December 6th, 2006

Thanksgiving a la criolla

Thanksgiving turkey

I know, I know. Thanksgiving was almost two weeks ago but I still wanted to post something about mine. I traveled to Houston to see my family and had what my uncle aptly called a Thanksgiving a la criolla. (Criolla — literally creole — can be used to describe something characteristic of Hispanic culture or tradition).

As a Colombian transplant, Thanksgiving was just one more day off for me. Even when I was invited to my friend’s homes for traditional Thanksgiving dinners, it was just that — a day off to eat a lot. But two weeks ago at home, I realized that the holiday’s spirit may have began seeping into my family. When you live in a country that is not your own, there are things you adopt because you have to, things you resist adopting and things you adopt because you want to, as they are or with little tweaks. Well, we certainly tweaked our Thanksgiving late lunch menu.

Turkey legs

At this Thanksgiving, grilled turkey legs and steak ribs replaced the whole turkey, although my aunt cooked a small turkey breast for the turkey fans. She also made papas saladas (salted potatoes) with aji in true Colombian fashion. There was salad, of course. A friend of the family made what looked like mashed sweet potatoes, but there was pumpkin in there too. I tried unsuccessfully to get the recipe; all he said was that there was no cream in it, all natural, he repeated. And for dessert, vanilla ice cream topped with fresh raspberries.

I know many must be wondering what kind of a Thanksgiving lunch/dinner that was? Nothing seems to go with anything, I know. But, ultimately, Thanksgiving is about gratitude and spending time together — no longer just a day off — and the foods and flavors that we love, the comfort foods we grew up on magnify that feeling, so, really, who cares if we celebrate with a barbecue?

Thanksgiving a la criolla

Since there weren’t many recipes to share — the steak and turkey legs went onto the grill just like that — let me tell you the secret to papas saladas.

Papas Saladas
Salted potatoes are a traditional Colombian dish. They are especially popular with grilled meats and are typically served with aji. Guacamole also makes a great companion. Preparation is extremely simple; the key is in the salting.

1. Boil new red potatoes in water.*

2. When cooked, drain and immediately salt.**

Cook’s Notes

*When cooking potatoes, always start with cold water.

**You have to pour a lot of salt on these potatoes (see picture above).

When I was home, my aunt revealed the secret to making the salt stick. She drains the water directly from the pot. Just pretend that you don’t have a strainer at home. Cover the pot and turn it over the sink until all the water is out. Then uncover and immediately salt. The steam in the pot helps the salt stick beautifully onto the potatoes, which explains why hers always look perfect.

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4 Responses to “Thanksgiving a la criolla”

  1. Ay! Que comida criolla! 😀 I love thanksgiving meals, especially a la criolla. As a Venezuelan in Miami, I’ve gotten an opportunity to enjoy that as well with my relatives. We didn’t have grilled turkey though, but that definitely looks very attractive.

    We had other non-traditional dishes besides the turkey and the mashed sweet potatoes such as stuffed pork loin, baked ham (not sure if this is traditional), baby artichokes, steamed spinach with black olives, and lots of different cheeses and cakes (tres leches included, of course). It’s so nice to eat home meals with family and just toasting the experience with champagne while salsa/merengue music is playing in the background.

    Of course, with any party, the focus would also be on the food! Que comida criolla!

    P.S. I missed the opportunity to go to Houston to reunite with family but I plan to make up for it this Christmas break. And you bet we’re going to have more comida criolla. :-) I miss your posts!

  2. Jordan – Well, I never thought you could grill turkey legs either, but after hearing about deep fried turkey, I guess anything is possible. I’m not a huge fan of turkey or of poultry legs but I will say that these were incredibly tasty. And to think that they weren’t even seasoned!

    There will definitely be more reports of comida criolla from Houston this Christmas. Stay tuned.

  3. […] week ’till Thanksgiving! Last year I wrote about my family’s somewhat unconventional Thanksgiving menu. That of a Thanksgiving barbecue with turkey legs, ribs, potatoes and other foods that don’t […]

  4. I used to date a Colombian and have fallen in love with the food, the culture, and the country. Your Thanksgiving dinner sounds fantastic, and I’m glad for the recipe. Do you know a good recipe for aji?


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