Ensalada de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve Salad) is a Mexican fruit salad that has spread north of the border. It now often includes pomegranate dressing.
Who Cooked That Up?
Christmas Eve Salad or Ensalada de Noche Buena, is a traditional holiday dish in many areas of Mexico and in the Southwestern part of the United States. It is a delightful concoction rapidly increasing in popularity. In an effort to share something festive for the holiday season, I have researched the history of this colorful and interesting dish, but its origin proved more difficult to find than I expected. In an article on Christmas Eve customs, the Spanish language Mexican magazine “Mexico Desconocido” described the traditional holiday meal as always being accompanied by the Christmas Eve Salad. Elsewhere, web pages from Mexico call the salad of beets and fruits “la clasica” (the classic) for Christmas Eve ("Nochebuena"), but no one reports where and when the salad was first created. Nevertheless, it seems to be part of Mexican Christmas traditions, although in some parts of Mexico it appears to be virtually unknown.
In fact, the grande dame of Mexican cuisine, Diana Kennedy, simply dismisses the salad with the statement that she “could never quite take the eye-catching Christmas Eve Salad seriously.” The reason it is “eye-catching” is perhaps because it is often served in a glass bowl—a sort of salad version of an English trifle. Nevertheless, in her definitive volume on The Cuisines of Mexico, she lists ingredients...lettuce, beets, oranges, bananas, sweet limes, jicamas, peanuts and then includes two I’ve never included, sugar cane and small, hard sugar candies. However, you get the idea. The salad combines fruits and vegetables and, Diana Kennedy notwithstanding, usually includes a topping of peanuts and pomegranate seeds rather than sugar cane and hard candies.
HOME: NOVEMBER 11, 2005: FOOD
Ensalada de Nochebuena
Christmas Eve Salad
When Miguel was growing up in Phoenix, his grandmother grew pomegranates and citrus fruits in her yard, and those fruits usually found their way into her cooking. This is her version of a traditional salad eaten during the Christmas season when the pomegranates and other ingredients are available. The bright colors make a brilliant presentation on the holiday table.
6 medium beets, peeled, cooked, and diced (optional)
4 oranges, peeled and sectioned, with membranes removed
4 Red Delicious apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 medium jicama, peeled and cut into match stick strips
1 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup club soda
1 cup fresh pineapple cubes
2 bananas, sliced
1 head iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
Makes 1.5 cups.
Seeds of 1 whole pomegranate, with some seeds reserved for garnish
1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup apple juice
Combine all salad ingredients except the lettuce in a large nonreactive bowl and refrigerate for at least two to three hours.
While the salad is chilling, make the Pomegranate Dressing. Combine the pomegranate seeds, sour cream, sugar, and apple juice in a blender and puree.
Drain the salad and toss with Pomegranate Dressing. Serve on a bed of iceberg lettuce and garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds. Serves eight to 10.
* Reprinted with permission from Shearer Publishing © 2005
Yankee Travels Through the Island of Cuba
by Demoticus Philalethes
New York, NY: D. Appleton & Company
These suppers, it is easy to imagine, might well have produced serious indigestions; and on some days moreover, minced meat, roast turkey, salads and several other articles with which families provide themselves in Havana when going to the country, were added to our entertainment. The latter kind of supper is called of Noche Buena, as it is served on Christmas eve, even in the houses that are not in the habit of taking supper.
Face to Face with the Mexicans:
Domestic Life, Educational, Social, and Business Ways, Statesmanship and Literature, Legendary and General History of the Mexican People
by Fanny Chambers Gooch
New York, NY: Ford, Howard, & Hulbert
Esalada de la Noche Buena (Christmas Salad).—Wash and dry the lettuce, then chop fine. Put in a dish, oil, vinegar, sugar and a little salt; stir these well together; then add the lettuce, also beets sliced, with bananas, lemons and oranges, and some peanuts broken fine. Take pains that the fruit is placed on top.
18 December 1912, Fort Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette, “The Christmas Festival of Old Mexico,” pg. 4, col. 4:
No presents are exchanged on Christmas day, that being reserved for the New Year festival; but fascinating dishes are eaten on the great day, notable the ensalada de la noche buena, a salad of many native fruits and vegetables, not to mention the gradually covered candies that decorated the top of it, to conform with some old tradition.
20 December 1936, Charleston (WV) Gazette, pg. 7, col. 8:
Ensalad de Noche Buena
Mexican Christmas Salad
Red and green and tantalizing as the baubles on the tree is this salad from a Mexican cook book.
2 ripe bananas
4 small beets
1-4 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
1-2 teasp. chili powder
2 tblsps. crushed peppermint candy
1 tbsp. lime or lemon juice
1-2 tbsps. salad oil
1-2 teasp. salt
Peel oranges and grapefruit, selecting choice Florida fruit, remove membrane from sections and dice. Peel and dice bananas, apples and beets. Make a dressing of the lime or lemon juice, salad oil, salt, and chili powder. Combine all ingredients lightly but thoroughly. Serve well chilled on crisp lettuce. Serves 6 to 8.
12 December 1937, Hammond (IN) Times, pg. 14, col. 2:
“Ensalada de Noche
Buena” Is Mexican
For Christmas Salad
Mexican Christmas Salad
2 ripe bananas
4 small beets
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons salad oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
2 tablespoons crushed peppermint candy
Peel oranges and grapefruit, remove membrane from sections and dice. Peel and dice bananas, apples and beets. Make a dressing of the lime or lemon juice, salad oil, salt and chili powder. Combine all ingredients. Serve chilled on lettuce.
8 December 1957, Hammond (IN) Times, pg. C4, col. 1:
MEXICAN CHRISTMAS EVE SALAD
2 large head of lettuce, cut fine
2 tablespoons anise seeds
4 large radishes, two cut in slices and two cut in strips
1 cup peanuts, roasted and peeled
4 tablespoons of nut meats
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of one lemon
Method: Wash all the fruit well and cut it into circular slices, without peeling; peel and slice the beets boiled with a little sugar 24 hours before using. Pass the water in which the beets were cooked through a sieve and pour it over the cooked fruit and beets. Season with the sugar, salt and lemon juice; decorate with the sliced radishes and nut meats. The sugared anise seeds are to be placed on the table in small plates or baskets. This salad will serve 12 persons.
27 October 1958, Dallas Morning News, section 3, pg. 4:
These two are from “Elena’s Fiesta Recipes.”
CHRISTMAS EVE SALAD
This salad is a Mexican holiday tradition, and Elena suggests that you serve a bowl of mayonnaise with it.
Use equal quantities of the following ingredients, depending on how many are to be served. Beets, cooked and sliced; pineapple chunks, fresh or frozen; apples, cored and sliced; orange sections, peeled; bananas, peeled and sliced; unsalted peanuts, pomegranate seeds (if you can find them), mayonnaise thinned with fruit juices and a little cream.
Arrange all the fruits as attractively as you can in a large glass bowl or platter. Sprinkle peanuts over all, then pomegranate seeds. Serve dressing over the salad or separately. This is a beautiful salad for a buffet table.
19 December 1963, Dallas Morning News, section 1, pg. 5:
HIGHLIGHTS of the menu are turkey, vegetable pasta, several kinds of chili and, for dessert, Christmas Eve salad, an incongruous mixture of lettuce, beets, peanuts, candy and fruit that tastes a lot better than it sounds.
22 December 1969, Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram, pg. F1:
And, although the Mexicans use only sugar to dress Christmas Eve Salad, a simple but delicious dressing has been created to complement this combination of sweet, golden pineapple, mellow bananas, juicy oranges and apples, beet slices, baby carrots and crisp, green iceberg lettuce in Mexico’s favorite and colorful salad.
ENSALADA DE NOCHE BUENA
Mexican Christmas Eve Salad
1 large head western iceberg lettuce
1 (1 pound 4 1/2 ounce) can pineapple chunks, chilled and drained
1 ( 8 1/4 ounce) can sliced beets, chilled and drained
2 medium oranges, sectioned
2 large red apples, cored and diced
2 medium bananas, all yellow, sliced
1/2 cup chopped peanuts
Noche Buena Dressing
Core lettuce; rinse in cold water; drain well. Refrigerate in plastic bag or plastic crisper. Prepare Noche Buena dressing. Refrigerate. When ready to serve, line salad bowl with green outer lettuce leaves; shred remainder and combine in large bowl with pineapple, carrots, beets, oranges, apples, bananas and nuts. Pour dressing over all and toss lightly. Garnish with lime slices. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
NOCHE BUENA DRESSING
1/2 cup corn oil
1/4 cup vinegar
1/4 cup California Sauterne wine or 3 tablespoons pineapple syrup and 1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon crumbled oregano
(Continued on Page F6)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all ingredients in a jar; cover and shake well. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.
Note: Salad can be assembled ahead and refrigerated, covered tightly with saran to preserve freshness. Do not reserve bananas, however, and add just before tossing salad with dressing.
14 December 1972, Yuma (AZ) Daily Sun, food page, pg. 6, col. 4:
ENSALAD DE NOCHE BUENA
Christmas Eve Salad
Beets cooked and sliced
Orange sections (peeled)
Sprinkle with unsalted nuts (peanuts or soy)
Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds overall!
The pomegranate grows beautifully in Yuma. It is called “granada” in Spanish.
Serve on a Mexican platter.
For a dressing use mayonnaise thinned with fruit juice and sour cream.
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