One of the (many) fantastic benefits of my multi-ethnic heritage (my mother is Cuban, my father is black) is, without a doubt, the amazing food that comes along with it. Our Cuban heritage takes over in the kitchen (la Cocina), so the holiday menu has always been colorful, lively and and slightly different than the typical menu—especially on Thanksgiving.
Somewhat obviously, the main event of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is turkey. Historically, this was typically because of the turkey’s size as it was able to feed large groups of people, and its ties to other British holiday celebrations at the foundation of the New World. Eventually it became a household staple on the holiday.
I have had my fair share of good (if not amazing) turkey, I will always and forever champion the Cuban Style Roast Pork that has sat front and center both for Thanksgiving and Christmas in my household. This comes from the Cuban tradition of roasting an entire pig over an open fire (“caja china” style) for holiday seasons. The pig roast was able to feed large groups of people and create a sense of community around the fire.
While roasting a full pig is not easily pulled off in the suburbs of DC, my mother has always used the Cuban Style recipe for roasted pork. Stuffed with garlic and slow roasted for several hours, it’s pretty close to heaven. To top it all off, throwing in a solid black beans recipe seals the deal. Proceed with caution though: once you’ve had it, you’ll never be able to eat turkey with the same satisfaction again.
Another staple of the American Thanksgiving menu is mashed potatoes. Now, I am a HUGE fan of all things potatoes—sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, the list goes on and on. It is definitely its own unique form of happiness. However, at a holiday like Thanksgiving, I will always be partial to deliciously prepared Cuban recipe for yucca. Yucca is a root that is common in Cuban cuisine. It’s served boiled and slathered in roasted garlic and olive oil. We are also super partial to adding arroz (rice) to the menu—usually white rice and in droves. Cooked simply, it’s a delicious and starchy partner to the yucca and the pork.
Along with a mixed green salad, you’ll find that a lot of Cuban families love to feature an olive salad. This is a combination of three different types of olives, doused in a vinaigrette and roasted onions. This one definitely took me a while to warm up to as a kid, but now, I’m obsessed with it—and it tastes amazing with bread the next day for lunch. We’ll usually throw in roasted corn on the cob as well; this isn’t a traditional Cuban food, but it’s traditional American and consistently delicious.
Now here’s where, at least in my family, there tends to be a TON of overlap between American and Cuban traditions. My mom will always make Natilla, which is a pudding-like dessert that is covered in cinnamon. (It’s my favorite!) She’ll also make sweet potato pie for my dad (who grew up in Macon, Georgia), a pumpkin pie for my brother, and a pecan pie for herself. Dessert is definitely our most hybrid option, but, if we’re honest, it’s everyone’s favorite part, so we can take it.
So, in short, if you’re looking for add a twist to your typical Thanksgiving meal, adding a Cuban recipe will be a delicious (if not necessarily nutritious) option!
What does your family eat for Thanksgiving? Tweet us @LitDarling!
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