A Peek into a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Dinner

by Melanie Edwards on November 22, 2010 · 10 comments

in Latino Culture, Puerto Rico

Thanksgiving Turkey

This post was first published on November 26, 2008. Edits have been made since the original version.

I’m often asked what type of Thanksgiving my family and I have. The question arises from the fact that people know I’m Puerto Rican and that I don’t always eat dishes common to the American culture.

For example, my co-workers were recently very surprised to learn that I have never eaten green bean casserole. It’s not a dish that my family even knows how to make. Naturally, the next questions are, “What kind of food do you serve? Do you have rice and beans? Do you even make a turkey?” The answers to those questions are: 1) We serve a variety of dishes; 2) Yes, definitely rice and sometimes beans; and 3) Yes, we have turkey.

As I’m sure is true in your families, every household does things a little different. Side dishes vary. Desserts and appetizers vary. Such is the case in our culture and even within my immediate and extended family.

I decided to share with you the menu that I will be serving for Thanksgiving dinner, as a sample. It might help to put it all in perspective. Note that when my mami hosts Thanksgiving dinner, the menu slightly changes. The turkey, stuffing, and yellow rice remain, however. I have made notes next to each item to explain the dish and if there are any differences from what you might know it to be.

Puerto Rican Thanksgiving Dinner Menu Sample

  1. Turkey – We season the turkey a bit differently using Adobo and Sazón as opposed to cloves, rosemary, etc. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we thaw the turkey and coat it well with a marinade of sazón, white vinegar, adobo, and meat tenderizer. After all parts of the turkey – inside, out, and under the skin – are coated, the turkey goes back in the fridge to marinate for the next two days.
  2. Stuffing – My family’s turkey stuffing is meat-based (ground beef specifically) and then we add bread crumbs, potatoes, and carrots to it. Specifically, the night before Thanksgiving, we cook picadillo-ish ground beef and add the turkey gizzards and neck meat after having boiled them in salt water. On Thanksgiving, we boil some cube-sized potatoes, and mix them into the ground beef mixture along with bread crumbs. This then gets stuffed into the turkey.
  3. Arroz con Vegetales – Translation is Rice with vegetables. This will be a yellow rice with some mixed vegetables (peas & carrots, corn, etc). Many households serve arroz con gandules or some other variation of yellow rice.
  4. Sweet Potatoes – Standard sweet potatoes but instead of adding brown sugar or marshmallows and such, we just cut them up into thirds or quarters and boil them with salt. Sweet potatoes already have a great taste on their own.
  5. Guineos en Escabeche – I see this being translated around the web as Green Banana Salad. I suppose that’s a fair translation. This picture and recipe from sazonboricua.com will help. The recipe is in Spanish, but here’s one in English from elboricua.com.
  6. Macaroni Salad – Macaroni, shredded carrots, cut-up green olives, and mayonnaise.
  7. Macaroni Pie – This dish is actually not Puerto Rican, but from Trinidad. It has been added to my menu in recent years because my husband is Trinidadian and I have begun to blend some of his traditions with mine so that our daughter can learn about both of her cultures. Macaroni pie is similar to macaroni and cheese, but slightly different. I’m unable to find the recipe I actually use, but this one uses the same ingredients. It just puts it all together in a different order.
  8. Cranberry Sauce – Our house has always served it straight out of the can. Of course, I’ve been given some cranberry sauce recipes recently, but have yet to try them. The can just seems so easy. 😉
  9. Gravy – Growing up, my mom would just buy canned gravy to serve. However, I watch far too many cooking shows and learned how easy it is to make your own gravy. Now, if I’m hosting Thanksgiving dinner, I use the turkey drippings along with chicken broth and flour to make my own turkey gravy.
  10. Pumpkin Cheesecake – This too is absolutely not a Puerto Rican dish. I found a recipe a few years ago from Kraft and it actually came out good on my first try, so it’s become part of my personal Thanksgiving now.

I hope that this peek into a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving dinner has helped you get a glimpse of our traditions. Remember, again, that not all Puerto Rican households are the same and many serve ham or pernil (roast pork shoulder) along with a turkey, while others don’t serve turkey at all. Everyone has their preference.

What does your family traditionally serve for Thanksgiving? I’d love to hear about any special dishes and/or traditions you and your family include as part of your Thanksgiving celebration.

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1 angelica @ New Latina November 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm

Wow…Melanie I got so hungry just reading this! The entrees you have there are very similar to our Thanksgiving dinner at my mother’s home. But, she ALWAYS cooks pernil, which is such a great treat for us! And guess what? I LOVE macaroni pie — I can’t believe you cook that too!

2 modernmami November 22, 2010 at 4:59 pm

We reserve pernil for Noche Buena, but my aunt & cousin make pernil and the
turkey. Macaroni pie has grown on me!! I do like to make it for my husband;
it’s the only Trini dish I’ve been able to learn so far!

3 justicefergie November 24, 2010 at 12:06 am

So nice to see your menu! I grew up in a Caribbean household so the rice and peas, simple sweet potatoes and macaroni pie are old faves. It’s funny how we take on our husband’s heritage (and I guess they, ours) – my husband is from the South, so now our Thanksgivings include sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing and of course, the pies. Enjoy!!

4 modernmami November 24, 2010 at 3:48 pm

You know that my husband and I had a tiny bickering at the beginning of our
marriage over rice & peas vs arroz con gandules? LOL Same food, different
name. I think it’s great to embrace each others’ traditions, because our
kids benefit from two awesome cultures! 😉 Your Thanksgiving sounds like a
great blend of food as well! Our kids are so lucky….

5 Maura November 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm

Mel, I love your menu but I totally want to give you a chancletazo for the canned cranberries! I’ll give you a free pass this year since you’re pregnant, but I’m emailing you a recipe for next year to try that I promise is so easy and ten times more delicious than canned cranberries. 😉 Happy Thanksgiving!

6 modernmami November 24, 2010 at 6:42 pm

heh LOL I *may* try it. Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

7 Metest10 November 29, 2010 at 8:00 am

Yummy Yummy

8 Norma823 November 29, 2010 at 3:25 pm

I am trying to follow your blog, but having a hard time.

My blog is: http://platanosmangoesandme.blogspot.com

Please e-mail me with instructions on how to follow you.


9 modernmami November 30, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Hi there! So glad you like the blog and wish to follow along. I will email
you with more information. 🙂

10 craig May 12, 2016 at 9:58 am

i love this food

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