New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

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Bridging Puerto Rican culture and veganism with dairy-free coquito

Honoring my Puerto Rican culture and being vegan can often be a dilemma, especially during the holiday season. This coquito recipe is my happy in-between.
An+illustration+of+coquito%2C+against+a+yellow+background.+The+drink+is+white+with+cinnamon+on+top.
Samantha Esmé Williams
Coquito, a Puerto Rican Christmas drink. (Illustration by Samantha Esmé Williams)

I’ve been vegan for about eight years now, and every time the holidays come around I’m faced with the same question: What do I eat? On one hand, I love cooking Puerto Rican food with decades-old recipes and sharing these meals with my family. On the other, I am not a fan of meat — and being vegan has become integral to my moral and political beliefs. This is quite the issue when your family insists you eat a beef-filled alcapurria at Christmas dinner. Anyone who follows a plant-based diet and is particularly attached to their culture’s cuisine is likely familiar with this dilemma, and I have yet to find a solution — that is, until now.

I’ve recently started experimenting with vegan versions of my favorite Puerto Rican dishes. For recipes like arroz con gandules, it was easy to just omit the pork, but I was determined to also create vegan renditions of meat-based dishes like picadillo. My mom, who is thankfully accepting of my diet, was quick to dig up old recipes and dirty her hands in the kitchen alongside me. Even though the ingredients were different, and the dish might not have tasted exactly the same, the beauty of cooking and eating together with family remained. My mom has also always adjusted my grandmother’s recipes to her liking, omitting olives in her rice and using less sugar in her pastries. I’ve now accepted that I am simply doing the same thing.

When I am vegan-izing Puerto Rican dishes, some may see it as inauthentic or disrespectful. However, I feel I can still honor my heritage with a vegan recipe just as much as I can with a traditional one. Fortunately, my family — who has always enjoyed my cooking — seems to agree.

One holiday staple that has come to symbolize this acceptance is my mom’s vegan coquito, or Puerto Rican eggnog-like drink. Every year, she makes multiple batches of the drink, bringing it to parties and gifting it to friends. Drinking coquito is just as much a Christmas tradition as putting up a Christmas tree. One year, I told my mom I wanted to try it, but forgot it typically contains dairy. Shortly after, she surprised me with a vegan batch. It wasn’t too sweet or liquidy, and the nutty flavor of the coconut shined through. It was like dessert in a glass — cozy, yet refreshing. When I recently had a potluck with my friends, I knew I had to make some to share and celebrate. With this recipe, I hope you can too.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can unsweetened coconut cream
  • 2 cans unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1½ cups oat milk 
  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • Bacardi Rum, optional and according to taste

Instructions:

  1. Add one can of unsweetened coconut milk and the granulated sugar to a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. 
  2. Once the coconut milk and sugar mixture is boiling, reduce heat to low simmer for 30-40 minutes, and stir regularly. The liquid will reduce and thicken.
  3. Once the liquid in the sugar and milk mixture has reduced and thickened, puree it with all the other ingredients in a blender.
  4. Add the mixture from the blender into a glass bottle or airtight container to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  5. Enjoy within a week. 

Contact Juliana Guarracino at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Juliana Guarracino, Culture Editor
Juliana Guarracino is a senior majoring in Global Media, Culture, and Communication and Romance Languages. Aside from writing, she has a passion for cooking, travel and art history. When she's not working, she enjoys reading, playing cozy video games and journaling at cafes. She will take any book recommendations, but cannot promise you that she will read them. You can find her @juliana.guarracino on Instagram.
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  • M

    MarieDec 24, 2023 at 2:08 pm

    This was delicious but just found out that granulated sugar is not vegan due to the refining process which involves animal bone char. It was suggested that we use pure cane sugar. Learn something new every day!

    Reply