While most Caribbean nations don’t celebrate the American version of Thanksgiving in their respective islands, the diaspora currently living in the United States have adopted the day with their own traditions, including celebrations with large gatherings of family and friends and subbing out the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing for more island-friendly grub like sorrel, rum glazed ham, fritay, callaloo, pelau and beloved rum cakes. 

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Here are the top six dishes and drinks you’ll see on Jamaican, Haitian and Trinidadian Thanksgiving dinner tables.

Jamaican Sorrel

Jamaican Sorrel, also known as roselle, hibiscus tea and flor de jamaica, is a popular and refreshing drink in Jamaica, especially during the holiday season.

6 Dishes Caribbean Americans Eat on Thanksgiving - Jamaican Sorrel

What you need

  • 2 cups dried sorrel petals (hibiscus petals)
  • 1 cup white rum
  • 8-10 cups water
  • 1-2 cups granulated sugar (adjust to your sweetness preference)
  • 6-8 whole cloves
  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (optional)
  • 1 orange peel (optional)

What to do

  1. Rinse the dried sorrel petals under cold water to remove any debris or dirt. Drain well.
  2. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, add the sorrel petals, ginger slices, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange peel (if using). Stir well, and then reduce the heat to low.
  3. Simmer the mixture for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let it cool. Strain the liquid into a large pitcher, discarding the used sorrel petals and spices.
  4. Add sugar to the strained liquid, starting with 1 cup. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  5. Add the rum to the pitcher and mix well. 
  6. Refrigerate, serve over ice and garnished with a slice of orange or a cinnamon stick.

Enjoy your homemade sorrel, a festive, deep-red drink that’s perfect for special occasions and a beloved part of Jamaican culture. It’s sweet, tangy, and slightly spiced, and can be enjoyed year-round.

Haitian Kremas

This drink is a delightful and creamy traditional Haitian holiday beverage with a hint of coconut and spices, similar to eggnog but with a unique twist. 

6 Dishes Caribbean Americans Eat on Thanksgiving

What you need

  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
  • 1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 can (13.5 oz) coconut cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup white rum
  • ½ cup dark rum
  • ¼ cup orange liqueur (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon anise extract (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon grated lime zest (optional)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Crushed ice (for serving)

What to do

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved into the milk.
  • Stir in the vanilla extract, almond extract, anise extract (if using), grated nutmeg, ground cinnamon and lime zest (if using). Add the coconut milk and coconut cream to the mixture and stir until well combined. Add a small pinch of salt to balance the sweetness and enhance the flavors.
  • Pour in the white rum, dark rum and orange liqueur (if using). 
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours, allowing the flavors to meld and the mixture to chill.
  • When ready to serve, fill glasses with crushed ice and pour the Haitian Kremas over the ice. Garnish with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or grated nutmeg and enjoy!

Jamaican Rum-Glazed Jerk Ham

This rum-glazed jerk ham combines the rich, smoky flavors of Jamaican jerk seasoning with the sweetness of a rum glaze for a truly delicious and unique ham.

6 Dishes Caribbean Americans Eat on Thanksgiving

What you need

For the Jerk Ham:

  • 1 bone-in ham (8-10 pounds)
  • ½ cup Jamaican jerk seasoning
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the Rum Glaze:

  • 1 cup dark rum
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup pineapple juice
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste

What to do

Preparing the Ham:

  1. Preheat your oven to 325°F.
  2. Place the ham in a large roasting pan and score the surface in a crisscross pattern with a sharp knife. 
  3. In a bowl, combine the Jamaican jerk seasoning, brown sugar and olive oil to make a paste. Rub this jerk paste all over the ham, ensuring it gets into the scored cuts.
  4. Cover the ham with aluminum foil and roast it in the preheated oven for about 15-18 minutes per pound.

Preparing the Rum Glaze:

  1. While the ham is roasting, prepare the rum glaze. In a saucepan, combine the dark rum, brown sugar, honey, pineapple juice, orange juice, unsalted butter, Dijon mustard, allspice, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Allow the glaze to simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Glazing the Ham:

  1. About 30 minutes before the ham is done, remove it from the oven. 
  2. Brush a generous amount of the rum glaze over the ham’s surface. Reserve some glaze for additional basting.
  3. Return the ham to the oven, uncovered and continue to roast. Baste the ham with the glaze every 10-15 minutes until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F, about 30-40 minutes in total.
  4. Once the ham is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving.

Haitian Fritay

Haitian fritay, also known as “fritaille,” is a delicious and popular street food in Haiti. It consists of various fried snacks and meats, often served with pikliz, a spicy pickled vegetable relish. 

What you need

  • 1 pound goat meat or pork, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ pound shrimp
  • ½ pound malanga (taro root or coco), peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ pound sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ pound eggplant, sliced into rounds
  • ½ pound plantains, sliced into rounds
  • ½ pound yam, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Cooking oil for frying

What to do

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt and ground black pepper.
  2. Toss the various sliced vegetables, meat and shrimp in the flour mixture to coat them evenly.
  3. Heat cooking oil in a deep skillet or pot to around 350°F. Carefully fry the coated vegetables, meat and shrimp in batches until they are golden brown and crispy. This may take about 4-6 minutes for each batch.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fried items and drain them on paper towels.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

Trinidadian Callaloo

Trinidad callaloo is a delicious and traditional Caribbean dish that’s packed with nutritious greens. It’s made with dasheen (taro) leaves or spinach, coconut milk, and various seasonings.

What you need

  • 1 pound dasheen leaves (also known as taro leaves) or spinach, washed and chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, minced (adjust to your heat preference)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup okra, sliced (optional, but traditional)
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

What to do

  1. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot or deep pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until they become translucent and fragrant.
  2. Next, stir in the scotch bonnet pepper, black pepper and fresh thyme. If you want your callaloo to be less spicy, you can remove the seeds and membrane from the scotch bonnet pepper.
  3. Add the dasheen leaves or spinach to the pot. Then, add in the coconut milk and stir to ensure the leaves are coated. If you’re using okra, add it at this point as well.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and let the Callaloo simmer for about 15-20 minutes or until the leaves are tender. 
  5. Season with salt to taste, then stir in the fresh chives and parsley for a burst of fresh flavor.

Serve your callaloo hot, alongside some rice, chicken and pigeon peas. Enjoy this Trinidadian classic with its rich, creamy coconut flavor and a blend of aromatic spices. It’s the perfect taste of the Caribbean in the comfort of your own home.

Trinidadian Pelau

There is no dish more iconic for the island of Trinidad than chicken pelau. Typically made for large family gatherings, this delicious one-pot meal is the perfect combination of savory Caribbean flavors. 

6 Dishes Caribbean Americans Eat on Thanksgiving

What you need

  • 2 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 cups parboiled rice
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped onion
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 cups fresh or canned pigeon peas
  • 2 cups canned coconut milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 whole Scotch bonnet pepper, uncut

What to do

  1. In a large bowl combine chicken, 1 sprig of thyme, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, garlic, salt and black pepper, then marinate for 1-2 hours or overnight.
  2. Add oil to a large, deep pot and place over medium heat. 
  3. Once the oil is hot, add the sugar and let it caramelize to a dark brown for about two minutes in an even layer. 
  4. Add the marinated chicken thighs to the pot and stir gently to coat with the sugar. Allow to cook for 8-10 minutes.
  5. Add the rice and stir thoroughly to coat with flavor.
  6. Stir in the onions, sweet peppers, pigeon peas, green onion and remaining sprigs of thyme, and stir for five minutes
  7. Add the coconut milk and chicken stock and season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Add the whole Scotch bonnet pepper, cover the pot and bring to a boil for 10 minutes.
  8. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed. Enjoy!

Jamaican Rum Cake

This rum cake is a true Caribbean delicacy, perfect for special occasions or anytime you want to indulge in a taste of Jamaica.

6 Dishes Caribbean Americans Eat on Thanksgiving - rum cake

What you need

For the Cake:

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups mixed dried fruits (raisins, currants, prunes, and cherries)
  • 1 cup dark rum (Jamaican rum is preferred)
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ¼ cup browning sauce (you can find this in Caribbean markets)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the Rum Glaze:

  • ½ cup dark rum
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter

What to do

  1. Start by soaking the mixed dried fruits in the dark rum for at least 24 hours. Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease and flour a Bundt cake pan or a traditional Jamaican cake pan.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, nutmeg and salt.
  5. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar mixture, alternating with the molasses and browning sauce. Start and finish with the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
  6. Stir in the soaked dried fruits, along with any remaining rum in the bowl, until evenly distributed throughout the batter.
  7. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, and the cake is golden brown and firm to the touch.
  8. While the cake is baking, prepare the rum glaze. In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the water and sugar, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the syrup thickens slightly. Remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the dark rum.
  9. When the cake is done place it on a wire rack to cool. While the cake is still warm, use a skewer to poke holes all over the surface of the cake. Slowly drizzle the warm rum glaze over the cake, allowing it to soak in. 
  10. Allow the cake to cool completely before serving and enjoy!

As a Caribbean living abroad in the United States, how do you celebrate Thanksgiving? Let us know in the comments! 


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