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Authentic Cuban Recipes to Spice Up Your Christmas

Cuba's history, people and traditions bring depth and flavor to Christmas recipes whose ingredients are available in Clayton and Richmond Heights.

Introducing flavorful and interesting foods or decorations from other countries can make an American celebration more colorful. The ingredients for some delicious dishes are available in local and stores such as and .

Residents of southern Italy celebrate with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, abstaining from meat for the entire meal. Delicious dishes made with mussels, clams, salt cod, eel and more replace the meat.

In the Provence region of France, locals also abstain from meat and additionally end with 13 desserts that represent Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles.

Quite the opposite happened in Cuba before Fidel Castro took power: Residents celebrated by roasting an entire pig.

Cuba's tumultuous history has influenced Christmas celebrations in the island nation. Fidel Castro declared Cuba to be atheist in 1962, having ousted Fulgencio Batista in 1959. In 1969, he abolished the Christmas holiday, alleging it interfered with the sugar harvest. The public display of Christmas trees and nativity scenes was banned.

Almost three decades passed before Castro restored the holiday in December 1997. The change happened in anticipation of Pope John Paul II's visit the following January. It marked the first time a pope had visited Cuba. Castro, under pressure from the pope after his visit, made Christmas a permanent holiday once again.

The Spanish brought Roman Catholicism to Cuba. It remains the country's dominant religion and influences Christmas celebrations. Upon the reinstatement of Christmas, Cubans celebrated with vivacity and spirit. Many decked their houses in lights and decorations and filled them with Christmas trees.

As in the U.S., gifts are a large part of the holiday. They are exchanged Jan. 6 on Ephiphany.

On Christmas Eve, church-going Cubans celebrate midnight Mass. A large midnight Mass is held in Havana's Revolution Square. Church bells ring at midnight signaling the transition from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. Havana's Cathedral Square includes televisions on Christmas Day so the faithful can watch the pope celebrate Christmas Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Special meals are served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Menu items might include a roasted suckling pig, black beans and rice—often called moros y cristianos—fried or mashed plantains, yucca with mojo, ham croquettes, Cuban salad and bread, and many more traditional foods.

Moros y cristianos, literally translated, means Moors and Christians. The name is a holdover from the early Spanish occupation in Cuba and refers to the time when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. Mojo is a marinade made from garlic, onions and sour oranges.

Cuban desserts also are served and can include rice pudding, flan, rum or pastel de tres leches (three milks cake). Pastel de tres leches is a favorite at my family gatherings, despite my lack of Cuban heritage.

Here is a Cuban menu everyone is sure to enjoy. Recipes yield approximately eight servings.

Roast Pork/Lechon Asado

Fresh pork shoulders may be found at Schnucks for $2.98 per pound. The adventurous can cross over to Ballwin-Ellisville Patch and visit to purchase a whole pig for $3.98 per pound.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups sour orange juice, (or equal parts orange and lime juice)
1/2 cup lime juice
3/4 cup olive oil
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
8-12 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 fresh pork butt, approximately 8 pounds

Method:

  1. Whisk together the sour orange juice, lime juice, olive oil, bay leaves, salt, pepper, cumin and garlic.
  2. Place the pork in a bowl or bag. Pour marinade over the pork and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Take the pork out one hour before roasting.
  4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  5. Remove pork from marinade and dry well. Strain marinade and discard solids. Bring marinade to a boil and let cool.
  6. Cook the pork in a clean roasting pan in the oven.
  7. Baste the pork every 30 minutes with the marinade, for two to three hours, until done. Pork should be fork-tender and pull apart easily.

Yuca with Garlic/Yucca con Mojo

Yucca root is available at Schnucks for $1.99 per pound and was ordered for Patch readers who want to make this special dish. Seville or sour oranges are not quite in season yet. Schnucks does offer sweet oranges for $1 for three or four, depending on size. Limes are also available at Schnucks for $1 for two.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds yucca

1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2/3 cup sour orange juice (or equal portions orange juice and lime juice)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Method for yucca:

  1. Peel the bark and underskin of the yucca and discard.
  2. Cut the yucca into 1-inch sections.
  3. Boil the yucca in salted water until tender, about 30 minutes, and drain.
  4. Remove the fibrous center and set aside.

Method for Mojo:

1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2/3 cup sour orange juice (or equal portions orange juice and lime juice)
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown, approximately 30 seconds.
  2. Add the sour orange juice and cumin and bring to a boil.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

*Mix yucca with mojo sauce.

Pastel de Tres Leches

Ingredients:

Sponge Cake

5 eggs at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt

Milk Mixture

1 can condensed milk
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons of rum or other desired liquor

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar (optional or to taste, milk mixture is sweet)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. Whisk eggs and sugar in an electric mixer and add water. Continue whisking until mixture is light and pale yellow.
  4. Pour flour mixture into the eggs and whisk in quickly. 
  5. Pour batter into a lightly greased 10-inch bundt or 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes,or until a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Let cool.
  7. Poke holes into the cake with a toothpick, pour the milk mixture over the top and refrigerate.
  8. In chilled bowl beat the cream with vanilla and sugar until stiff.
  9. Garnish cake slices with a scoop of whipped cream.

Merry Christmas!

Kayjsharp December 22, 2011 at 10:50 AM
My holidays has started and now I am diffidently going to try it out. Thanks.
Natalia Motola January 13, 2012 at 03:12 PM
I missed your comment earlier. Thank you so much for the feedback. I hope it turned out delicious.

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