There’s no other month like the month of December: kids are excited for what’s to come, families get together, meals are shared and we celebrate the most important birthday of them all.
In Peru, where I grew up, the Nativity set sits with an empty manger until the 24th at midnight, when the youngest in the family has the big responsibility of placing the precious Christ Child figurine in place, completing the Nativity scene. Immediately after this, families pray together, fireworks go off and celebratory hugs and cheers go all the way around as everyone makes their way to the dinner table. It is traditions like these that make December my favorite month of the year.
The planning for the Christmas meal starts weeks in advance. If you have more than one family getting together, then the meal is potluck-style, with assignments as to who is bringing what. The actual preparation starts a few days before Christmas.
When I was younger, most ovens in Peru did not fit a large turkey or meat of choice for Christmas, so the local bakery would “rent” a space in their oven and bake your turkey. Usually ready right about 10:00 p.m., turkeys would start “walking” out the bakery door as their rightful owners carried them proudly back home.
Other holiday meal signatures always make their way to the table: applesauce, Christmas rice, fresh fruit, some sort of potatoes (I prefer them scalloped) and a healthy salad. For dessert, hot chocolate and panetón (a festive sweet bread), if you have room for it.
I love learning about other people’s traditions, what they do and what they eat. Since moving to the U.S., I continue to learn more traditions and dishes that I simply love: real Christmas trees, kids leaving cookies and milk for Santa and candied yams, to name a few!
Every so often, I am tempted to change things around here and there, but something needs to be said about family traditions. They provide a source of identity and strengthen the family bond. No matter where you are, you can pass on cultural heritage and connect the generations. Think about your Christmas table—how many of those dishes did you grow up around?
May your December be filled with celebration, friends and family time, good food and joyous traditions! As per myself, I will share with you my Peruvian Christmas Rice, hopefully it will become a staple at your Christmas table.
PERUVIAN CHRISTMAS RICE
¼ cup olive oil
6 thin slices of bacon or ham, chopped
1 onion, chopped
½ cup raisins
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 cups rice*
3 ½ cups hot water
½ cup toasted chopped almonds
1. Heat oil in a large pot and add the chopped bacon and onion. Cook until onion is translucent and the bacon begins to brown. Then add garlic and raisins and cook for 1 additional minute.
2. Add rice and stir well. (If cooking the rice in a rice cooker, cook the rice with water separately and follow all others steps.) Season with salt and pepper; pour the hot water and mix. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is cooked and dry. Mix well with a fork.
3. To serve, pour into a round mold, then turn upside down on a platter for the final presentation. Garnish with toasted almonds.
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