Christmas Day traditions including what time dinner is served and the dishes on the table vary between the U.S. and Latin America. Celebrate this diversity of cultures and add vegetarian options from countries across the Americas to your Christmas meal.
When my husband and I spend Christmas with my family in Oklahoma, we start the festivities the morning of the 25th by opening presents from Santa Claus and the familia over coffee and later sit down to a Christmas lunch. When we spend Navidad in Mexico, the celebration takes place on Christmas Eve, known as Nochebuena. We gather in the early evening and spend hours chatting, watching fireworks, and enjoying waves of abundant appetizers followed by a Christmas meal which lasts until midnight when we hug and the niños open presents which magically appear at 12:00.
In both traditions, family and food are central to the celebration.
As a vegetarian, I never have to miss out on my favorite Christmas flavors in the U.S. or Mexico as many holiday classics are naturally meatless or can be made vegetarian by substituting ingredients.
Whenever and wherever you sit down to celebrate with your loved ones, add these vegetarian Latino classics:
A Vegetarian Latino Christmas Spread
- Start with sopa: Colombians enjoy flavorful ajiaco soup during the holidays. Check out my meatless version of the receta in Meatless Monday: Vegetarian Colombian Ajiaco Soup Recipe. Starting with a vegetable-based soup is a nutritious choice which makes you feel full so you won't overeat later.
- Tamales: My husband Roberto's abuela would spend an entire day making corn masa tamales in bulk for everyone to enjoy during the night and for breakfast the next day. Serve meatless jalapeño and cheese tamales or vegan black bean tamales with fresh salsa. Did you know tamales can be sweet, too? Set aside some pineapple tamales for dessert.
- Frijoles charros: This Mexican holiday favorite traditionally cooks beans with bacon, but this recipe achieves the smokey sabor using smoked onions and peppers.
- Mashed potatoes with South American sabor: Mashed potatoes are always a Christmas staple in my casa. Add Latino flavor by using Andean ingredients purple potatoes or sweet potatoes instead of American Idahos. Get creative and replace the potatoes with mashed yucca which I write about in Bolivian Independence Day Meatless Monday: Garlic Mashed Yuca Recipe or vegetarian mofongo, a Puerto Rican mashed plantains dish.
- Pigeon Pea Rice. Puerto Ricans, Panamanians, and Dominicans celebrate Navidad with arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) flavored with vegetables and onions. Make any rice dish more nutritious by using brown rice which has more fiber and minerals than white rice.
- Finish with flan: This light and sweet postre is my favorite Latino holiday tradition. Try Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.'s pumpkin flan video recipe here. For more Latino dessert ideas, check out Meatless Monday: Latino Holiday Desserts.
The best family gatherings last longer than one meal, so plan to have healthy finger-foods around for your guests to enjoy for hours. I share 7 vegetarian appetizers in Meatless Monday: Holiday Party Vegetarian Appetizers.
Maintain a healthy weight this holiday season by choosing the healthiest options available and enjoying holiday foods in moderation. Skipping the meat is one choice which can reduce your fat and calorie intake. Plus, when you choose vegetable-based dishes, you get more of the important vitamins and minerals that your body needs. Not sure if healthy choices will be available? Plan to take a nutritious dish to share and help your loved ones make healthy choices, too!
Living a healthy lifestyle requires making smart food choices all of the time--even during the holidays. This Christmas serve meatless options at dinner for the vegetarians at your table and for your health. However you celebrate, your family will love trying new healthy Latino flavors.
Feliz Navidad and Happy Holidays!
¿Need Meatless Monday inspiration? Click here to read more of my recipes.
A teacher by day, The Wise Latina Club’s Natalie Wagner Fierro is the co-founder of the Institute for Student Health. She equally loves food (cooking or dining in Washington’s restaurants) and burning calories by distance running, practicing yoga, and archery. Click here to read more about and connect with Natalie.
Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.What are your favorite vegetarian holiday dishes?