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Lasagne, Lasagna, Lasaña: keeping it simple, making it Puerto Rican

14 Jan

No matter how you spell it, lasagne is great food for entertaining and with the SuperBowl coming up, you may want to consider this version as an option for the buffet table!

This is a wonderfully homey dish

This is a wonderfully homey dish

In its original Italian version (which may actually be adapted from a Greek dish) from Emilia Romagna (if Wikipedia is to be believed and on this one I am not really sure), lasagne is pasta layered with ragu, bechamel (creamy white sauce) and parmigiano reggiano. Lasagne has since been adapted and changed and reworked in so many ways that it has as many permutations as there are cooks who make it.

I have to say, I do not love bechamel. It’s okay when someone else makes it, but I would rather not. So, I do what so many do: layer mozzarella and ricotta and grated parmigiano and I am at peace with this shortcut that results in a creamy gooiness, no doubt horrifying to the Emiliani, but they are far away living their Italian lives and are not doing my dishes for me here in New York. And with apologies to the late, great Marcella Hazan, I am not ready to be making my own lasagne noodles, even though she maintains it is heresy to do otherwise.

Layers of gooey goodness

Layers of gooey goodness

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Guineitos en ájili-mójili (garlicky green bananas)

4 Jan

“What!?!”you are asking yourself. “Bananas with garlic!?! Eeeeew!!!!”

Yup. they are banans. But they are green.

Yup. they are bananas. But they are green.

But wait…this is not a sweet yellow eating banana dish. Nor is it a plantain dish. It is a savory, salty salad, served at room temperature and made with boiled green bananas (basically yellow ones – Musa sapentium – that are not at all ripe and must be cooked). They are widely used in the Caribbean and Central America because they are cheap and readily available. (For more on the origins of Puerto Rican ingredients, buy my ebook: Eat Your Way Through Puerto Rico!)

This is how you prepare them for boiling.

This is how you prepare them for boiling.

You might have a bigger challenge finding completely green bananas in your local supermarket; we usually get them at a Latin supermarket. I believe that Indian cooking also uses green banana; it makes sense, since the banana and all its relatives are believed to have originated in the Asian subcontinent, so if you have an Indian grocery near you you may find them there. And I have noticed that Costco’s bananas tend to be totally green; not good if you are looking for a raw fruit snack right away, but great for Latin cooking! Continue reading

Top Five Hot, Cheap & Easy Recipe Posts for 2013!

29 Dec

I always like to have a look at which recipes really fired people up during the year.And this year it was a mix of steady veterans and newcomers, continental and Caribbean.

Number 5 is a bit of a cheat, as it is 10 posts in one…but it is also a relatively new post that quickly climbed the ranks and it is truly a good round-up and its popularity shows that people are really looking for good Puerto Rican recipes they can make even when far from the island. And that makes me happy.

Are your favorites here? Are there recipes you don’t see here that have become a part of your repertoire? I’d love to know!

And here they are, in reverse order….

5. Make Your Party Puerto Rican: 10 Classic Recipes for a Fab Fiesta

With a crackling skin and moist salty insides, this is the breaker of many a diet.

With a crackling skin and moist salty insides, this is the breaker of many a diet.

4. Arroz con Pollo: Puerto Rican Chicken and Rice…Old School

This dish puts the rico in Puerto Rico. Everyone thinks wistfully of their grandmother when they smell this coming

This dish puts the rico in Puerto Rico. Everyone thinks wistfully of their grandmother when they smell this coming

3. Pastelón de Amarillos (Puerto Rican lasagne layered with meat and sweet plantain)

One of the five all-time most searched for recipes on this blog. Got a Puerto Rican mother-in-law? Stun her with this one.

One of the five all-time most searched for recipes on this blog. Got a Puerto Rican mother-in-law? Stun her with this one.

2. Roasted Pattypan Squash

Folks are always looking for what to do with this increasingly popular squash

Folks are always looking for what to do with this increasingly popular squash

and Number One…. Continue reading

Bacalaitos: Light and Luscious Puerto Rican Cod Fritters

27 Dec

One of the pleasures of visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico is heading straight from Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to a beach area about five minutes to the east. Piñones, a long stretch of relatively undeveloped coastline is where beach shacks under the shade of coconut palms serve up ice cold beer, whiskey con coco, and all manner of snacks or frituras, flour or banana dough shaped in seagrape leaves and dropped into hot fat in blackened cauldrons over coal fires by ladies in hair rollers. Oh my God, I am so glad to be back, you say, toes in the crystal water and tearing into a delicious and greasy and tropical hunk of something.

Break up the de-salted cod as much as you can

Break up the de-salted cod as much as you can

One of the iconic frituras is bacalaitos: fried cod fritters. Salt cod is well-known to Atlantic coastal areas and the Caribbean…the New England cod fisheries have for centuries supplied coastal people with an abundance of this oily fish that preserves really well (if you are interested in the history of cod, you must read Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World).

Sawtooth coriander or recao or culantro adds authentic flavor to this dish, but cilantro is a worthy substitute

Sawtooth coriander or recao or culantro adds authentic flavor to this dish, but cilantro is a worthy substitute

Its popularity has led to overstressed fisheries. While they are being managed, they are not recovering well or quickly enough for me to have them as anything but an occasional treat.

skewered fritters draining, even as the next batch goes in!

skewered fritters draining, even as the next batch goes in!

In Puerto Rico we use salt cod in rice dishes, vinaigrette-style with local tubers, with tomatoes like the Basque people…in any number of ways. Bacalaitos are a good entry-level bacalao dish if you are afraid salt cod is too fishy for your family’s taste. Here it is not overwhelming, but more of a condiment and I daresay that salt cod lends umami (that fifth sensation of rich meaty mouth-feel) to what would be just a fish fritter…like many salted fish it is high in glutamates.

Letting the batter rest gives time for the baking powder to activate. that will give you nice airiness in the fritters.

Letting the batter rest gives time for the baking powder to activate. that will give you nice airiness in the fritters.

Most of the credit for this recipe is shared between Carmen Aboy Valldejuli’s classic recipe in Cocina Criolla* and my dad’s adaptations and execution. It makes a perfect light dinner or appetizer…I like it with cold, dry sparkling wine, but of course a cold beer (on the lighter side) is a classic match-up. Kids and adults alike love them; we’ll be doing them up for our New Year’s guests when they arrive. Read on for recipe! Continue reading

Coquito: Puerto Rican Egg Nog (this one without eggs!)

22 Dec

2015-12-26 17.16.25In Puerto Rico, as soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is scraped off the plates, our collective thoughts turn to what we are going to eat for Christmas. But we are not just talking about Christmas Eve or Christmas day, oh no.We’re talking about every day for the next two months.

Recipes written by by late, great-aunt Titi Amida for my mother.

Recipes written by by late, great-aunt Titi Amida for my mother.

Christmas lasts from the day after Thanksgiving well into January, with the Feast of the Epiphany or Three Kings Day on January 6th, followed by octavas (the eight days after Three Kings Day) which are then followed by octavitas, which last for another eight days. And since we’re practically into February by then, you might as well keep celebrating until Valentine’s Day on the 14th….We have to do it this way, to give everyone who wants to have a Christmas party the opportunity. Twelve days of Christmas are just not enough to give everyone a turn at hosting.

Tasting in progress

Tasting in progress

That’s a lot of menu planning. We are helped by our Christmas songs, which are sometimes paeans to the birth of Jesus, but more often they are odes to the pig…that is.. lechón or spit-roasted suckling pig.

In small servings this homey cocktail can look quite elegant

In small servings this homey cocktail can look quite elegant

Some folks serve it on the rocks. I do like it a bit diluted. You could also top off with a bit more rum.

Some folks serve it on the rocks. I do like it a bit diluted. You could also top off with a bit more rum.

When it comes to beverages, the Queen of Christmas Toddies is coquito, a sweet and sometimes lethal combination of rum, cream of coconut, and condensed and evaporated milk in its more basic form, but which can also include egg yolks, different types of alcohol, more or less cinnamon, vanilla, and much more.

These bottles from IKEA look great for hostess gifts

These bottles from IKEA look great for hostess gifts

Today’s recipe (thank you to my former San Juan Star colleague Todd Michael Jamison for sending me the original that this is based on several years ago) is quite basic and contains no egg (in the recipes from my great-aunt Titi Amida in the images, she used loads of egg yolks, but she used to get farm-fresh eggs. Now most of us don’t have that kind of access). I like to make a big batch and portion out some into decorative bottles for gifts. When I actually serve, I add a bit more cinnamon and froth individual servings up with some ice in a cocktail shaker – coquito should be served really cold and the ice thins it a bit too, which I like. Continue reading

Puerto Rican Food Translated: My eBook, Just $5, and a perfect gift!

16 Dec

Just a reminder that you can gift my e-dictionary book to friends and family who love food. Called Eat Your Way Through Puerto Rico, it is a digital guide to Puerto Rican food, basically what to eat and how to ask for it.

It’s fun to flip through. In addition to straightforward translation of common food items, it also includes useful phrases for getting reservations, talking about food allergies, and finding out where the bathroom is. The biggest plus is the background, origins and ingredients of some of our most beloved and iconic dishes. And you can load it onto your iPhone.

If you want to gift it to someone else, you can also get it on Amazon – Kindle for iTunes is a free app.

So, buy it or gift it this holiday season and buen provecho!

Click Here to order through Amazon.

Click Here to order through Amazon.

 

Passionfruit Chipotle Shrimp: quickie dinner with style and flair

15 Dec

My friend, Ashley was visiting and I had promised dinner, but I hadn’t really planned. Towards the end of a busy semester, I find myself playing it by ear a lot; I just don’t have the wherewithal to do something that requires a lot of prep or advanced thought. I deal with things as they come up, and look forward to the upcoming break when I won’t feel so much like I am flying by the seat of my pants (what an odd idiom that is)!

I love the color of this...it almost looks like a curry...which makes me want to experiment with coconut and curry flavors...

I love the color of this…it almost looks like a curry…which makes me want to experiment with coconut and curry flavors…

I knew I had a bag of shrimp in the freezer that had been waiting for me to come up with something and then I remembered a quickie solution I quite like: tangy, smoky shrimp with finger-licking good sauce that soaks nicely into rice, but can also be eaten on its own if you are looking to reduce carbohydrate intake.

This was done in under ten minutes and made us very happy. One thing I like about this light treatment of shrimp is that you can eat a lot of it without the uncomfortably full feeling you can get from pork or beef). For a grilled version, click here.

very, very yummy!

very, very yummy!

Passionfruit Chipotle Shrimp (serves four)

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, minced (about a half cup)

2 tsp minced garlic

3 Tbs passionfruit pulp or juice

1-2 Tbs chipotle in adobo, chopped (remove seeds for less heat, but this amount is not super-spicy)

Juice of one orange or Clementine

Sprinkling of Adobo powder

1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined (tail-on is okay)

1/4 Cup cilantro, chopped

In a skillet, heat olive oil until fragrant then add onions, stir to coat and lower heat to medium. Saute for five minutes or until onions are quite soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add passionfruit, chipotle and juice and stir to combine. While it cooks for a minute or two, sprinkle shrimp with Adobo (go easy if you don’t like much salt). Raise heat to high, add shrimp and cilantro to skillet, stir to coat and cook for 3-4 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp, until they lose their translucency and begin to curl.

Serve over rice. Good cold too!

You may also like:

Zippy Grilled Passionfruit and Chipotle Shrimp

Delicious with avocado

Delicious with avocado

Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Beautiful fresh salad

Beautiful fresh salad

 

2014 Thanksgiving Easy Recipe Round-Up

19 Nov

I will probably post a few more Thanksgiving recipes in the next few days, but here is a start – some of our time-honored favorites that are not hard to do, but really celebrate the season. If you want to keep it simple and bountiful, take a look at these suggestions as you make your shopping list and measure how much time and energy you will really have to devote to pyrotechnics.

We are all about being thankful this year, since we’ve beat back cancer and are making it through the economic slowdown and all…so quietly and leisurely is how we are taking it!

Butternut Squash Bisque and bonus pumpkin seed pepitas

Butternut Squash Bisque

Butternut Squash Bisque

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

Green Beans– bring the sweetness to the fore

Brine that Bird! (especially if you are getting a farm-fresh, free-range turkey)

bathed in the glow of a Home Depot bucket

bathed in the glow of a Home Depot bucket

Puerto Rican-Style Roast Turkey (pavochón)

And...a beautiful pavochón!

And…a beautiful pavochón!

Turkey Gravy (and a story of salvation)

GRAVY TRAIN

GRAVY TRAIN

Leftovers — Festive Turkey Salad with Cranberries and Walnuts

Bright and fun and full of textures

Bright and fun and full of textures

Chick Pea, Sausage and Winter Squash/Calabaza Stew

9 Nov

Soup and stew season is upon us!

Funnily enough, I was working on a story on Indian food for Edible Long Island when I spotted my kind of calabaza in the pumpkin section of Patel Brothers (a nationwide chain of Indian/South Asian groceries stores) in Hicksville, and made sure to buy a big hunk on the way out after my interview with the manager.

Calabaza

Calabaza

I say “funnily”, not just because I found Caribbean calabaza in an Indian shop — which in and of itself has some sort of sardonic Christopher Columbus karma about it — but that because of immigration patterns, i can no longer find the Puerto Rican variety in Latin groceries where it belongs. All the Puerto Ricans have married out or moved out and been replaced by Central Americans who use kabochas or some other varieties which are not quite right for me!

(For more on calabaza and a classic Puerto Rican rice and beans recipe, click here!)

This smells ever so good bubbling up on the stove....

This smells ever so good bubbling up on the stove….

So, the calabaza inspired me to soak some garbanzos, dig out some chicken andouille from Aidell’s that was in my freezer and get busy making stew. I brought some to my colleague Jainy, who is from India and was my guide through the research for the article, and she loved this different treatment of pumpkin. So did her mom, apparently, which is high praise indeed. They had them with parathas…I love New York and our jumble of cultures!

Thick and delicious and packed with interesting textures!

Thick and delicious and packed with interesting textures!

Chick Pea, Andouille and Winter Squash Stew

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

1 Cup onion, chopped

1 Cup green pepper, chopped

1-2 Tbs garlic, chopped

1 small tomato, chopped

1 Cup andouille or other spicy heat and serve sausage

4 Cups cooked squash or pumpkin in the cooking liquid

2 Bay leaves

1 tsp oregano

2 Cups garbanzos, drained

Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot until fragrant. Saute the onion for a minute at medium, then add the green pepper, cook another minute, then the garlic, cook another minute, then add the tomato and allow it all to cook at low for another five minutes, adding a bit of oil if you need more moisture.

Stir in the sausage and raise the temperature to medium high. Add the sausage and sauté for 2 minutes or until it stats to brown. Then add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for ten minutes. Serve with rice or couscous.

 

Cocktail Meatballs (Fry for Now or Bake for Later)

8 Sep

The school year has started for me (for those who don’t know, in my other life I am a college professor of English as a Second Language) and will start for my FIRST-GRADER (!?!) on Monday.

I love a little army of meatballs. I do them in my fancy toaster oven!

I love a little army of meatballs. I do them in my fancy toaster oven!

I like to start the semester with the first two weeks of my lesson plans prepped, photocopies made and ready-to-go, and….my freezer full of home-made dishes that I can pull out in a heartbeat and serve with an easy starch and a steamed vegetable. The older my son gets, the more activities we have outside school, and the harder it gets for me to get to the gym. When dinner’s already ready, I am more relaxed and have fewer excuses to keep me from the treadmill.

Cooked! Meatballs are one of my favorite things...

Cooked! Meatballs are one of my favorite things…

Meatballs are one of our favorites. If you bake them, you can freeze them. Then, you have loads of options, Drop them in tomato sauce to defrost and make delicious pasta gravy. Just heat them up and serve with rice or buttered noodles or pesto. Make a meatball hero. Serve to unexpected guests with toothpicks as an attractive appetizer. Yes, meatballs in the freezer make life much easier. So here they are, simple to make (the little guy helps with the smashing and meatball making) and yet very, very tasty.

Fry-babies

Fry-babies

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