Traditional Latin American Holiday Recipes


We live a world of flavors, smells, sounds and feelings. All of our senses come alive during the holidays. Most of us know that a delicious scent wafting from the kitchen evokes memories from years past, the types of memories that only revive themselves in the presence of authentic surroundings, fueled by authentic food. Mountain Parent asked some of our local friends about their own holiday traditions growing up in Latin America, and how those smells and tastes still anchor them in the richness of family, spirituality and meaning. The ingredients are different, the scentiment the same. The tradition of coming together as a family over a meal saved especially for Christmas is powerful. The following seasonal recipes are a window into life beyond our borders, and show us our common unity as participants in joyous celebration. From Guetemala to Aspen, from Guerrero to Glenwood, we find the language of food to be the language of love. {LS}


Above: Claudia Prado and her daughter Ariana, a Senior at Roaring Fork High School, are savoring their time together before Ariana leaves the nest. A native of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Christmas is Claudia’s favorite holiday. Their family attends Christmas service at Saint Mary’s and makes this rich posole as a way to honor their time together and stay connected to the traditions and loved-ones still in Mexico.

4 Guajillo chiles
large can hominy
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder
2 garlic cloves
Condiments: cabbage, radishes, cucumber, limes, onion, cilantro, Cotija cheese, avocado
water or broth


1. Remove and discard the stems and seeds from the chiles. Place the chiles in a medium mixing bowl, and cover them completely with boiling water.  Let the chiles soak for about 30 minutes, or until softened.  Once they are soft, transfer the chiles to a blender or food processor, along with 2 cups of the soaking water.  Puree for 1 minute, or until completely smooth. Strain if desired.

2.  Brown pork in oil and set aside.

3. Saute onion and garlic.

4. Add stock, hominy, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, cooked pork, and the chile mixture.

5. Simmer, cover partially, and cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the pork is tender and shreds easily.

6. Once the pork is tender, use some tongs to transfer it onto a cutting board. Then shred it into bite-sized pieces using two forks. Return the pork to the soup and stir to combine. Also, if you’d like a thinner broth, add in an extra cup or two of chicken stock to thin it out.

7. Taste, and season generously with salt and pepper if needed.

8. Chop condiments and let guests add to their liking.



Above: Alma Ruth Guzman, from San Nicolas, Mexico, has been living in the US since she was a teenager. She recently spent a day cooking with Roaring Fork High School’s World Traveler’s Club, showing them how to make her family’s recipe for tamales, which she shares with us here. Her mother-in-law Selma, who had not seen her family in 13 years, was able to join them this year for the holiday season, and she too joined in the club’s fundraising tamale sale. Together with the students, they made 60 dozen tamales with chicken, pork and vegetarian fillings. Their traditional recipe calls for banana leaves, which can be found during the holidays at La Carcinceria in Carbondale. However, you can substitute corn husks, as the students did, which are available year-round at supermarkets throughout the Valley.

“We made our tamales differently where I grew up, with banana leaves instead of corn husks. This gives it a good flavor – and the smell of bananas, the smell of home, while they are steaming!  It’s so good! We also had sweet tamales, with sugar, cinnamon and vanilla added to the masa. This was special, just for Christmas. Tamales are traditional for Christmas Eve because they wrapped the way you swaddle a baby, symbolic of the baby Jesus.”  ~ Alma Ruth Guzman

4 lbs. masa harina
5 cups broth
5 cups water
package dried corn husks or 50 banana leaves
Meat or vegetables for filling

1. If you are using corn husks, soak them in a bowl of very hot water for at least 30 minutes.

2.  Prepare your fillings by cooking meats as you like them to be seasoned, slicing vegetables and grating cheese. The variations are endless!

3. Make tamale dough:

Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat your lard until it is fluffy. Slowly add a small amount of chicken broth/water and continue beating. Combine the salt and the masa, then add a small amount of masa mixture to the lard, and beat until it is incorporated.  Add a small amount of broth, and alternate between adding flour and broth until both have been fully mixed into the bowl, and the mixture is smooth, moist and not sticky.

4. Scoop the masa dough and roll it by hand into balls that are about the size of a tangerine.

5. Use a tortilla press to flatten your dough.  Cut a large ziplock bag, so you can sandwich the dough between the plastic to keep it from sticking to the press.  Flatten a dough ball, press it onto a corn husk or banana leaf. See tamale wrapping demonstration and photos of the students cooking with Alma Ruth and Selma Guzman at 

6.  Place your filling in a small mound in the center of your dough, and wrap your tamale as if you were swaddling a baby.

7. Steam the tamales (crock pot method): stand tamales upright in a crock pot, with the fold side down, open side up.  Pack the crock so none of the tamales will fall over.  Add an inch of broth or water to the bottom.  Cover, and cook on high for 4 hours.  The same effect can be reached by packing the tamales upright in a large pot, then steaming for one hour.


“At family gatherings, some families will have a large pot simmering on top of the stove with that sweet liquid full of fruits, while the aromas of cinnamon and citrus fruits float in the air. The Christmas Punch is an essential part of Christmas.”  ~ Bella Torres

Above: Bella Torres and her grandaughter CiCi share with us the secret of sweet ponche from Guatemala. Many Latin American countries enjoy ponche for the holidays and each has a different nuance. Bella is one of 8 children and knows the true power that food has in preserving both health and happiness. Ponche is a festive drink to share with friends and family around Christmas, a seasonal sweet reserved for when people are ready to party and celebrate the spiritual and culinary heights of the season.

large piloncillo cone*
cinnamon sticks
prunes chopped
apples chopped
pear chopped
3 sugar cane sticks, about 5-in. long cut into four pieces each*
1 cup of Tamarind pods peeled (or 1 cup of Hibiscus Flowers)
Rum to taste
* find seasonally at Mexican/ Latin American grocers around the valley either fresh or canned 


1. Place water in a large stockpot.

2.  Add the piloncillo (or brown sugar) and cinnamon to cook for about 15 minutes. If you are using fresh Tejocotes, add them with the piloncillo and cinnamon, since they take longer to soften.

3. Add the chopped guavas, apples, and prunes along with the rest of the ingredients like the sugar cane sticks, tamarind pods or hibiscus flowers. If you are using the canned version of the tejocotes, then add them in this step.

4. Simmer for about 1 hour. Serve hot in mugs, ladling in some of the fruit and adding rum if you like.