San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Holidays, recipes benefit from cultural fusion

’Tis the season for many Costa Ricans to go into full holiday mode in anticipation of Christmas and, in recent years, Thanksgiving, thanks to the influence of U.S. expats and visitors. This time of year, especially in the Central Valley, it is not hard to find supermarkets stocked with everything you need for Thanksgiving dinner, from turkey to cranberries, stuffing and yams.

Hotels and restaurants prepare for Thanksgiving well ahead of time and offer the traditional turkey and trimmings as well their own versions of popular dishes. Supermarket chains such as Auto Mercado, Más x Menos and Walmart even include holiday food sections, carrying many of the canned and packaged items you are used to seeing in North America. You can even find real orange pumpkins – what locals call calabazas – big and small.

With everybody getting into the holiday spirit, Ticos maintain the tradition of serving their own holiday foods while adopting North American dishes as well. Pork or bean tamales, baked or roasted chicken or turkey, mashed potatoes or yams, sweet rice torta and pumpkin tarts make their appearance earlier than in the past, enhancing both cultures and complementing each other. Typical Thanksgiving foods such as stuffing and cranberry sauce have been a bit slower to be picked up by locals; nevertheless, the food choices in Costa Rica continue to expand. Many Ticos are fond of new and exciting ideas when it comes to eating, and will not pass up the chance to try something new.

I am a good example of this; I have lived in the U.S. and am married to a U.S. citizen, and we have a son of both nationalities. When we celebrate Thanksgiving at home, we incorporate ideas from both worlds; as a result, our dinner table contains fusions such as mashed coconut camote (sweet potato) with guacamole, pumpkin and coconut pie, tropical stuffing with fruits and nuts, ginger roasted mini vegetables, pejibaye and pumpkin soup, chipotle black bean tamales and so on.

So don’t be afraid to mix the Costa Rican fruits and vegetables you have come to love into your holiday table. Even renowned chefs and cooks have turned to their own backyards to find these delicacies and combine them with flavors brought from abroad, thus infusing beloved foods and traditions with new tastes.

An experienced Tico chef and food writer specializing in healthy and new Costa Rican cuisine, Marco González’s work has been featured extensively in local and international media. He will be serving Thanksgiving dinner at Oasis restaurant in Escazú.

Pumpkin and Yam Pie in Coconut Cookie Crust


Pumpkin and yam pie in coconut cookie crust

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 60+ minutes

Yields: 8-12 portions 

Ingredients: 2 cups fine coconut cookie crumbs

3 tablespoons melted butter

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup raw or brown sugar

1 1/2 cups canned or cooked pumpkin pulp

1 cup cooked or canned yams

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice Coconut or vanilla ice cream to serve

Cinnamon to garnish

Preparation: 1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius (350 F).

2. In a 9-inch baking dish, press cookie crumbs with butter against the bottom until evenly distributed and coated. Store in freezer.

3. Combine eggs, coconut milk, vanilla extract and sugar with a mixer and beat for two minutes.

4. Add pumpkin, yams, flour and allspice and keep mixing until well folded in.

5. Transfer mixture to piecrust, filling it to the top and leveling with a spatula.

6. Bake for one hour until golden or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

7. Let sit for one hour before serving with ice cream and garnishing with cinnamon.

8. Will keep for eight days, covered and refrigerated.

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