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Expats living in Mexico share Christmas recipes from home

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Maggie Cale
Maggie Cale was born in the United States and has lived most of her life in Pennsylvania. She has a social work degree from Penn State University and finished her career in Washington, D.C. working with families. She moved to Yucatán in 2017 and has worked part-time ghostwriting for bloggers. She lives in Itzimná with her two dogs.

One of the things I love most about living here in Yucatán is the great combination of nationalities and the new friends and recipes I acquire.

While celebrating in Yucatán as an American, I like combining Mexican foods, Canadian treats from friends I have met — including my friends from the UK and Australia — with the favorites I grew up with in the northeastern United States. 

Nothing says Christmas in Mexico like tamales. Photo: Getty

Mexico: Red Pork Tamales

The word tamal or tamale comes from tamalli, meaning “carefully wrapped,” and is made from corn masa steamed in a leaf wrapper. They are a bit time-consuming but so worth the wait. My suggestion is to plan a tamale-making party and organize an assembly line.

Yield: About 50 tamales

For steaming

50 corn husks soaked in hot water 

For the red chile sauce

3 oz dried guajillo chiles (seeds removed and rinsed)

1½ tsp of garlic powder

3 ounces of dried ancho chiles (seeds removed and rinsed)

1½ tsp kosher salt

¾ tsp ground cumin 

Pork 

2 ½ lbs pork butt or shoulder cooked and shredded 

For the tamale dough:

8¼ C masa harina

1 tbsp baking powder

1¾ table salt

1¾ C lard or canola oil

6½ C chicken broth

  • Soak your husks in hot water for at least an hour 
  • Roast your pork butt and shred
  • Soak your cleaned chiles in hot water for 15 minutes to soften
  • Combine chile sauce ingredients in a blender and pour over shredded pork and simmer for 15 minutes
  • Have a steamer pot ready 

In a large mixing bowl prepare your dough. Mix masa harina with baking powder, salt and then add oil. The dough will be crumbly. Add the broth and it should become smooth.

Prepare husks by taking them out of the water and placing the rough side down on a flat surface. Then spoon your masa on to resemble a rectangle. Top with your pork filling and fold husk and tie. Place vertically in your steamer pot as if standing in place. Once all tamales are prepared, put the lid on and steam for about 3 ½ hours. You will know if they are ready if masa easily pulls away from the husk. Leftovers can easily be frozen.

Carrots, apples, peaches and pineapples combine to make Ensalada de Manzana Navidena, a Christmas apple salad. Photo: Maggie Cale

Ensalada de Manzana Navidena (Christmas Apple Salad)

Serves six

2 kg red apples                         

1 kg shredded carrot

1 can of peaches in syrup        

1 can of pineapple in syrup

1 small jar of cherries in syrup  

1 bag of chopped walnuts

1 small bag of raisins                 

½ liter whole cream                    

1 can of condensed milk

Mix all the fruit together and when ready to serve, pour the cream and condensed milk over the fruit and stir well.

Sandwichon (Sandwich Cake)

This multilayered concoction is filled with almost any variety of items, covered in cream cheese, and topped with fruit or savory garnish. While popular in Latin America, it actually traces back to Scandinavia, where it is still served today as a smörgåstårta.

1 loaf of bread with the crust cut off   

 2 cans of evaporated milk 

1 lb turkey ham                             

1 lb chopped cheese 

2 green peppers                            

1 small container of half-and-half

2 tbsp mayonnaise 

1 bag chopped walnuts

2 chipotle peppers

1 can of peas

1 pkg of cream cheese      

  • Prepare ham pate: in a blender put the ham, a third of the chopped cheese, green peppers, half the cream, mayo, chopped walnuts, and chipotle to taste.    
  • Prepare pea pate: in a blender add the peas, ⅓ chopped cheese, half cream, and mayo.      
  • Prepare cream cheese filling: by hand or slow mixer beat cream cheese, ⅓ chopped cheese, and evaporated milk until creamy.
  • Layer with bread soaked in evaporated milk, making a layer of ham pate, then a layer of pea pate, a layer of jam, and a layer of cream cheese filling until gone. Cover the whole sandwich with cream cheese. It can be topped with pineapple slices or fruit of choice and then refrigerate until serving.

The United Kingdom: Mince Pie

My friend Annie tells me a mince pie is traditional for Christmas, so let’s try it. 

Fruit mincemeat (make about 2 weeks ahead of time)

3 C mixture of raisins, currants, and golden raisins 

1 C chopped apricots

¾ C dried cranberries 

¾ C mixed peel (candied orange lemon and orange peel)

zest and juice of one lemon 

zest and juice of one orange

12 tablespoons of melted butter

1 C fresh or frozen cranberries chopped

1 ½ C of brown sugar

1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon 

½ tsp ground nutmeg

½ C brandy

  • Place dried fruits, peels, zests, juice, and brandy in a large bowl and cover. Allow to soak for 24 hours.
  • Pour mixture into a large pan and add remaining ingredients.
  • After the butter has melted turn the heat up and allow to bubble for a few minutes. Pour mixture into sterile jars and store in a cool place. 

For the dough

1 ⅓ C flour                           

7 tbsp cold butter

1 tbsp sugar                       

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp water                          

pinch of salt

  • Combine flour, butter, and sugar by hand or food processor.
  • Add egg yolk and other dry ingredients. Once dough forms, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Roll dough out on a floured surface and cut to the size of your pie plate or tins. Fill with mincemeat and place another dough on top. Seal the two doughs together. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.
Maple butter tarts are Canada’s contribution to an international Christmas feast in Mexico. Photo: Maggie Cale

Canada: Maple Butter Tarts

Make or purchase your favorite pastry dough. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Cut dough to fit into muffin pans. 

For the filling 

¾ C brown sugar                          

½ C light brown sugar

¼ C pure maple syrup                    

¼ C melted butter 

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract                    

1 tsp. white vinegar

3 whole eggs                                   

¼ C raisins 

  • Combine all ingredients but raisins and eggs in a bowl. Add one egg at a time and whisk in until well blended. 
  • Divide the raisins into the bottom of each dough-covered muffin hole. Pour over the filling. 
  • In a preheated oven set at 425, bake for 20-25 minutes until dough is golden brown and filling is jiggly.
Shortbread is all the more festive with some jam. Photo: Maggie Cale

Australia: Simple Shortbread

My friend Steve Quinn remembers Christmas days in Australia filled with shrimp and lobster. However, his favorite was a fresh Pavlova or a great shortbread both served with fresh fruit.

2 C flour                                        

⅔ C butter 

½ C sugar                                         

1 ½ tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

  • Blend sugar and butter together but don’t cream. Slowly add flour, baking powder, and salt. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes and form into 2 balls. 
  • Slice and place on a greased cookie sheet. 
  • Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 minutes until slightly brown. 
  • Top with your favorite fruit and if desired a drizzle of chocolate.

The United States: Scrumptious Layer Bars

Well of course I have a few favorites that I want to share with you. I have a favorite Christmas bar that I am addicted to, so I only make one pan and freeze them. 

2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips              

3 C flour

1 package cream cheese                        

1½ C sugar

⅔ C evaporated milk                               

1 tsp baking powder

1 C chopped walnuts                              

1 tsp salt

½ tsp almond extract                             

1 C butter softened 

  • Combine chocolate chips, cream cheese, and evaporated milk in a medium saucepan. 
  • Cook over low heat while stirring until chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. 
  • Remove from heat and stir in walnuts and almond extract. Set aside and in a medium bowl combine other ingredients until it resembles coarse crumbs. 
  • Press half of the mixture into a 13×9 greased pan. Pour chocolate mixture over top and then top with over the crumb topping. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Cool and cut.  

Sweet Potato Souffle

Serves six

This is a great side dish to any Christmas meal. 

½ C butter                                     

¾ C brown sugar

3 C mashed sweet potato              

2 large eggs

⅓ C milk                                        

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon                            

½ tsp salt

For the topping 

1 C chopped pecans                     

¾ C brown sugar 

½ C flour                                        

¼ C room-temperature butter

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare a two-quart baking dish with nonstick spray.
  • Mix together butter and sugar then add all sweet potato ingredients together for two minutes. Spread mixture in pan. 
  • Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle over the top of the souffle. Bake for 40 minutes. 
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