Traditional Puerto Rican Cuisine: Christmas Dinner

 

Since the holiday’s are now upon us, for today’s blog post I am going to share with you my menu for our Christmas Dinner – Puerto Rican style. As you may or may not know, I am newly Puerto Rican by marriage, but Italian-American by all other standards! Over the past 10 years, I have been mastering my technique of Puerto Rican Cooking. Thanks to my husband’s mother Lucy (who passed away in 2013) I am able to keep up with the best of my Puerto Rican counterparts – many of whom are quite surprised that a “Blanquita” can compare to them!

So, before we begin I will share a small bit of background information on Puerto Rican Cuisine!

Traditional Puerto Rican cuisine as many people know it today has been evolving over may years. It has been influenced in the past by many factors. Dating back hundreds of years, the food has roots from not only the native Taino Indians of Puerto Rico but also from Spain and Africa. These influences came about in most instances through the slave trade. The cuisine has evolved into a unique food experience for all who venture to try it.

In many instances over time the food eaten in Puerto Rico was out of necessity rather than desire. At times of economic hardship, people on the island were able to survive on foods grown easily on their own land. The warm tropical climate allows for the cultivation of many types of food plants and trees such as bananas, plantains, citrus fruits, mangos, guavas, coconuts and many various root vegetables. This abundance of food sources is evident all over the island. The warm Caribbean waters have provided for an excellent source food as well, both in the past and currently.

Many people think of “rice and beans” when Puerto Rican food comes to mind, but this was not always the case as it is today. Rice and beans today are a staple in the diets of most Puerto Ricans. There are countless preparation methods for both, and they can serve as side dishes along with fish or meat, or together as the main course. There are many varieties of beans such as kidney beans, black beans, pink beans, pinto beans, small red beans, and pigeon peas. Rice is also available in different styles as well such as long or medium grain rice.

Plantains also play a big part in Puerto Rican cuisine. They are plentiful on the island and versatile as well. They can be eaten when green (under ripened) or yellow (ripe), but must be cooked either way. When eaten green they are more similar to a starchy potato-like vegetable which can be fried or boiled and prepared in many different ways. Yellow plantains are usually fried or baked and have a sweet savory flavor. Plantains are most often eaten as a side dish, but can also play a part in some main dishes such as a “pastelon” which is fried yellow plantains layered with ground beef and cheese and baked in the oven (similar to a lasagna).

Another staple in Puerto Rican cooking are root vegetables such as yucca, batata (sweet potato), yautia, and Malanga. These are rich in starch and grow well in the dry hard soil. They are often boiled and served as a side dish or cooked in soups and stews. Puerto Ricans refer to these as “verduras” and usually cook more than one variety together, calling this Viendas.

Sofrito is the base for many recipes in Puerto Rican cooking. It is a blend of finely chopped fresh onion, garlic, peppers, and cilantro or reciao leaves. This is usually made in large batches and frozen for daily use. It gives the food a flavorful background without being too overpowering. It is used in many dishes as well as serves as a marinade for many fish and meats.

Meats and fish are also prepared in various ways in Puerto Rican cooking, such as grilled, baked fried or braised, but are almost always seasoned with “adobo”. Adobo is a spice of blended garlic powder, salt, pepper and oregano. Along with sofrito, adobo is one of the most common spices added to many dishes giving them a unique flavor. Achote or annatto is often added to dishes as well, for extra flavor and to give the food some color.

For many celebrations in Puerto Rico a slow roasted whole pig is the center of the meal accompanied by various side dishes. The host of the party will often stay up all night preparing and cooking it to perfection. This serves as a social gathering time as well. Holiday meals in Puerto Rican cuisine do not often vary much. One can expect certain foods to be present at all holiday celebrations.

A traditional Puerto Rican meal at most holiday times will consist of roasted pork – whole pig or a roast (la lechon or pernil), rice with pigeon peas (arroz con gandules), and various salads. A cheese tray with guava paste (pasta guyaba) is served as an appetizer at most every celebration, big or small. During the Christmas season pasteles are almost added to the menu.

Pasteles are similar to a tamale. They consist of a dough made of mashed green plantains, green bananas, and yucca, then filled with a seasoned pork mixture and wrapped in green banana leaves. The process of making these is quite time consuming and usually done over two days’ time. Once prepared they must be boiled in salted water for an hour or more in order to cook them.

Many people have never had authentic Puerto Rican food, and they say you either love it or hate it. The flavors and textures can take some getting used to for those who do not usually venture to try new things. Knowing about the food of another culture can help one to understand and appreciate it.

Here are some of my personal photos of different Puerto Rican Foods – Some that I cooked myself and others from restaurants.

Christmas Dinner Menu

Appetizers

Pasta Guyaba y Queso con Ritz (Guava Paste and Cheese with Crackers)

Papitas con Dip (Chips and Dip)

Coctel de Camaron (Jumbo Shrimp Coctail)

Dinner

La Lechon /Pernil (Roasted Pork)

Jamon con Pina (Spiral Ham with Pineapple and Cherries)

Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)

Pasteles (Traditional PR Holiday Food)

Ensalada de Papas (Potato Salad)

Ensalada Verde (Mixed Greens Salad)

Ensalada de Codito (Macaroni Salad)

Dessert

Flancocho (Flan Cake)

Coquito (Puerto Rican Spiked Eggnog)

So there you have my Puerto Rican menu for Christmas! In addition to this I will be serving an Italian Meat Lasagna along with many varieties of Italian Christmas Cookies, and of course plenty of wine!

You can find recipes for many of the dishes from my Christmas Dinner menu at http://www.elboricua.com/recipes or www.ricanrecipes.com.  Hope that you all enjoy your holidays and Happy New Year To All!

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