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Want to host a Thanksgiving feast with a Puerto Rican spin? Here are some of the most popular recipes to serve for a Puerto Rican-inspired Thanksgiving meal.
Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday but when Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898, Puerto Ricans adopted the U.S. holidays too–and put their own spin on it of course.
The Thanksgiving holiday is still celebrated on the same day in Puerto Rico as it is in the United States: The 4th Thursday of November. Stores are closed so families can be together for family gatherings and the next day begins a shopping spree on Black Friday. However, the similarities pretty much end there.
Puerto Ricans aren’t so much celebrating the pilgrims dining with Indians, but their Thanksgiving celebration is a kickoff for the entire holiday season and the most wonderful time of the year on the islands. These celebrations throughout the Christmas season include parties, decorations, and caroling and continue through mid-January. Many families even reserve time on Thanksgiving to begin setting up Christmas decorations.
One major part of any good celebration is the food! Just like in American homes, Puerto Ricans spend days preparing for their Thanksgiving feast with delicious dishes.
Traditional turkey is still a major player in a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Day meal, but the preparation of it is unique and the side dishes are packed with flavor only the islands can bring. Try adding a few of these Puerto Rican recipes to your Thanksgiving dinner table and your family may thank you!
Pavochon (from Delish Dlites) is the name of the turkey dish served at the center of a traditional Puerto Rican Thanksgiving menu. It is essentially a turkey seasoned and prepared to taste like pork.
The flavorful marinade, or Pavochon seasoning, is the main ingredient, made up of garlic cloves, sour orange juice, cumin, thyme and oregano. It packs a powerful punch of flavor and makes the meat tender and juicy.
The name Pavochon is a combination of Spanish words, Pavo, which means turkey in Spanish, and lechon which means roast pig. The seasoning is similar to that used on Puerto Rican Roast Pork Shoulder (Pernil). Pork is a popular meat choice for Puerto Ricans and a slow-roasted pork shoulder may also be served alongside the turkey.
To make Pavochon you fully dry the uncooked turkey, separate the turkey’s skin from the turkey breast and apply marinade to the turkey over and under the skin. After 24-48 hours of marinating, the cavity of the turkey is stuffed with stuffing and slow roasted in a roasting pan in the oven.
Before you get too far–the type of stuffing you use is also important!
Mofongo stuffing (from Delish Dlites) is a beautiful fusion of American and Latin cuisine and is a must for a traditional Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dinner. For this Puerto Rican style turkey stuffing, green plantains are peeled and fried and then mashed with pork rinds, salt, garlic and other peppers or seasonings, in a large wooden mortar and pestle called a pilon.
If you do not have a wooden pilon, a potato masher or a food processor on pulse works just as well. The goal is to still have a few chunks. Once all the ingredients are well-combined, stuff them into your turkey for cooking.
Mofongo is a very popular dish in Puerto Rican cuisine and is not just reserved for Thanksgiving. It is served as a side with just about any meat all year round.
Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)
There is no official national dish of Puerto Rico but if you ask anyone to list a few, Arroz con Gandules (from Kitchen de Lujo), also known as Pigeon Peas and Rice, would definitely be on the list. This dish always makes it to the table for special occasions, but you may find it during a normal weeknight meal as well.
The gandules in Arroz con Gandules are pigeon peas! Pigeon peas are popular throughout the Caribbean, but are a little tougher to find in the United States. They are bright green in color and have a slightly nutty flavor.
What makes this dish a favorite are the spices used to flavor the white rice. Sofrito, which is very similar to Epis, is a blend of peppers, onions and garlic. Sofrito is combined with tomato sauce and herbs to give the rice flavor and color.
You want to use a medium grain rice for this dish to keep the grains loose and fluffy. Too much starch will make your rice sticky so always rinse it before cooking. You can also cook your rice for a few minutes in some olive oil or bacon drippings to give your rice the perfect texture.
Morcilla (from Hispanic Food Network) is the Puerto Rican word for blood sausage, a dish that is popular in many countries across the world. This type of sausage is easily distinguishable from most other kinds because it is a deep black color.
The Puerto Rican version of morcilla is made with rice, cilantro, garlic, and chili pepper. While it can be eaten year round, morcilla is a very popular choice to serve during the holiday season.
Pastelón is a Puerto Rican dish (from Que Rica Vida) that is vaguely reminiscent of lasagna. Instead of noodles, it is made by layering thinly sliced plantains with meat and cheese to make one delicious side dish!
Though the meat inside the dish can vary based on the recipe, it is not uncommon to stuff the pastelon with picadillo, a ground beef recipe sometimes served with olives, raisins, green peppers, and potatoes.
Tostones are twice fried plantains. They are similar to a potato chip but just a little thicker, and have the amazing texture contrast of crunchy on the outside with some softness on the inside.
Tostones are very popular in Puerto Rico and are eaten regularly. But they certainly are enjoyed a lot on Thanksgiving!
Amarillos (Fried Sweet Plantains)
While you use green plantains for Mofongo, you use very ripe plantains to make amarillos (from Tasting Puerto Rico). These are very simply fried plantains, sometimes dipped in cinnamon and sugar. They may be eaten as a snack, appetizer or with dessert.
Tembleque (from Recetas Puerto Rico) is a popular dessert in Puerto Rico. It is a coconut pudding that many Puerto Ricans would consider as the stand-out dessert of the country.
Many recipes for tembleque are made using only a few simple ingredients. The full list is coconut milk, sugar, cornstarch, water, salt and cinnamon for dusting the top of the recipe.
Dulce de Leche
Dulce de Leche is popular in many countries in the Caribbean and South America. It is similar to caramel, but is made only of sweetened condensed milk that has been boiled for a long period of time.
Eventually the sweetened condensed milk turns a deep orange or brown color and thickens greatly. It can be eaten with a spoon, served with cookies, or enjoyed on top of flan. You can never go wrong with serving dulce de leche at a fancy meal, especially at a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving!
These wonderful Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dishes may be served right alongside the traditional cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie you are used to seeing in the U.S. What really makes a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving meal special is the kick off to more than 45 days of celebrating in different ways. Try adding a little Caribbean flavor to your next Thanksgiving meal!