It was another summer Friday in the neighborhood and that called for another festive cocktail. Riding high on the success of last session’s passionfruit mojitos, I decided to make mango mojitos. The drink itself followed much the same construction, but the mango was decidedly sweeter than the passionfruit, so I decided that it needed a spike of heat and salt for proper balance.
Assembly line for summer
Ancho chile salt on the rim provided just the right touch.Your lips get hot, your tongue gets salty, then the potent sweetness of the mango and rum drenches your mouth in happiness!
Friday night in the hood
I made enough to take to a Spuyten Duyvil concert at the farm two days later. Once again, big hit (except for the bit about the plastic cups…it is not good form to use one-time use cups in our world, but sometimes it happens; mea culpa)!
Spuyten Duyvil rocking the farm
Mango Mojitos with Ancho Chile
3 parts rum
2-3 parts mango nectar or juice
1 part simple syrup (1 part sugar, 1 part water heated until clear and liquid and cooled)
Ancho chile salt
1 Tbs ancho chile powder
1 Tbs table salt or salt crystals
Club soda or seltzer
Mix rum, juice and syrup together and place in a container until you are ready to use.
Mix salt and ancho chile powder thoroughly and pour onto a small plate. Rub the rim of your empty glass with lime then twirl the rim in the salt until coated.
Add two or three lime quarters, three leaves mint and muddle thoroughly so you have lime juice in the glass. Add ice, pour the mango mix in and top with a bit of club soda or seltzer.
Summer evenings in the neighborhood can be wonderful. Occasionally on a Friday some of us neighbors bring out folding chairs and sit together in one front yard for a bit of happy hour while the kids go mental on someone else’s lawn. It’s pretty much BYO, but we do mix up a pitcher of experimental cocktails sometimes. Or at least I do.
These Passionfruit Mojitos (which I call “Monrojitos” after our street) were very pretty and tasty. I brought over a cooler with the rum mix, lime wedges, mint and ice, and we muddled each drink individually, which made it festive, somehow. Individuals can adjust lime if they want it a bit more tart.
(This recipe gives general proportions. For a pitcher, measure by the Cup; for individual servings use ounces)
3 parts white rum
2 parts passionfruit juice or nectar (nectar will be sweeter)
1 part sugar syrup (put equal parts water and white sugar in a saucepan, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer until slightly thickened; 1 Cup of sugar and one of water will yield about 1.5 Cups of syrup)
1 part agave syrup
Mint leaves (you’ll need at least three per glass)
Limes, quartered (at least two quarters per glass)
Club soda or seltzer
Mix rum, juice and syrup in a pitcher or bottle you can close tightly and keep chilled. When you are ready to serve, place mint and lime in each glass and muddle (squeeze and press so tha the juices come out). Add ice, pour desired amount of rum mixture and top with a bit of club soda.
We spent the better part of last summer in Puerto Rico, and among the tasty things that my little guy fell in love with was tembleque, a jiggly (temblar means to tremble) dessert that falls somewhere between pudding and flan. I promised him we’d make it back in New York, and this weekend, for a dinner with some dear Nassau Community College colleagues with whom I serve on the Latin American Studies Committee, I delivered.
Who knew it was so, so easy to make that my seven-year-old could do it almost completely on his own? All I had to do was pour the hot mixture into the mold. I adapted a recipe from Cocine a Gusto (University of Puerto Rico Press), which is one of my go-tos for traditional Puerto Rican recipes.
In future we will make it with homemade coconut milk (all you have to do is pour hot water over coconut flakes and strain, but more on that next time), but in the interests of expediency (I also made pollo guisado, black beans and pink beans from scratch, and yuca salad, so I had my hands full) I just used canned.
Next time you want a fun dessert that takes your tastebuds to the tropics, tembleque is the ticket!
2 14 oz. cans coconut milk
½ Cup corn starch
½ Cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
Place coconut milk, corn starch, sugar and salt in a heavy bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil at medium high, stirring constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Add vanilla, stir and pour the mix into a slightly moistened mold (a smooth pie tin for one, or six ramekins for individual servings). Chill for at least three hours or at most 48. Turn tembleque out of mold(s), sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.
When the heat gets tropical, so should the drinks.
View from Noelia’s where you can sit out on the deck and chat while waiting for dinner. See rapidly disappearing sangría in my mom’s hand
On a recent trip to the mountains of Puerto Rico, I was inspired by a wonderfully cooling and exotic sangría I had up around and about El Yumque (Caribbean National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. Forest Service system) at Noelia’s, recommended to us by Matthew at our hotel, Casa Cubuy EcoLodge — which is simple and wonderful and part of the rainforest.
Noelia’s is an eclectic and friendly joint, with loads of Puerto Rico memorabilia and drums!
Your balcony looks out on the mountain, with walks to several rivers and waterfalls right out the back door.
View from the balcony at Casa Cubuy
It was a wonderful night with a local couple and Noelia herself telling us tales of their region and showing up the island of Vieques in the distance, spotting palomas sabaneras (an indigenous and endangered bird) in the trees, coqui frogs in the kitchen keeping Noelia company, eating garlicky mofongo and seafood from the nearby coast (the little guy sucking on the bones of his delicious fried chicken).
There’s moonshine up in those mountains and we brought some of that home too, but I am not revealing my sources. Note that our moonshine is a potent cane rum, best mellowed with local flavors like coconut and passionfruit.
A boy’s paradise
So when I got back to sea level, it was clearly time to enjoy some of that flavor and bring back the cool of the high hills. I used a couple of tablespoons of moonshine, but I offer worthy substitutions in the recipe. Continue reading
There are a number of land crab species skittering about Caribbean coastlines. Some are edible and the one we eat most here in Puerto Rico (although I am told they mostly are imported from Venezuela these days) is Cardisoma guanhumi which we call juey and — if you are English-speaking — you might call the blue land crab.
If you live in South Florida, you might call it a pest. You should actually be calling it lunch!
Salmorejo de jueyes, or stewed land crab, is a delicacy in Puerto Rico. Crabs that are caught are typically held for a few days in a chicken wire cage and fed corn or other vegetable scraps to clean the system. Here’s a link to how they prep them in St. John’s. Folks drive miles on a Sunday to inland restaurants with a good reputation for salmorejo.
You can substitute fish broth
My dad recently got a pint of meat already prepared and out of the shell (although the carapaces — main body shell — is important for flavor and left in) from the Plaza de Mercado de Mayagüez on a recent Puerto Rico trip and set about making by far the best salmorejo I have ever had. We sucked on the shells and licked the plates.
Cook it up good!
So without further ado: salmorejo de jueyes. Continue reading
In Puerto Rico we call it guingambó (geen-gahm-BOH) or variations on that word, which seems to derive from the original African term for it. You may know it as okra (which may be another African derivative) or ladyfingers for the elegant shape of its conical pods. Usually bright green, there are gorgeous red varieties too (the red color doesn’t really hold up in cooking, unfortunately). It’s available year-round in hot places, but in the Northeast, it is a summer to early fall vegetable.
From the farmer’s market
It is said to originate in Abbysinia/Ethiopia/Eritrea and made its way across Africa and eventually to the Americas where it was particularly embraced in the Caribbean and Southern — especially French –U.S. There were loads of Africans imported against their will to those regions but okra came with them and it happens to grow well there. And they had to do a lot of the cooking so they incorporated it in creative ways.
Gumbo, that deservedly beloved stew cook-up from the New Orleans area,was thickened with okra and probably gets its name from that same African word that sounds like guingambó, although you might think that “gummy” has something to do with it too. After all, that gooey stuff inside called “mucilage” definitely brings things together. Today it is gaining popularity amongst non-Southern, non-Caribbean people and that is a good thing! You can bread and fry it, which is on my list to try soon, and when my CSA farm has some I will eat it raw and love it up, but the way I adore it is stewed.
A little ham for sweetness and depth
My dad claimed not to like okra for the usual reason: TOO GOOEY! But then I brought some red okra home fresh from an organic farm in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico (Productos Sana) and he went at it and changed his mind. Funnily enough, my late maternal grandmother (Puerto Rican) used to make a delicious stew. My dad (Aruban), in his experimenting, inadvertently ended up creating the same dish with nearly the same flavors as she used and I am very happy!
This was the version before Pedro was scolded into chopping it in rounds the way my grandmother did. Easier to eat.
The recipe is below, but first, a few valuable links for food history nerds. Continue reading
When they talk about flakes of manna falling from the sky, I am sure they are talking about tostones de panapén.
Chunks browned lightly
Panapén or pana is what Puerto Ricans call breadfruit. The back story of how breadfruit got to the West Indies from South East Asia is actually one of the most famous seafaring tales around: The Mutiny on the Bounty.
The LeBron Brothers are the guys in the Plaza de Mercado de Mayagüez (where my great-grandfather brought his produce and my great-uncle had a booth in the early 1900s) who supply me with the good stuff, already peeled and pared!
Captain Bligh, on that ill-fated trip was trying to bring breadfruit to plant in the Caribbean for cheap slave food.
I love empanadas. The “pan” part of the word comes from the word for bread in Spanish, and empanadas are basically stuffed bread pockets. That’s basically…they have many permutations and depending where you are from they might be made with corn dough, wheat flour, fried or baked. They may be stuffed with meat or chicken or seafood or vegetables. We also call them pastelillos in Puerto Rico, pastel referring to pies, much like meat pies are hand-held dough pockets in other places.
Entry-level empanadas…premade discs. Do not be ashamed! I am not.
Regular readers know that my son and I are not big sandwich eaters, but empanadas actually do the same job and we love those. You can pack them up for a picnic, grab them on the run and eat them in the car, have them for an afternoon snack after school, serve them as appetizers with an aperitif when your guests walk in the door.
Improvised rolling pin. Yet another reason to enjoy wine responsibly (photo: Ashley Fifer)
Every country seems to have a version of empanadas; Jamaican meat patties, Indian samosas, even Chinese dim sum (potstickers) could be called empanadas.
This year I want to explore the world of empanadas. My friend Ashley and my godson Sean have agreed to go on this journey with me (and calling them out here is my way of holding them to it). Ashley was my cooking buddy for this first go and took the picture of me rolling the dough. Continue reading
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
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
“What!?!”you are asking yourself. “Bananas with garlic!?! Eeeeew!!!!”
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.
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