Brazilian Christmas, traditions and recipes

Alternative Christmas dinner, Brazilian Christmas, rabanada, pernil, festive rice

A sample of Brazilian table at Christmas

A fascinating way to enrich our lives and travels is to delve into local culture and traditions – and Christmas is a special time for that. Brazilian Christmas comes with some lavish customs that change from region to region and from family to family.

To celebrate this momentous date on the Christian calendar, some customs are part of the festive days at the end of the year. In many Brazilian homes, you can not miss the typical Christmas tree and crib that represent the birth of Jesus Christ. Like them, the charismatic figure of Santa Claus is also everywhere, from schools to malls and shopping centers. Never mind that it’s high summer in Brazil, decorations are typically snowballs, glitter, and all proper winter Christmas decorations.

Christmas is a time to celebrate love and friendship with family, friends and confraternization with work colleagues. It is also synonymous with a large table, decorated and filled with delicious, typically festive foods.

One of the most delicious and calorific traditions of Brazilian Christmas is to make an insanely lush supper on the night of the 24th of December; the feast in some households starts at midnight when there is also the exchange of gifts between family and friends.

Brazilian Christmas menus consist of main dishes made of different meats, including turkey, ham, bacalhau, picanha, lamb, pork loin, pernil (pork shoulder), accompaniments (rice and farofa -cassava), salads (salpicão, potato mayonnaise, Caesar), vinaigrette, and various fresh and dried fruits. There are many Brazilian Christmas recipes to which nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and nuts are added. A bowl of nuts and a panettone on the table  is a must!

The culmination of the celebrations comes with the sweet treats! Depending on the family heritage, some typical family recipes will appear on the table as well as Brazilian desserts like pudim de leite, brigadeirao, pudim de claras, local cakes, pies, and don’t forget our beloved rabanada, a kind of French toast with cinnamon.

Waitrose asked me for suggestions for alternative Christmas recipes. So, based on my heritage and the country I was born in, Brazil, I come up with three alternative dishes.

They are also hosting a competition over social media, share how you’re enjoying the festivities using the hashtag #ChristmasTogether for a chance to win fabulous prizes for you and a friend. T&Cs can be found here:

My alternative Brazilian Christmas menu

Pernil assado, a slow cooked and roasted marinated pork shoulder (on or off the bone), is a commonly shared dish in Latin American countries during Christmas, typically accompanied by arroz (rice). Something sweet, rabanada with a brigadeiro sauce, is usually served by itself, but since it’s Christmas, let’s indulge!

Each dot on the map has its own unique way of enjoying this time of the year. How are you celebrating yours this year?

Brazilian Christmas recipes

Pernil Assado

Alternative Christmas dinner, Brazilian Christmas, rabanada, pernil, festive rice

Pernil Assado

prep time: 10 minutes
cooking time: 4 hours
Idle: 24 hours (marinade)

serves: 8 people

Pork shoulder on or off the bone, skinless (about 2.5 kg)
2 chopped onions
2 chopped tomatoes
2 sprigs of fresh Thyme
5 juniper berries
8 grains of black pepper
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon of the mustard, grain
Juice of 2 limes
2 cups white wine
1 /2 cup white wine vinegar
Salt to taste, about 1 tablespoon
A good handful of parsley, chives, spring onions
1 chilli – to taste, optional
2 litres of water


1) Making the marinade, in a medium bowl, add all the herbs, spices, the chilli, the wet ingredients, mix well to combine, if it gets too acid add a little sugar.
2) Place the meat in the deep bowl, make some incisions to facilitate the marinade to work into the meat, and cover it with the seasoning, so that the meat is submerged. Place in the fridge for 24 hours.
3) Next day, transfer the meat and marinade into a large saucepan and bring to the simmering point. Cook until the meat is very tender. About 3 to 3 1/2 hours or a bit longer, it will depend if on or off the bone. Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
4) Transfer the meat to a baking dish and roast until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. To make sure it’s perfectly cooked insert a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the meat, it should reach 75C to 80C internal temperature. Another method is checking the juices run clear – no blood running.
5)In the meantime, make the gravy, drain the cooked marinade, discard all the herbs and seasonings and put the liquid back in the heat until reduced by half.
6) Let the meat rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Tip: Garnish for the Pernil: pineapple, Provencal cherries or any favourite fresh or dried fruit – all ingredients available at Waitrose stores

Alternative Christmas dinner, Brazilian Christmas, rabanada, pernil assado, festive rice

Pernil Assado

*Side Dish*
Festive Rice recipe (Arroz Natalino)

Alternative Christmas dinner, Brazilian Christmas, rabanada, pernil, festive rice

Arroz Natalino

prep time: 5 minutes
cooking time: 20 minutes
Makes: 1kg of festive rice, enough for 8 servings

1kg of cooked rice, cooked according to instructions in the package
2 garlic cloves, chopped
100g dried cranberries, roughly chopped

2x bananas, roughly chopped
100g Brazil nuts, roughly chopped

Zest of one orange

all ingredients available at Waitrose stores

1) Start by cooking the rice, according to the package instructions
2) In a frying pan, add the garlic and 2 tablespoons  of oil cook over low heat until lightly golden
3) Add the chopped nuts, dried cranberries, cook for 5 minutes and add to the rice
4) Mix the chopped bananas in the rice and zest the orange for decoration
5) serve immediately

Tip: measuring rice per person:
1/3 cup uncooked rice per person (60g)
1/2 cup of cooked rice per person (about 120g)


*Something sweet*
Rabanada made with sourdough bread with brigadeiro sauce recipe

Alternative Christmas dinner, Brazilian Christmas,rabanada, sourdough, brigadeiro sauce

Rabanada with Brigadeiro sauce – pure indulgence

prep time: 5 minutes
Frying time: 20 minutes
Makes: 8 toasts

Rabanada recipe

1 sourdough bread, sliced (8 slices)
2 cups of milk, 200ml
1 can of condensed milk
3 organic eggs, beaten
Cinnamon to taste
Sunflower oil to fry

1/2 cup of icing sugar, 60g
1 dessert spoon of ground cinnamon, 3g

all ingredients available at Waitrose stores


1) Cut the bread into medium slices, cut in half if too big
2) In a deep plate, mix the milk with the condensed milk and dip the slices of bread until they are completely soaked
3) In another plate, beat the eggs
4) Dip the sliced wet bread on the beaten eggs until completely covered
5) Fry in hot oil till golden and drain the toast into a paper towel, continue the process until they are all fried.
6) Dust each slice with cinnamon and sugar mix (decoration)
7) Serve warm or place in refrigerator to serve chilled

Brigadeiro sauce recipe

prep time: none
cooking time: 5-7 minutes
Makes: about 500ml

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, 15g
1 can of condensed milk
1 tablespoon of good quality cocoa powder, 10g
1/2 cup of whole milk, 200ml

all ingredients available at Waitrose stores

1) In a deep pan, place the butter, the condensed milk, the chocolate and whole milk, bring to simmering point until the mixture has the consistency of single cream
2) Place in a heatproof jug. Serve hot or cold  with the rabanadas

Tip: it can be made well in advance, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Alternative Christmas dinner, Brazilian Christmas,rabanada, sourdough, brigadeiro sauce

Rabanada with Brigadeiro sauce

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Disclosure: I worked on this post in partnership with Waitrose. All pictures and words are my own.




  1. November 30, 2017 / 9:32 am

    Wow what a wonderful alternative Christmas dinner! The Pernil Assado sounds delicious 🙂

    • Rosana McPhee
      November 30, 2017 / 10:38 am

      Pernil assado is so easy to make and a crowd pleaser!

  2. November 30, 2017 / 10:37 am

    I think if I’d ever thought about it, I would have realised that Brazilians would make a big deal of Christmas, but I hadn’t realised quite how rich and diverse the culinary options would be. Your pictures look amazing!

    • Rosana McPhee
      November 30, 2017 / 10:39 am

      Hi Erica, It’s very diverse cuisine. Thanks for nice comment about the pictures. I try! R

  3. December 3, 2017 / 11:11 am

    That menu actually sounds so divine and festive! The Pernil Asado looks fab and the Brigadeira sauce sounds like something I would fill my bowl with!

    • Rosana McPhee
      December 3, 2017 / 8:56 pm

      The sauce is so yummy you could actually make it and have it by itself (sooo good)

  4. December 3, 2017 / 1:48 pm

    Pernil Assado looks like the perfect party food – and relatively economical compared with a beef dish. I like the look of the dessert too – that yummy Brigadeiro sauce. Delish. Now, where’s my invite?

    • Rosana McPhee
      December 3, 2017 / 8:55 pm

      It’s so good – we love it too

  5. December 3, 2017 / 3:15 pm

    I have to say that it all looks very tasty, especially the pernil assado! It’s nice to have an alternative to turkey

    • Rosana McPhee
      December 3, 2017 / 8:55 pm

      Glad you like it! 😉