Christmas is celebrated around the world — but the menu varies in each country. Latino Christmas is no exception. Every Latin American country has its own version of Christmas dinner, and the battle over who has the best is always an entertaining conversation. Are Puerto Rican pasteles better than Mexican tamales? Every abuela has a good argument. One thing all Spanish-speaking countries have in common during the holidays is a love of good food. Many gastronomic and cultural traditions are as mixed as their cultural heritages. Puerto Ricans celebrate both Christmas and Three Kings Day, but don’t eat the rosca de reyes, which is a classic dessert influenced by Spanish heritage that is very common in Mexico. Roots such as yuca and ñame are frequent fare in the Caribbean, but not so much Central and South America, where they also grow. Indeed, comparing holiday feasts can be tricky, so diversify your dinner table with a variety of local and not-so-local Latino dishes.
Yucca con mojo (Cuba)
Yuca — or cassava — is a starchy root common among Caribbean nations, where it’s part of an indigenous heritage. In Cuba, it’s served with mojo, a creole sauce, made with onions, garlic, lemon, olive oil and parsley. The yuca is boiled until fully cooked and the mojo is spilled over for a delicious side to your pernil.
Buñuelos are a fried dough ball like no other. For any Colombian holiday dinner, they are the necessary snack in between shots of guaro. The balls are made with queso costeño — cheese from the coast — which is a saltier than usual queso fresco. Get ready to roll (the dough, that is) with this recipe.
Tamales are common in parts of the Southwestern United States, Central America and South America with different interpretations scattered throughout. Perhaps the most well-known version of this maize package is the Mexican tamales. The recipe starts with a process called nixtamalization that separates the grains, which are then crushed to obtain the masa. The filling can be anything from ground chilies for a spicy iteration, to cinnamon and raisins for a sweet version.
Torrejas are a traditional Honduran dessert that are similar to French toast and made with pinole — roasted fresh corn kernels. Some Hondurans in the United States use a recipe with ladyfingers, dipped in cinnamon and brown sugar and served hot, as a substitute.
Pernil (Puerto Rico)
Pernil is the centerpiece of every Puerto Rican Christmas table. The dish, which translates to “pig leg,” is seasoned one day ahead with garlic, pepper, oregano, olive oil and salt. A big pernil is cooked for five hours in the oven at 400 degrees, until the cuerito — pig skin — is crispy. Oh and making it is simple.