Latin American Cuisine: Memorable Meals from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru
In the last installments of Balsam Hill’s Festive Christmas Feasts from Around the World series, you were introduced to many delectable dishes you can taste this Christmas.
Today we will be showcasing Christmas dinners in Latin America that will send your taste buds on an adventure of exotic flavors from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Peru.
Christmas is widely regarded as the favorite holiday by most Hispanics in Latin America. Most families begin by celebrating the nine days leading to Christmas with posadas (“inns”) which echo the pilgrimage made by Mary and Joseph in the nativity story. Celebrations culminate on the Christmas Eve feast, called noche buena. Traditions vary across countries, but delectable food, festive music, and warm gatherings with family are commonly present. Most Latin American dishes start with sofrito, which is a sautéed mix of aromatic ingredients that make their dishes savory.
In Argentina, Christmas dinner is often roasted turkey or pork, stuffed tomatoes, salads, bread, and puddings such as pan dulce (sweet bread) and panetone (sweet Italian bread) are some of the most common Christmas dishes. Once the clock strikes midnight, fireworks officially welcome Christmas Day, while eager family members open up their presents.
Similar to Argentina, the weather is warm in Brazil during Christmas time. Secret Santa (amigo secreto or secret friend) and their own version of Santa Claus (Papai Noel and Bom Velhinho, which means Good Old Man), are among the fun-filled traditions. Favorite Christmas foods in Brazil are pork, turkey, ham, salads, and fresh and dried fruits. All courses come with rice cooked with raisins and a spoon of farofa, a seasoned cassava flour.
In Mexico, star-shaped piñatas are prepared with candy, toys and other sweets for children to enjoy. Families attend misa de gallo or midnight mass and have dinner together. Their Christmas dishes include ensalada de Noche Buena (Mexican Christmas Salad), ponche Navideño (Mexican hot fruit punch), and bacalao a la Vizcaina (dried salted codfish stewed with tomatoes, capers, olives, and potatoes).
Similarly in Peru, practicing Catholics hear mass and afterwards, go home to open gifts and feast on a Christmas meal of traditional roast turkey, tamales, salads, applesauce, and a sweet bread called panetone.
Argentinian Beef Empanadas
Small onion, finely diced (1)
Minced garlic (2 teaspoons)
Ground beef (2 pounds)
Ground cumin (1 teaspoon)
Smoked paprika (2 teaspoons)
Cayenne pepper (¼ teaspoon)
Pinch of cinnamon
Tomato paste (2 tablespoons)
Currants (¼ cup)
Roughly chopped parsley (½ cup)
Roughly diced pitted olives (½ cup)
Eggs, hard-boiled and roughly diced (3)
Puff pastry sheets, defrosted (10)
Egg, lightly beaten (1)
Olive oil (1 tablespoon)
Cooking instructions: COOKING THE FILLING – Pre-heat an oven to 350°F. Place a large fry pan over high heat and add oil. When hot, add the onion and cook for a few minutes until lightly golden. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef and break it up with a spatula. Cook until the meat is golden brown. Add the tomato paste and currants, and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Finish off the filling by stirring through parsley, olives, eggs, and season with salt and black pepper.
COOKING THE PASTRY – Take 1 sheet of puff pastry and cut out a 6-inch circle. Place the pastry round on a clean work surface and add a heaped tablespoon of filling in the center of the pastry. Join the 2 sides together to make a half-moon shape, pinching the pastry edges together. Set aside on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Repeat with pastry and filling.
BAKING – Before baking, brush the empanadas with a little egg. Place inside the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden and pastry is cooked through. Serve warm and enjoy!
Brazilian Christmas Rice
Sultanas (5 ounces)
Extra virgin olive oil (3 tablespoons)
Minced garlic (2 cloves)
Medium onion, chopped (1)
White rice, rinsed well (2 cups)
Salt to taste
Boiling water (2 cups)
Champagne (1 cup)
Dried apricots (¾ cup)
Carrot, peeled and grated (1)
Butter (1 tablespoon)
Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (6 tablespoons)
Cooking instructions: Soak the sultanas in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. In a large pan, heat the olive oil and add the onion and garlic. Add the sultanas, rice, and salt. Continue to cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the champagne, then the boiling water. Continue to cook covered until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.
While the rice cooks, place the dried apricots in a small saucepan with water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain well, cool slightly, and then cut into strips. Place the grated carrot in a bowl and pour boiling water over it to cover. Sprinkle with salt to taste.
Melt the butter in a pan and add the drained apricots and sun-dried tomatoes; cook for 2 minutes. Add the apricots and sun-dried tomatoes to the cooked rice. Mix well. Pile the rice on a serving platter, and garnish with the drained grated carrot around the mount of rice.
Grilled Leg of Lamb, Mexican-style
Well-trimmed, boneless leg of lamb (3 pounds)
Fresh lime juice (2 tablespoons)
Chili powder (1 teaspoon)
Dried oregano (1 teaspoon)
Freshly ground pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing (¼ cup)
Finely chopped sage (1 tablespoon)
Finely chopped rosemary (1 tablespoon)
Plum tomatoes, halved (6)
Poblano chiles – quartered lengthwise, stemmed and seeded (2)
Large red onion, cut into 8 wedges through the core (1)
Tortillas and tomatillo salsa, for serving
Cooking instructions: Spread the lamb on a work surface and lightly pound the thickest part of the meat to a 2-inch thickness. Put the lamb in a large re-sealable plastic bag. Add the lime juice, chili powder, oregano, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and turn to coat. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
Remove the lamb from the marinade and blot it dry with paper towels. Bring the lamb to room temperature. Light a grill and oil the grates. Brush the lamb with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderate heat until lightly charred on the underside, about 10 minutes. Turn the lamb over and scatter the sage and rosemary on top. Grill the lamb, turning once more, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 135°F for medium-rare or 140°F or medium, 20 to 25 minutes longer. Transfer the lamb to a work surface and let rest for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the tomatoes, poblanos, onion wedges, and scallions, with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and just tender, 4 to 7 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a serving platter. Thinly slice the lamb across the grain, then transfer to the platter. Serve with tortillas and tomatillo salsa.
Roast Peruvian Turkey
Whole turkey, neck and giblets removed (12 pounds)
For the spice rub:
Ground cumin (½ cup)
Soy sauce (½ cup)
White vinegar (½ cup)
Vegetable oil (3 tablespoons)
Garlic cloves, peeled (12)
Paprika (3 tablespoons)
Freshly ground black pepper (2 tablespoons)
Smoked paprika (1 tablespoon)
Dried oregano (1 tablespoon)
Kosher salt (2 teaspoons)
Vegetable oil (1 tablespoon)
Water (2 teaspoons)
For the sauce:
Crème fraiche (8 ounces)
Chicken broth (1 cup)
Lime, juiced (1)
Jalapeno peppers, stemmed (2)
Chopped fresh cilantro (½ cup)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper (to taste)
Cooking instructions: Pat the turkey dry with paper towels and loosen the skin over each side of the breastbone with a spatula inserted beneath the skin.
Place the cumin, soy sauce, vinegar, vegetable oil, garlic, paprika, black pepper, smoked paprika, and oregano into a blender or food processor. Blend the spice rub into a thick paste for about 1 minute. Set aside ½ cup of rub in a bowl for a later step; pour remaining rub all over the turkey and use a spatula to work about 2 tablespoons of mixture beneath the loosened skin on each side of the breast. Thoroughly rub the mixture all over and let the turkey stand for 1 hour at room temperature.
Pre-heat your oven to 350°F and fold a piece of aluminum foil into a rounded piece about the size of the turkey breast; set foil aside.
Place the turkey onto a rack set in a large roasting pan. Tie the legs together at the bottom with kitchen twine. Spread ¼ cup of reserved wet rub into the turkey’s cavity; retain remaining ¼ cup for later. Sprinkle the entire top and sides of the turkey with kosher salt.
Roast the turkey in the pre-heated oven for 1½ hours; place foil tent on turkey breast. Return to oven and continue to roast for about 1 hour and 15 minutes more. Combine remaining ¼ cup of spice rub with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and water in a small bowl. Brush mixture over turkey’s top, legs, and sides. Roast until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh, not touching bone, reads 170°F (about 30 more minutes). Transfer the turkey to a serving platter and let rest for at least 20 minutes, reserving drippings in roasting pan.
Place crème fraiche, chicken broth, lime juice, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Pour excess grease out of the turkey roasting pan, then pour in crème fraiche mixture and place the roasting pan over a burner set over medium-high heat. Scrape the browned pan drippings at the bottom of the pan, bring to a boil, and cook until the gravy is reduced by half and thickened (about 10 minutes). Whisk often to prevent lumps. Season gravy with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. Carve and serve turkey with pan gravy.
We hope you enjoyed these Latin American Christmas dinner recipes and that you are inspired to cook some of them for your own evening celebrations! There will be more tastes and traditions to explore in Appetizing Arrays of Africa, Asia, and Australia.