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We doing a Cuban Christmas dinner - any suggestions?

Hi all. This is my first post! Love Chowhound and hope some of you can help me with our Cuban Christmas menu. Our guests are real foodies - as are we - so we really want to make this a special dinner. Right now, we are planning on serving Pernil (marinated roast pork shoulder), Cuban tamales made w/Yucca and piccadillo, a fresh tomato and avocado salad.

Can anyone suggest a fabulous first course, side dish, dessert item? Please don't say flan for dessert - my DH hates anything that tastes "eggy".

Thanks in advance - and happy holidays to everyone!


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  1. you need some rice - moros y christianos (white rice cooked together or stir fried up with black beans/onions/garlic/peppers) to go with your pernil and yuca. Fried sweet plantains (or if you prefer, tostones made with the green plantains) is a classic accompaniment, as well as yuca in garlic sauce, but you are already serving yuca, so Id omit that. Since your tamales have meat, maybe serve them, with your salad, as your first course?? If you dont do the plantains, you could consider a grilled or baked sweet banana/[plaintain dish, or even bananas foster, for dessert.

    1. Something with bananas or plaintains. And banana daqueris!

      1. rum cake for dessert, or a pineapple cake. those are the popular cakes from a cuban resto i just visited....

        1. I would add beef and or seafood.
          Roja Vieja and Camarones al Ajillo both would be so well recieved. I prefer a festive and flavorful yellow rice. And the black beans could be made into a hummus dip,or soup. The other must would be to have pastelitos both savory and sweet...which would help with your dessert request..

          6 Replies
          1. re: chef chicklet

            If you decide to make ropa vieja let me know. I have a recipe from a co-worker's cuban mother that is delicious and authentic....and very easy. I'm sure it doesn't vary much from any other recipe on the internet, but it's nice to know you are using a recipe that was actually used in cuba for many, many years and passed down the generations.

            1. re: kmills9408

              kmills, I think you were responding to the op, but even so, I would love your traditional recipe. I have made this dish (which is delicious as well) but not sure it is authentic.
              It is a wonderful party dish, and I have served it at my own International Christmas Party that I give every year. (I love the yellow rice-merely a personal preference!)

              1. re: kmills9408

                I don't think I'll be making ropa vieja for Christmas dinner but would love your recipe. My mom used to make it - and it was fabulous but she didn't write down the recipe.

                1. re: scudgal

                  I'll be happy to get it for you today a little later..hand written recipe that I got from a friend years ago, and also I have my changes.

                  1. re: scudgal

                    Sorry it took so long....but here's the recipe:

                    Put 1 to 2 pound fland steak in a large pot with lots of water.
                    add half an onion, half a green pepper, one tablespoon of salt, 2 peeled cloves of garlic, two dried bay leaves, and a dash of cumin.
                    boil until flank steak is very tender (2-3 hours).

                    Remove meat from water, let cool and shred with a fork.

                    in a large sauce pan, heat olive oil. add crushed garlic cloves (2-3 depending on taste, could be more) and sautee about one minute.
                    then add one medium green pepper-diced, one medium red bell pepper-diced, one large onion-diced and sautee another minute.
                    stir in a few cups of tomato sauce and white wine, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. simmer for a few minutes.
                    add shredded meat and simmer for about 5-10 minutes until meat absorbs most of the liquid.
                    serve with rice...I like yellow.

                    hope you enjoy this, I always do!

                    1. re: scudgal

                      sorry thought you were talking to me! With my changes I don't know that it would of been considered "authentic".. but its still good!

                2. First course: a bright and citrusy ceviche or perhaps empanadas
                  Side: Of course moros y christianos is perfect but I prefer green cilantro rice and red beans for a more Christmasy look. Plus I love cilantro rice with pernil.
                  Dessert: I would've said tocino del cielo, but perhaps something based on turron? I'm thinking a Baked Alaska sort of trifle flecked with crushed turron instead of the usual strawberries. Or perhaps tres leches?

                  1. For Cuban (especially pork), you need black beans as a side:

                    1. definately moros y cristianos, or black beans and rice

                      platanos maduros (sweet/ripe), or tostones (green-smashed/fried)

                      the traditional meal would also have actual chunks of yuca boiled, and then drizzled with fresh mojo

                      camarones or ceviche are a nice starter.

                      a typical cuban salad will have nothing more than lettuce, a couple of tomato slices, maybe onion slices, and occasionally hard boiled egg and green olives

                      and fresh sliced avocado drizzled with mojo always wins in my house...

                      the "cuban tamale" you describe is actually a pastel, and its more typical of PR, but still eaten in Cuba.

                      a cuban tamal is still made with masa, but the meat will be mixed in with the dough, flecked all throughout.

                      too bad about the flan...my grandmother's recipe has been known to turn even the most die hard of flan-haters.

                      cuban's dont do too much dessert, really....a Tres Leches cake is a very good option, or capuchinos, bread pudding, or one of the many desserts we have that involve spongy dough soaked in syrups...

                      bear in mind, Cuba does not have cuisine, it has peasant food. lol Its the food of colonialism, and slavery and opression and revolition. :)

                      16 Replies
                      1. re: TSQ75

                        The most peculiar dessert we had in Cuba recently was a dish of guava puree (a thick cooked sauce) served with cheese. In one place the cheese was a fresh feta-ish goat cheese; in another it was something like a shredded gouda sprinkled on top.

                        I'd go with a beautiful platter of fresh tropical fruits.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          I have also been served guava with a little cream cheese, rich so don't need much, but the flavors worked.

                          1. re: Nyleve

                            that's one of the most common desserts my abuela always served. a big dallop of cream cheese, along with a big spoonful of fruit puree or preserves. Often she'd do canned grated coconut with heavy syrup. heavenly! its the sweet salty that i love most.

                            1. re: TSQ75

                              I have a priceless photo of my husband about to eat a spoonful of the aforementioned guava-with-shredded-cheese dessert. The expression on his face speaks volumes. It wasn't bad - just odd. I actually liked it better the other time, when we had it with the feta-ish cheese. This last was served in a casa, where the meals were homemade and delicious. The former was in a restaurant, and not a good one either.

                              A cheesecake topped with fresh guava puree (or other tropical fruit mixture) could actually be a good compromise dessert. The spirit of the meal, but re-interpreted.

                              1. re: Nyleve

                                thaw some frozen phyllo dough, fill with guava paste on bed of cream cheese, foldover and bake. easy and yum!

                          2. re: TSQ75

                            Would love your Grandmother's flan recipe - to make for myself! I am half Spanish and my Abuela used to make a wonderful flan. Unfortunately, I never got her recipe. Thanks.

                            1. re: TSQ75

                              I was thinking maybe some kind of rum/coconut cake for dessert? All I can find online is using a cake mix but I would prefer to make from scratch. Anyone have a good recipe for this?

                              I really don't want to just serve fresh tropical fruit or guava and cheese. Even though traditional - it is Christmas dinner and I want to make a "wow" dessert if I can. I may just bend the rules and lean towards something "Caribbean" rather than classic Cuban. Any suggestions?


                              1. re: scudgal

                                Scudgal - you can make a coconut tres leches cake! I made it for my family and everyone loved it. There are bunch of from-scratch tres leches cake recipes online that you can get. Only instead of the evaporated milk, you substitute sweet coconut milk. Mix the coconut milk in the same bowl with the half & half and the sweetened condensed milk. Pour it over the prepared cake (after you've poked it a hundred times with a fork!) It's a lot of liquid, but don't worry - it'll all absorb! Then place it in the fridge until you're ready to frost it. Then make the traditional frosting, frost the cake and then top the whole cake with sweetened shredded coconut. Tan rico! Feliz Navidad! :o)

                                1. re: Sra. Swanky

                                  sra. swanky, how would ypu do one starting with a boxed cake recipe? yellow cake? white cake?

                                  also, do you have a good recipe for whole garbanzo bean soup with sausage? i used to use a bag with dried beans and spices, and add sausage chunks. i think it had turmeric or saffron. now i can't find ir.....

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    I've never had the garbanzo soup with sausage, but you could totally wing that and it would be fabulous, i think...

                                    there are a bunch of other similar soups tho...

                                    Fabada, done typically with Fava or butterbeans, with sausage (chorizo)

                                    and then there's Caldo Gallego(Galician Stew), which would be with white beans, potatoes, collard greens both ham and chorizo ...

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      Hey alkapal -- I've made tres leches cake with a boxed yellow cake for a school function (Duncan Hines) and it came out really good. Start with a boxed yellow cake mix and bake it in a 9 X 13 in. pan. In a bowl, combine a can of evaporated milk (if you're doing a coconut leches cake, substitute coconut milk for the evaporated milk), a can of sweetened condensed milk, and a cup of half & half. Mix well. While the cake is still hot and cooling from out of the oven, take a fork and poke LOTS of holes into the cake, all over. Then pour the milk mixture slowly over the cake, stopping a few times to let it soak in. It's a lot of liquid, but don't worry - the cake will soak it up & get nice and moist. Then put it in the fridge and make a quick frosting with butter, confectioner's sugar & a tsp. of vanilla. (You can also make frosting from dulce de leche, made from boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk for 3 hours). Frost, chill and enjoy!

                                      Oh - and I think I do have a garbanzo & chorizo sausage soup recipe for you. I'll dig it out and post back!

                                      1. re: Sra. Swanky

                                        muchas gracias, senora swanky! (sorry, i don't know how to do the tilde over the n ~)

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Hey alkapal - sorry for the delay in the garbanzo & chorizo recipe. It's been a crazy before-Christmas week! This recipe's from "The Book of Spanish Cooking" by Hilaire Walden. Enjoy!

                                          1 and 1/3 cups canned chickpeas (or soaked chickpeas that have already been boiled until tender) *save the chickpea liquid
                                          1/4 cup olive oil
                                          1 slice bread, crusts removed
                                          1 Spanish onion, finely chopped
                                          8 ounces chorizo, thickly sliced
                                          3 beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
                                          1 tbsp paprika
                                          1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon finely crushed cumin seeds (or 1/4 tsp cumin powder)
                                          1 lb fresh spinach, chopped
                                          3 garlic cloves

                                          In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add bread and fry until golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add onion to pan and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add chorizo and cook 5 -10 minutes or until onion has softened, but not colored. Stir tomatoes into onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

                                          In another saucepan, heat remaining oil. Stir in paprika and cumin, then add spinach. Cook until the spinach has wilted. With a mortar and pestle, pound garlic with a pinch of salt. Add the fried bread and pound again. Add the tender chickpeas into the spinach pan, along with 3/4 cup of the chickpea liquid . Add the cooked tomato mixture and the garlic and bread mixture to the pan. Stir. Cover the soup and simmer about 30 minutes, adding more liquid if mixture becomes too dry.

                                          Makes 4 servings.

                                          1. re: Sra. Swanky

                                            muchas gracias por todo su trabajo, senora swanky!

                                            feliz navidad!

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              Es un placer, alkapal! Disfrútalo! (Enjoy!) Feliz Navidad y Feliz Año Nuevo también! :o)

                                2. re: TSQ75

                                  I would love your grandmother's flan recipe! Would you share, even though I'm not a flan-hater?

                                3. Guava Cheesecake! Classic combo...

                                  1. For appetizers, you could do ham or chicken croquetas. Guava paste thinly sliced on top of queso fresco also. Papas relenos - mashed potatoes around piccadillo type filling.

                                    I once had a delicious appetizer of camarones in a sofrito type sauce (not sure of the exact recipe, but something with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic with a ham flavor to it) served in little tostones shaped into a cup shape.

                                    Rice pudding is a typical dessert.

                                    If you really want to go all out, do a whole lechon!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Mellicita

                                      I love papas rellenos- they are the best thing ever. It's basically a potato croquette- like Mellicita said just mashed potatoes wrapped around picadillo and then dredged in bread crumbs and fried (most Cuban appetizers I've had were deep fried). I'm going to reiterate what the other posters have said and recommend tres leches cake for dessert. As for plantains, personally, I prefer maduros- the caramelized ripe plantains and I think that may be more appealing than tostones which I never found to be incredibly interesting. Also at Porto's, there's these delicious pastries that are basically puff pastry filled with guava jam and cream cheese- maybe you could do something based around that for dessert.

                                    2. Coming from a Cuban family, on Noche Buena we always had black beans and rice or Moros, yuca with mojo and salad as our sides. I would second the suggestions of platanos - either tostones or the sweet ones. I know on both sides of my family - since the food is so heavy, we would have different types of turron as dessert - we have always bought ours but I found a site that has recipes http://www.ctspanish.com/christmas/tu...