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Christmas Latin American-Style PDF Print E-mail

The Turkey, Stuffing, and Rice

Editor's Note:  Since this article was first published, Bomboa Restaurant has unfortunately closed.

Christmas Latin


by Rebecca White

Ceia de Natal (Brazilian Christmas Turkey)

Giblet and Smoked Oyster Stuffing

Brazilian-Style Rice

Couve a Mineira (Brazilian Style Kale)

Molho Apimentado (Malagueta Hot Sauce)

Should you be interested in changing your menu a bit during this holiday season, a different perspective on the traditional Christmas meal might be just what you need. Instead of going through the motions this year of preparing standard holiday dishes recycled from your mother’s recipe files, add a little spice to your life with a traditional Latin American Christmas dinner, created by Chef Felino Samson of the Bomboa restaurant.

Christmas in Latin America is known as Las Posadas or Navidad. Celebrated throughout the region with special holiday cuisine and songs, much of what is eaten is greatly influenced by the foodstuffs of the different indigenous people of the region, but all delicacies share the strong Latin influence dating from the arrival of Roman Catholicism hundreds of years ago.

In Latin American cultures, traditional cuisine plays a very prominent role in the everyday life of Latinos. While the cultures’ propensity towards spicy food has become a stereotype, reinforced through a commercial push for "Latino" products such as hot sauce and salsa, it remains true that the flavor of the culture’s cuisine is influenced by hot chiles of all kinds. This is the case of Molho Apimentado’s malagueta peppers, a key ingredient to a Latino holiday feast.

In the case of conventional cuisine prepared for the celebration of holidays, such as Christmas, there are many different ways to prepare a dinner according to the areas where they are consumed. Traditionally, turkey is the main course of a Latin American Christmas dinner. Turkey, at one point in history called el ave de los ricos (the bird of the rich), is now consumed worldwide as a part of many different festive feasts from Thanksgiving to Easter. The turkey, native to Latin America, has been part of the human diet for many thousands of years, based on bone remains found in Mexico.

Traditionally a Latino Christmas turkey dinner is served after the Christmas Eve midnight Mass at church, but for all those non-practicing Catholics, anytime that one might see fit the night before Christmas is also perfectly acceptable. Typically an elaborate affair, focusing on family at the core, this meal can take a couple of days of advance preparation to have it ready to roll in time for the feast. But since Christmas in Latin America is a time for friends and families to get together, this is a perfect time to take advantage of the extra hands hanging around the kitchen and to put them to work.

Executive Chef and co-owner Felino Samson of the French-Latin Bomboa restaurant in Boston, Massachusetts, suggests the following courses should you be interested trying a Latin American holiday dinner this Christmas. Ceia de Natal is the typical Brazilian Christmas Turkey marinated in Cachaça, or light rum, with onions, garlic, tomatoes, lime juice, and other spices. Should you not want to use the traditional Latino rum (Cachaça) for your marinade, the bird can also be placed in chilmole, a dark, spicy sauce, and common as a festival dish around Latin America. Stuffing fans can feast on giblet and smoked oyster stuffing made out of farofa, apricots, raisins, hard boiled eggs, and more.

To keep with Latin tradition, rice should be part of the feast, mixed with pumpkin seeds so reminiscent of the fall season. For dinner greens, Latinos depend on kale as a staple, so Couve a Mineira (Brazilian-style kale) will satisfy this desire. Last but most importantly, every Latin meal should include the chile heat factor, achieved with Molho Apimentado, a hot sauce that can be sprinkled on everything and anything. It is traditionally made with malagueta peppers or green bird chiles. Malagueta peppers, Capsicum frutescens, are cousins to the tabasco chile and are truly the most distinctive spicy characteristic of Brazilian cooking. While they are difficult to find in North American markets, it is possible that you find them on the Internet. If not, any small, hot chiles may be substituted.

Finally, once the feast is prepared don’t forget to garnish the table with poinsettia, named after the former United States ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberto Poinsett. The flower was discovered in Mexico and has become the symbol of Christmas throughout the world, but its roots remain in Latin America. And remember, if you learn anything from celebrating Christmas Latino-style, it’s that family comes first, the hot sauce second.


Ceia de Natal (Brazilian Christmas Turkey)

The marinade suggested in this recipe is indigenous to Brazil in that it utilizes one of Brazil’s great ingredients, Cachaça, made famous around the world in the sweet taste of the Caipirinha, one of Latin America’s most popular alcoholic beverages. Balanced with the tart taste of lime juice and zest, this marinade is versatile and is the first step to making your holiday turkey. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • One 12-pound turkey


  • 2 cups Cachaça or light rum

  • 2 medium onions, diced

  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 4 ripe tomatoes, diced

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 cup fresh lime juice

  • ¼ cup grated lime zest

  • 2 cups of water

  • ½ cup chopped scallions

  • 1 cup chopped parsley

In a large bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients and mix well.

Place a 12-pound turkey in a roasting bag and cover it with the marinade. Close the bag so that it has no air pockets, and let the turkey marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Giblet and Smoked Oyster Stuffing

This stuffing runs the gamut of the five food groups, relying on fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy to create the fine mixture roasting within the turkey’s cavity. Farofa (cassava flour), the Latin version of corn flakes, brings it all together and gives the recipe the cohesive texture that it requires.

  • Turkey giblets and neck

  • 1 onion, diced

  • 1 cup butter

  • 2 cups farofa (Available in Latin markets) or plain corn flakes

  • 6 fresh apricots, pits removed, diced or 10 dry apricots re-hydrated in water and diced

  • ½ cup golden raisins soaked in 1 cup simple syrup and ¼ cup dark rum

  • 1 scallion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley

  • 4 hard boiled eggs, chopped

  • 15 freshly smoked oysters, or substitute 20 canned oysters, coarsely chopped

In a pot, cook the giblets and neck of the turkey in water until tender, then dice. Reserve the cooking liquid.

In a sauté pan, cook the onion in butter until it is translucent. Add the giblets, apricots, raisins, farofa, or cornflakes, and lightly cook ingredients in the butter. Slowly add the giblet stock until the mixture is moist but not too wet. Add the scallion, parsley, eggs and oysters and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.

To Assemble and Cook:

Remove the turkey from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Season the turkey with salt and pepper then rub with olive oil. Stuff the bird with the dressing and tie and truss the turkey. Roast in a 325 F.-degree oven until the juice from the thigh runs clear, about 4 hours, or until the internal temperature in the thigh reaches 160 degrees F. Carve the turkey and sprinkle the slices and the stuffing with the hot sauce (see recipe below). Garnish with sliced carambola (star fruit).

Yield: 8 servings

Heat Scale: Varies

Brazilian-Style Rice

Brazilian rice is one of the staples of a Brazilian dinner and the holidays are no different. Brazilians most often make use of long grain rice, and the shelled pumpkin seeds give it the holiday zest that it needs while the kale (as well as the rice) is sautéed in garlic to add a touch of flavor. A touch of hot sauce adds zest to this side dish.

  • 1 cup olive oil

  • 12 cloves garlic, sliced paper thin

  • ¼ cup shelled pumpkin seeds

  • 4 cups long grain rice

  • 1 onion, minced

  • 8 cups water

  • Salt to taste

In a heavy saucepan, add the olive oil and sliced garlic. Heat the oil on low and cook the garlic slowly until it’s light golden brown and crispy. Drain and place on a paper towel.

In a small skillet, toast the pumpkin seeds and then grind them in a spice mill or coffee grinder.

Transfer 1/4 cup of the olive oil to a large saucepan and saute the onion and the rice for 2 minutes. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer over low heat for 12 minutes. Turn off the heat and let rest for 7 minutes or more, not lifting the lid off the pot. Serve with ground pumpkin seed sprinkled on top and the garlic chips. Sprinkle the hot sauce over all (see recipe below).

Yield: 8-10 servings

Heat Scale: Varies

Couve a Mineira (Brazilian Style Kale)

Garlic lovers, rejoice! Here is a perfect, garlicky accompaniment to the roasted turkey. And it’s so simple to prepare.

  • 15 cloves garlic

  • 2 cups olive oil

  • 5 bunches kale

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a pan, simmer the whole cloves of garlic in water for 5 minutes and drain (This gets rid of any bitterness from the garlic). Place the garlic and 2 cups of oil in a heavy casserole and roast covered in a 325-degree oven until the garlic browns, about 45 minutes to an hour. Peel the garlic cloves.

Wash 5 bunches of kale and remove the tough center rib. Roll the leaves into cigar shaped rolls and chiffonade or cut into paper-thin strips

In a large sauté pan, brown 3 tablespoons of butter and add the cloves of roasted garlic and 4 tablespoons of garlic-flavored olive oil; lightly wilt the kale in the pan, tossing well, and season with salt and pepper and hot sauce (see recipe below).

Yield: 8 servings

Heat Scale: Varies

Molho Apimentado (Malagueta Hot Sauce)

Brazilian Malagueta and Bird Chiles 



Brazilian Malagueta and Bird Chiles

Latin America is well known for it’s spicy, hot, flavorful foods. However let it be known that their cuisine does not acquire its famous flavor without a little help from a friend, namely the hot sauce, known in this case as Molho Apimentado. Malagueta peppers rank hot on the list of peppers and this sauce, as most hot sauces, can be used like the American version of gravy, on any dish be it turkey, rice, kale or stuffing. The hot sauce brings the different flavors of the meal together with one cohesive taste and many textures to give Latin American food lovers the taste they’ve been waiting for.

  • 1 red onion, minced

  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced

  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded, white membrane removed, minced

  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar

  • ¼ cup olive oil

  • 2 (or more to taste) malagueta peppers or green bird chies, stems and seeds removed, minced

Place all ingredients in a good food processor or blender and puree. Add water if necessary to adjust the consistency.

Yield: 1 cup

Heat Scale: Medium


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