Pasteles, Pernil and Lechon: Puerto Rican Holiday Food Ideas

This season of One Book, One Chicago, we explore Beyond Borders, and one of the best ways to explore culture is through food.

For me, the holidays bring many memories of growing up in Chicago. The kids in my extended family knew that staying up until midnight on Christmas Eve meant we could open one gift, but it wasn't hard to stay awake in a house full of music from the uncles playing bongos, guitars, guiro, cowbell and other instruments. 

If you're lucky enough to be in Puerto Rico over the holidays, you'll see a parranda, a party or parade. People sing traditional Spanish carols, and the music is an invitation to anyone still at home to join in, sing along and spread the wonderful feeling of warmth the holiday season brings. 

Along with the music is the food—food we dream about all year, like pasteles, a type of tamal, and the pork dishes pernil and lechon. Here are some cookbooks to help you create the island experience, because with every bite you can almost feel the music from inside you. 

Tony Rican, of Average Guy Gourmet on YouTube, is the author of The Easy Puerto Rican Cookbook, which simplifies typically time-consuming recipes. In addition to classics like fried pork belly, he also includes tropical cocktail recipes like a guava margarita.

For a broader view of the staples in Puerto Rican food, check out Gran Cocina Latina. Many recipes call for sofrito or sazón, and the author goes into detail with beautiful pictures.

To check out how many Latinx flavors overlap in cuisine, The Latin Table discusses tacos, plantains and other staples with a special nod to healthier versions of these classics using substitutes like tofu. Take a chance this season and try to mix up some new flavors to add to your holiday tables.