The Best Dishes, Desserts, & Drinks to Celebrate a Traditional Latino Christmas

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

Mexican Christmas Eve Salad


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.


Essential Produce:


Red Beets

Fresh Pomegranates



Navel Oranges


Click here to view our favorite Ensalada Nochebuena recipe.



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.


Essential Produce:

Corn Husks or Banana Leaves


Poblano Peppers

Cubanelle Peppers

Dried Guajillo Peppers

Dried Pasilla Peppers

Yukon Potatoes



Click here to view our favorite Tamale recipe.



Puerto Rican Pasteles 

Puerto Rican Style 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).


Essential Produce:

Green (Cooker) Bananas

Yautia/Malanga Blanca

Yautia/Malanga Lila

Green Plantains

Calabaza Squash

Banana Leaves


Aji Dulce Peppers



Fresh Oregano

Bell Peppers


Click to view our favorite Pastele recipe here.



Cuban Yuca con Mojo

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).


Essential Produce:




Yellow Onion

Lime Juice


Fresh Oregano


Click here to view our favorite Yuca con Mojo recipe.



Venezuelan Dulce de Lechosa

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).


Essential Produce:

Green Papaya

Sugar Cane


Click here to view our favorite Dulce de Lechosa recipe.



Mexican Ponche Navideño

Mexican Ponche


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.


Essential Produce:


Fresh Tamarind

Mexican Cream Guavas

Sugar Cane






Click to view our favorite Ponche Navideno recipe here.



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.


Essential Produce:

Dry Coconuts

Vanilla Beans


Click here to view our favorite Coquito recipe.

Posted by:
Katie Babinsky

Latino, Christmas, Holidays, Ensalada Nochebuena, Tamales, Pasteles, Yuca con Mojo, Dulce de Lechosa, Ponche NavideƱo, Coquito

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