‘Tis the season for tamales, mole, and turkey (or pernil). On Thanksgiving, families across the States come together to celebrate with several courses of food and conversation, with the possibility of cocktails or coquitos in between. Some folks come prepared with a new outfit, even though they’ll be celebrating in the sala (living room), others prefer to keep it cozy in anticipation of all the food they plan to eat.
For singer, songwriter, professionally trained chef, farmer, AND fellow Boricua, Kelis, Thanksgiving is another opportunity to flex her stellar cooking skills and set an unforgettable vibe for her guests. LATINA caught up with Kelis to learn more about how she celebrates Thanksgiving in her home, how her Puerto Rican roots show up in her recipes, and some dos and don’ts for Thanksgiving festivities.
LATINA: If we got invited to your house for Thanksgiving, what should we expect? What is the vibe like?
Good music, of course, probably something like Bill Withers, Ohio Players, or maybe Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, etc…something old school that sets the vibe. Setting is luxe for sure. I love to entertain and always pay attention to everything from the plates, to the table cloth, to the cutlery, to the plating of my dishes. I want it to be enjoyable and something all the senses will enjoy.
My outfit will depend on my mood, but something festive. Good food will, of course, be on the menu. I’m known for my ginger cornbread, which I sell on my website, Bounty & Full – it’s truly the best! I also make a mean sweet potato, and a carrot dish that is so good. Both can be found in my cookbook, “My Life On A Plate,” and on my website.
This year, I also created a Thanksgiving meal kit that people can buy. This year’s kit included an herb citrus rub, cranberry mandarin sauce, a carrot yam soufflé, and other pre-made fixings to complement your meal! It sold out, but will be making a comeback next year. It’s like having me in your kitchen!
What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish?
Mac ‘n’ cheese! And because of my Puerto Rican heritage, I of course will have some of my favorite sides that are really easy for anyone to make, like Arroz con Gandules which can also be found in my cookbook.
What’s a must do for Thanksgiving and a must not?
Have a good cocktail or drink for guests as they arrive. Don’t try anything new if you have never made it before!
How is your Latin heritage reflected in your Thanksgiving traditions?
It’s definitely evident in how I prepare my turkey. I do it the way you would do pernil (Puerto Rican pork shoulder). It ensures that it’s super flavorful and tasty–never ever dry.
Why is it important to you to eat farm grown?
I moved to the farm because I really wanted to take control over what my family and I ate. After training as a chef, I wanted to have food that was as fresh, clean, and organic as possible.
Luckily, after two years and a lot of trial and error, my garden is thriving. I grow so much on the farm and also have cows, chickens and lambs, so we are really getting the best possible food!
For Kelis’ Arroz Con Gandules and Mac n Cheese recipes, see below:
KELIS’ ARROZ CON GANDULES
Serves 8; Makes 8 cups
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Spicy Sofrito
1/2 large yellow onion, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, add more to taste
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, add more to taste
1 (15-ounce) can pigeon peas, drained and rinsed (substitute frozen or dried)
2 cups long-grain white rice
3 tablespoons Sazón con Achiote or 1/4 teaspoon achiote paste (crumbled with your fingers)
3 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or reserved juices from Roasted Pork)
- Heat the oil in a large cast-iron pot or 6-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sofrito and onion, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and sauté stirring often, until the onion is tender and translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the peas and sauté for 2 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the rice, achiote, pepper, and the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and cook, stirring often, until the rice is lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
- Add the stock (or a combo of the reserved juices from the pork roast and chicken stock). Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low, put the lid on the pot, and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
- Uncover the pot, add more salt and pepper to taste, and fluff up the rice with a fork.
*Ingredient Note: Gandules, also called pigeon peas, are a legume common in Caribbean cuisine. You can get fresh gandules at Latino grocery stores particularly where there are large populations of Jamaicans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans. If you can’t find gandules, use frozen green peas or lima beans instead.
KELIS’ TRUFFLE WHOLE WHEAT MAC & CHEESE
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
1 pound whole-wheat penne
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 ounces sour cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar (about 12 ounces)
1 cup shredded smoked mozzarella (about 4 ounces)
2 cups shredded Gouda and 1 cup shredded Havarti
1/2 tablespoon truffle salt (or a drizzle of truffle oil)
1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 sleeve of Ritz crackers (about 32 ounces)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9 or 13 inch baking dish and set it aside.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it well. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, infuse the milk, cream, and sour cream over medium-low heat until it begins to steam, but don’t let it boil. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually pour in the milk mixture, whisking constantly until no lumps remain. Reserve 1/4 cup each of the cheddar and mozzarella. Add all the remaining cheeses to the milk mixture, along with the truffle salt and jalapeño, and stir until the cheeses have melted completely. Add the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and smooth the top to make it as level as possible.
- Put the Ritz crackers in a bowl and crush them with your hands. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Sprinkle the cracker mixture over the casserole, followed by the reserved cheeses.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden.
*Ingredient note: Truffle salt is a luxurious but handy product consisting of sea salt mixed with black truffle shavings. You can find it at specialty food stores and cheese shops. If you can’t find it, substitute with a drizzle of truffle oil.