Christmas has come and gone, with 2018 being around the corner! This special time of year is great for relaxing, reflecting, spending time with friends and family, and of course, eating comfort foods. Comfort foods, like Honey Baked Ham and sweet potatoes are common staples during this time. But what about Hispanic comfort foods? Since Hispanic countries are very diverse, they offer a wide range of comfort foods. These Latin American comfort foods include Pozole, Ponches, Paella, Sancocho Trifasico and Ropa Vieja.
Pozole, or hominy in Spanish, is a Mexican stew consisting hominy, various meats (especially pork), shredded cabbage, Chile peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, salsa or limes. This stew is a common staple in many Mexican states like Sinaloa, Zacatecas and is served on special occasions especially birthdays, independence day, Christmas and New Years Day. Luckily, vegetarians can enjoy these Latin American comfort foods with beans instead of meat.
The three main types of pozole are rojo (red), blanco (white), and verde (green). Rojo style is made with red vegetables like guajillo, piquin, and ancho peppers. Green Pozole is made with green ingredients like cilantro, jalapeños, and tomatillos. Lastly, white Pozole is the base version without any additional sauces. Generally, red pozole is spicier than the other styles, but some green sauces can really pack a punch!
Ponche is a hearty, Mexican punch served around Las Posadas and consists of apples, pears, prunes, walnuts, cane sugar, as well as oranges. This filling punch can also be served with alcohols like brandy and rum). One of it’s most unique ingredients is a fruit called tejocote and comes from a species of hawthorne tree. They are similar to crab apples and cooked tejocotes smell like flowers. They can either be yellow or orange and are the size of a large grape. Tejocotes are native to Guatemala, Mexico and give ponche a tart flavor.
Ponche is generally served around Christmas time, which coincides with Las Posadas. As mentioned earlier, Las Posadas is a celebration of the Joseph and the Virgin Mary’s journey to Jerusalem. This punch commemorates this special holiday and is usually served on all 9 nights of the festival.
Jumping over to Europe, Spain offers the world famous dish, Paella. Paella is a rice dish with olive oil, peppers, saffron, chorizo and onion. Paella originates in eastern Spain in the providence of Valencia. However, there are many variations of Paella throughout Spain with some versions including seafood, duck and even octopus ink (Paella Pulpo). Paella is a special dish because it unites the community and slows down the dining experience. Quality Paella can take up to an hour to make, which enforces Spanish dining habits. Unlike the rushed American fast food culture, Spaniards make time to enjoy a large lunch with family and friends. Spaniards can spend up to two hours eating lunch, which occurs during the siesta time period.
Paella also unites the country of Spain as well. Currently, many regions namely Catalonia, are trying to secede from Spain. This could cause some strife, but Paella is common throughout all Spanish regions. Paella allows Spaniards to find common ground among themselves, which makes it a true comfort food.
Sancocho Trifasico, or three meats, is a Latin American comfort food that like Pozole, is a filling broth. This broth is served throughout South America, especially Colombia. The three meats are generally pork, chicken and beef. Also, this stew contains cumin, potatoes, yucca, corn and achiote. Unlike Pozole, it’s not meant to be a spicy meal as Mexican food is much spicier than most hispanic foods. Also, Sancocho has many variations from traditional seafood sancochos on the coast, to meat and poultry sancochos in the Andean regions. Some sancochos even include pigeon peas, beans, oxtail, and pork feet.
Ropa Vieja literally means “old clothes” and is common in Caribbean regions such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. It is a shredded flank, brisket or skirt steak in a tomato sauce base.
Ropa Vieja traces its origins to Havana, Cuba, the last port Spanish ships would stop at before arriving in the Americas. Also, Havana was the first town Spanish ships would stop at en route to Spain, making it a popular port. This popularity helped spread Ropa Vieja to other countries like Panama, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. These regions have created their own Ropa Vieja variations. For instance, some versions in Venezuela include carne mechada, caraotas negras (black beans), platanos fritos (fried plantains), arroz blanco (white rice), and even arepitas (little arepas).
It’s unknown why this dish is called Ropa Vieja. One legend suggests that a poor man needed to feed his large family, but was short on ingredients. This poor man took some old clothes, cooked them and permeated them with his love. This magic love turned the old clothes into large quantities of food for the family.
Christmas and New Years are great occasions to enjoy some Latin American comfort foods. Christmas cookies and honey baked ham might be common staples, but the Hispanic world offers unique comfort foods. Ponche, Pozole, Paella, Sancocho Trifasico, and Ropa Vieja are some satisfying Latin American comfort foods.