Tag Archives: easy Puerto Rican recipes

KID IN THE KITCHEN: Tembleque (Tropical Coconut Pudding)

7 Feb

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.

2015-02-05 21.03.20 temblequeWho 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.

2015-02-05 21.27.57 temblequeIn 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!

2015-02-06 19.21.31 temblequeTembleque

2 14 oz. cans coconut milk

½ Cup corn starch

½ Cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

Powdered cinnamon

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.

Sofrito for freezing (Puerto Rican mirepoix)

30 Jun

The green and lush fragrance of culantro is one of my favorite rainy day smells. In the kitchen garden I kept at my late grandmother’s house in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, I had a vigorous crop and whenever it rained, the drops activated the fragrance, the scent pervaded the house, and I got hungry!

Without culantro (which we call recao), Puerto Rican food just isn’t as vibrant; it can’t taste quite like abuela’s. It is integral to sofrito, the starter to so many recipes, including beans, soups, stews and rice dishes. It is the equivalent of the French mirepoix, that combination of sauteed/roasted onions, carrots and celery that is the base for so many Gallic dishes.

Recao – culantro

Unfortunately, culantro is not as well known in the U.S. and doesn’t grow super-well in my planting zone, although I have had some small successes over the years (Thanks to Vic Muñoz for her growing tips). So I hit the local Latin supermarket on occasion and buy some pre-cut leaves from Costa Rica. Because once cut, recao loses its potency quickly, I use twice as much as I would if I had just gone out back and snipped some. And because it is sold by quantities much bigger than I need for a single dish, whenever I do buy it, I make enough sofrito to freeze.

The same goes for ají dulce, the non-spicy small pepper that looks like a habanero, but isn’t at all spicy. I buy a bunch at once — along with the recao — and make sofrito to freeze. You have to be careful and taste it before adding it to the sofrito, because sometimes the store makes a mistake and labels the hot ones as sweet ones, or, I’ve been told, ají dulce planted too closely to ají bravo (angry, aggressive) will take on the spiciness. I can actually smell the heat when cutting habaneros (also called scotch bonnets); the volatility  is no joke.

Ají dulce – the sweet sibling to the hottie habanero

The following recipe is for those who have access to these products. If you don’t have a Latin market nearby, investigate the Asian/Indian markets, as they too use these ingredients.

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