December 20, 2018
The holiday season is a big deal across the Latino world! For a lot of people, the Christmas celebration begins weeks before the 25th – and sometimes even extends through the first week of January.
The whole season is peppered with celebrations centered around traditional food and drink. Some of the recipes are so labor intensive that their preparation becomes part of the holiday ritual! Every country, and every community, has their own traditions and riffs on themes that cross country lines.
Here in the US, Latino communities are always on the hunt for the niche ingredients and hard-to-find specialty produce required to create these traditional dishes with the kind of authenticity that brings people back to their roots. Below are some of the most popular Christmas recipes from around the Latino world and the ingredients that make them truly taste like grandma made:
Mexican Ensalada Nochebuena
Ensalada Nochebuena (translated as Christmas Eve Salad) is a Mexican side salad traditionally served on Christmas Eve. Depending on the region of Mexico and the tradition of the family, the dish will vary – but jicama, beets, and a sweet and tangy dressing are typically staples in this colorful salad.
Dominican Pasteles en Hoja (Tamales)
Tamales are a traditional dish in dozens of countries around Central and South America, and, historically, women have been making tamales from scratch since the pre-Columbian times! Tamales are time-consuming and labor-intensive but make for a great reason to gather with family and friends and bond over preparation, also known as a “tamaladas”. Normally a year-round staple, tamales are especially cherished during the holiday season; they’re most popularly eaten on Christmas day, but are also consumed during New Year’s Eve celebrations. Tamale recipes will vary from family and country – like the popular Dominican variation, Pasteles en Hoja, where plantains and roots are used as the base instead of corn masa. But, the filling normally remains the same - either chicken, pork, beef, cheese, beans, and/or veggies.
Corn Husks or Banana Leaves
Dried Guajillo Peppers
Dried Pasilla Peppers
Puerto Rican Pasteles
Pasteles are a classic holiday dish and are bound to appear on almost every Puerto Rican table this Christmas. Another labor-intensive dish, making pasteles is usually turned into a large event, employing the whole family. An assembly line is formed in the kitchen and each family member plays an important role in the pastele-making-process. Recipes for pasteles vary from family to family, but traditionally follow a pattern of yautia, green plantains, or green bananas, and a calabaza squash to make the masa (dough). They’re then filled with a mixture of shredded or diced meat of choice (chicken or pork), and sofritos (a fresh seasoning mix of vegetables and herbs).
Green (Cooker) Bananas
Aji Dulce Peppers
Cuban Yuca con Mojo
Yuca is an edible root vegetable native to Central and South America. Yuca con Mojo (yuca with garlic sauce) is a traditional Cuban dish popularly served on Christmas Eve. The yuca is boiled until fully cooked, and the mojo, a sauce made with onions, garlic, lemon/lime, olive oil and parsley/oregano, is then poured over the root. It’s often served as a side dish to the rich, unctuous pernil (slow-roasted marinated pork).
Venezuelan Dulce de Lechosa
Dulce de Lechosa is a popular Venezuelan dessert eaten year-round, but often made for the Christmas holiday. It’s often given as a holiday gift among family and friends. Depending on the region of the country, the recipe may have small variations, however it is always made with green papaya (known as milky in Venezuela).
Mexican Ponche Navideño
Ponche Navideño is a warm Christmastime punch that is made by simmering Mexican fruits (tejocotes being one of the most vital ingredients) with sugar cane and spices. The tejocotes, a small apple-like hawthorne fruit, is exceptionally high in pectin, which lends the punch a rich, thick, velvety texture that makes it particularly satisfying. It is typically consumed on Christmas Eve and throughout the posadas, a 9-day celebration leading up to Christmas.
Mexican Cream Guavas
Puerto Rican Coquito
Also known as Crème de Vie (Cuba), Rompope (Mexico), Crémas (Haiti), and Ponche Crema (Venezuela), Puerto Rican coquito is a sweet and strong drink that’s often served as a shot after a big dinner. A traditional Christmastime drink, coquito is made with coconut milk, coconut cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, vanilla bean, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and, of course, rum.
Latino, Christmas, Holidays, Ensalada Nochebuena, Tamales, Pasteles, Yuca con Mojo, Dulce de Lechosa, Ponche Navideño, Coquito