Tag Archives: Puerto Rican

2014: The Year of the Empanada (first in an occasional series)

18 Jan

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.

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

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.

Picadillo

Picadillo

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

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

Continue reading

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

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

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.

 

Top Ten Easy Latin Bean Recipes (Fiesta de Frijoles y Habichuelas)

3 Apr

Some of you have reported hunting down my bean recipes. Well here are some of my faves, all gathered in one place! Just click on the image to get to the recipe.

Make it yourself and enjoy whichever texture you prefer!

Home-made refried beans! (Vegan, but you’d never know)

Five Minute Black beans - I KID YOU NOT - FIVE MINUTE PREP

Five Minute Black beans – I KID YOU NOT – FIVE MINUTE PREP

Garbanzos con chorizo (chick peas and hot dry Spanish sausage)

Garbanzos con chorizo (chick peas and hot dry Spanish sausage)

Continue reading

Sweet and Savory Churrasco (Skirt Steak, Grilled)

13 Jan

You may ask whether I am cooking at all lately, seeing as I have been posting more of my dad, Pedro’s recipes than my own.

Truth is, I have been cooking as much as usual, but sticking to my go-to recipes like Spinach Pasta, Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken), and the like. I am prepping  for when my semester begins, taking my Leandro-free vacation time to catch up on many things and stocking the freezer!

Churrasco

Churrasco

But during the holidays we were on family vacation in Puerto Rico and between the holiday dishes like Perníl (Roast Pork Shoulder) and Better Than Perfect Latin White Rice and the rare opportunity for me to have the time to really watch him go…well I did  a lot of looming over his shoulder thrusting measuring implements at him and observing and taking notes (which is what we should all be doing around our favorite family cooks). And now I am catching you up on some of my favorite Padushi recipes. (and scroll down for one of my favorite images from our trip!) Continue reading

Latin-Style Yellow Rice (Arroz Amarillo)

10 Jan

“I was looking for a yellow rice recipe on your blog and I couldn’t find one,” says my dear friend Deborah the other day. “What kind of a Puerto Rican are you?”

Since Deborah’s people also hail from the Island of Enchantment, I cannot share my answer on a family blog.

2013-01-10 06.31.28  And in fact, my answer — however clever — did not reflect the exact truth. I am the kind of Puerto Rican who adds a packet of Sazón to the rice and leaves it at that. But I wasn’t telling her that! After all, she is a chef, owner of Cuvée Seafood & Grill at The Greenporter in Long Island’s North Fork, a proponent of real food — not little packages of MSG –, and was asking for a recipe to try out.

Continue reading

Grilled Cornish Game Hens: Three Marinades for a Crowd or for One

26 Dec

Ah the illusions of youth!

Rock Cornish Game Hens were such a fancy thing to eat when I was little. They were so cute and golden when they came out of the oven; a half a bird each for me and my brother, and one each for our parents, basted in a peach sauce that was lovely and sweet. (Keep reading for Puerto Rican, Greek and Mesquite marinades!)

These little birds, almost invariably sold frozen into hand-held cannonballs, seemed to me to be an exotic species (don’t laugh, those of you from Cornwall) and having been an eager reader of all things Annie Oakley and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and other tough girl survivor books in the days before Katniss Everdeen and I imagined that these little birds were hunted by young folks with charming accents, roaming the plains of Cornwall (do you even have plains in Cornwall?) in home-made clothes, with rifles or intriguing traps or somesuch.

Itty bitty

Itty bitty

Continue reading

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