or leftover meat. A good pickled herring is worth its weight in gelt; try Absolutely Fresh Seafood (1218 S. 119th St.) or Omaha’s go-to ziel für Deutsch küche, Gerda’s (5180 Leavenworth St.).
Frog eye salad
Frog eye salad is very popular in Utah, where alcohol is not, and no celebration would be complete without several versions of this classic—including the one like grandma’s and the one your health-conscious cousin makes that no one ever eats, but she keeps making anyway. The base is orzo pasta (or any pasta resembling frog’s eyes), whipped cream, pineapple juice, and mandarin oranges. Maraschino cherries may be added. Ask for Mike in the deli at Wohlner’s (3253 Dodge St.), hand him a recipe for your favorite variant, and he’ll make a salad Joseph Smith would love.
After the Feast of Seven Fishes, blood sugar levels can drop. Enter the Sicilian nougat. Torrone is like a Mars Bar without the chocolate or popularity. Orange, honey, vanilla, almonds, and/or pistachios make it distinct. Candy-making is an intense business, and results vary. If you’d like to buy locally try around. Orsi’s Italian Bakery (621 Pacific St.) orders several cases for the holidays.
The Ottoman Empire was not famous for producing great Christmas dishes. Rahat loukoum, aka Turkish delight, is the exception. This 250-year-old recipe of gelled starch and sugar is flavored with rosewater, cinnamon, bergamot, or fruit. Dusted with powdered sugar, nobility used to gift rahat loukoum in a handkerchief. Nerds love Turkish delight because the White Witch fed it to Edward in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. On paper, it sounds disgusting. In reality, people either love it or despise it. Especially during the holidays, it’s available in Omaha at the Mediterranean & European Grocery (8601 Blondo St.) and Green Land Market (4087 S. 84th St.). Call ahead to check availability. Enjoy!
Menudo is a Mexican tripe soup made with cow’s feet, onions, garlic, guajillo, and cumin. A popular hangover cure year-round, it’s popular when all is quiet—except for your pounding head—on New Year’s Day. Sip the broth or enjoy the chunks of slowly simmered cow stomach and your headache will become an afterthought in a hurry. Delicious! Try it at Victor’s (3223 Q St.) on Saturdays only, and at El Aguila (1837 Vinton St.) every day. Most authentic Mexican restaurants sell their own, so check around and call ahead for large quantities.