By BRADLEY ZINT     12/15/2021

This Christmas season, families throughout the Diocese of Orange will celebrate Advent in traditions whose origins span the world. Orange County is an ethnically diverse place, and Catholics here celebrate their faith in varied — and delicious — ways when gathering to eat, drink and enjoy one another’s company.

To help you celebrate and learn something new, Orange County Catholic has invited three parishioner families from different backgrounds — Vietnamese, Mexican and Polish — to share their traditional Christmas recipes.

Rice congee with sea bass – By Kim Thoa Nguyen, San Francisco Solano Church, Rancho Santa Margarita
For many who grew up in Vietnam, rice congee (called cháo in Vietnamese) was a food for times of famine and hardship to stretch the rice ration. It was commonly made because rice was cheap and long-lasting. In Vietnamese culture, cháo is a go-to comfort food when sick.

Now, in the U.S., cháo is enjoyed by people of all ages, young and old, rich or poor, as a casual meal or on special occasions. It can also be made with chicken or pork, but sea bass is a favored option that’s included in this recipe.

4 cans of chicken broth (14-ounce cans)
4 cans of water (14 ounces each)
4 slices of ginger
1 tsp. of salt
1 onion
1 cup of uncooked, rinsed jasmine rice

½ cup of uncooked, rinsed sweet rice
2 lbs. of sea bass (or any whitefish)
2 tbsp. of fish sauce
1 tbsp. of olive oil
½ tsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. of chopped shallots
½ tsp. of salt
Season to taste: sugar, fish sauce, salt For toppings: green onions, cilantro,black pepper, ginger (fine julienne)

For the fish:
Cut fish into cubes.
Marinade in fish sauce, salt and pepper, minced ginger.
Set aside.
For the congee:
Boil chicken broth, cold water, onion and 4 slices of ginger.
Once boiled, add rice (both sweet and jasmine).
Cook on medium-low heat until rice is “bloomed” (around 30 minutes).
While cooking the congee, add oil into new pan and sauté marinated fish until light brown/fragrant (about 5 minutes).
Then add to congee after rice has bloomed.
Cook for another 15 minutes.
Season to taste and add toppings as desired.

Ponche Mexicano – by Alejandra Estrada, Santa Barbara Catholic Church, Santa Ana
This is a traditional hot drink popular in Mexico, particularly during the posadas preceding Christmas. It can be served with or without alcohol. Ingredients can vary from region to region.

Ingredients (Serves 15 to 20)

18 cups of water
2 piloncillo cones
3 cinnamon sticks
10 hibiscus flowers
1 tamarind pod
15 tejocotes
1 ½ green apples (chopped)
1 ½ red apples (chopped)
5 sugar cane sticks (4 to 5 inches long, cut in four pieces each)
2 stars anise
1 pear (chopped)
5 guavas (chopped)
½ orange with peel (slices half-inch wide)
3 cups of pineapple (chopped)
6 green lemon leaves
1 cup of pomegranate
6 prunes
2 ounces of raisins
2 cloves
Tequila (optional)

Place water in a large stockpot.
Add piloncillo, cinnamon, tamarind pod, hibiscus flowers, stars anise and cloves
Cook for 15 minutes, then add sugar cane sticks
Cook for 10 minutes, then add tejocotes

Cook for 15 minutes, then add apples, pineapple, pear, guavas, orange pomegranate, prunes, raisins, green lemon leaves
Simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes on low heat
Serve hot in mugs
Optional addition of tequila


Beet soup red borscht (with optional beet’s brine) – by Ania Machon, St. John Paul II Polish Center, Yorba Linda
Polish tradition says that the 12 dishes served for dinner on Christmas Eve must be vegetarian. One of those classic dishes is red borscht, which in some homes is primed with beet’s brine (zakwas) that is prepared in the days before.

The beet’s brine is optional in this recipe, which also uses mushrooms. However, if you enjoy a sour, savory taste, then it is highly recommended. To create color and essence, you can incorporate baked beets into your soup.

2 pounds of beets (peeled, rinsed and sliced)
½ pound of root vegetables: carrots, parsnip, celery root and one leek, all rinsed and sliced in half

2 minced garlic cloves
2 cups beet’s brine (optional, or more to taste)
Handful of dried porcinis (or other wild mushrooms, but do not use shitake)
Salt (to taste)

Black pepper (to taste)
1 tbsp. of white vinegar
1 tsp. sugar (or to taste)
1 tbsp. parsley (optional)
One big, sweet apple
(Optional) Beet’s brine
3 ½ pounds beets (peeled, rinsed and sliced)
A piece of rye bread (preferably a crust)
2 cups of boiled water (lukewarm)
Bay leaf
Teaspoon of salt
Cut the beetroots into medium-sized chunks, then cover them with salted water.
Add spices and leave them for a couple of days to ferment.