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5 Ways to (Latin) Spice Up Your Thanksgiving Dinner

5 Ways to (Latin) Spice Up Your Thanksgiving Dinner

While the classic Thanksgiving dinner is appealing to many who rely on the comfort of tradition, others may find themselves feeling less than thrilled at the thought of an old fashioned menu and fall table settings. Although Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in Spain or in Latin American countries, people of Spanish or Latin American ancestry often celebrate the holiday, incorporating foods and ingredients from their heritage into a unique twist on the holiday dinner. For those who’d like to break from convention this year, there are ways to liven up the typical Thanksgiving dinner without leaving your tradition-minded guests completely out in the cold.

And yes, there will still be turkey...
1. Thanksgiving Tapas Dinner Theme

Celebrate Turkey Day with a Spanish flair, by focusing on lots of smaller food plates, instead of a turkey-centric meal with a few starchy sides. Including turkey in the meal would still be a good idea, of course, particularly a turkey prepared Spanish-style (e.g. brined turkey with a Spanish spice rub). The big change comes with the multitude of other dishes you present to your guests: think toasted almonds sprinkled with smoked paprika, a variety of quality Spanish cheeses, marinated olives, a traditional tortilla espanola, ripe avocado drizzled with olive oil, and a selection of fine Spanish red wines and sherries.  Aran Goyoaga, the Basque-born gluten-free chef of popular blog Cannelle et Vanille, offers this Spanish-inspired tapas menu for your consideration.

For your table setting, choose a tablecloth with vibrant red and yellow colors, to represent the colors of the Spanish flag. Forget the white china, and opt for wooden and/or earthenware plates to serve and display the food. Complete the theme with slender, elegant candles, and either traditional flamenco music or flamenco-jazz fusion playing softly in the background.

2. Mexican Themed Thanksgiving Dinner

Celebrating Thanksgiving with a Mexican feast is a wonderful way to shake up a humdrum holiday routine. Serving dinner guests roasted turkey with mole sauce is a delicious way of introducing traditional Mexican cuisine into your Thanksgiving dinner fare. Push the Mexican envelope a little bit more by substituting traditional turkey day offerings with grilled corn on the cob slathered in lime, crema, and chili; classic Mexican red or yellow rice; yuca instead of potatoes; cactus salad; and homemade pumpkin salsa.

For a Mexican inspired table setting, draping the tables with large, colorful Mexican wool blankets is a good start. Setting out terracotta plateware and bowls for serving. Rather than adorning the table with typical fall foliage, choose small potted cacti instead, and entertain your guests with the lively sounds of Mariachi or Norteño music.

3. Cuban Themed Thanksgiving Dinner

The island nation of Cuba conjures images of palm trees, sugar cane, cigars, and old Spanish-inspired neoclassical architecture. One way to incorporate a Cuban perspective into your Thanksgiving meal is to stuff the turkey with a stuffing made of black beans and rice, rather than herbed and seasoned bread. Serve the bird alongside the very traditional staple, ropa vieja, baked sweet potatoes, silky Cuban black bean soup with sherry, and decadent Coconut Rum Tres Leches Cake.

Seat your guests in a combination of wood and rattan, and adorn serving and dining tables with tropical flowers, empty cigar boxes, and thin burlap (available in the gardening section of retailers like Lowe’s or Home Depot). Large sugar cans stalks can also be purchased and placed in the corners of rooms in small bundles. Finish your Cuban dinner party with Cuban jazz from the likes of Tito Puente and Perez Prado.


4. Puerto Rican Themed Thanksgiving Dinner

Create a memorable turkey day for friends and family by serving up traditional fare from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, celebrating what this beautiful island has to offer in terms of food, flora and music. In regards to what should be the centerpiece of your meal, Pavochon is the name for Puerto Rican style roasted turkey, and this method of preparation calls for lots of garlic, black pepper, white vinegar, oregano and an adobo seasoning blend. Serve up the bird with a spicy and hearty meat dish such as classic picadillo, tightly packed and wrapped finger food bundles such as pasteles, smoky habichuelas rosadas, and the delicious and casserole-like pastelon.

Grace the table with tropical floral arrangements, complete with orchids and palm fronds, and place large dried banana leaves under food plates for extra detail (packages of banana leaves can be purchased from Amazon.com). Hosts and hostesses who want to go the extra decorative mile can place coconuts randomly on tables, and place a set of dominoes out in plain view so that guests can enjoy one of the favorite pastimes of Puerto Rico. As for music? Opt for Puerto Rican favorites such as Hector Lavoe or El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico.


5. Peruvian Themed Thanksgiving Dinner

Choosing a Peruvian theme for your Thanksgiving dinner party is a novel approach that will be sure to impress dinner guests in terms of originality. In Peru, turkey is usually marinated and roasted in a delectable combination of garlic, cumin, lime and/or orange juice, and aji peppers. Round out the turkey entrée with dishes like purple potato salad, ceviche, and the perfect-for-fall Sopa de Camotes a la Arequipe. Along with a fine selection of South American wines, have plenty of pisco sour on hand for cocktail-appreciative dinner guests.

Brighten your tables with bouquets of Peruvian flowers, such as Andean lupin, slipperwort, and Dancing Ladies orchids. Traditional Peruvian music include marinera and tondero folk musics, played with instruments such as the charango, a guitar-harp hybrid, and the cajon, an African percussive instrument.

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