Category Archives: Sides

Way Southern Grits and Greens Casserole

All y’all Southerners out there know and love this casserole.  It’s rich with cream,  two kinds of cheese and lots of bacon.  However, the addition of collards and tomatoes shine brightly through to make this one damn fine dish.  I’m crazy about grits.  I could eat them every.single.day.  But I wasn’t raised on them.  Oh, no.  Remember, Mama couldn’t cook, she grew up in a world where nice girls didn’t cook…”we have help for that”, besides grits ain’t Puerto Rican.  No.  I was introduced to grits when I was in college in Macon, Georgia.  I was close with some girls in another sorority, I had pledged the wrong sorority but that’s neither here nor there, and consequently ran around with a few Phi Mu’s who are still incredibly close to my heart.  These are girls who grew up in Macon… Southern… utterly, thoroughly, to the core, Allman brothers, Fincher’s Bar-B-Q, ATO, SAE, fix your hair, put on lipstick, Southern.  I don’t remember what BettyGeorge’s daddy did, but Parks’ daddy was a physician and bred roses.  All the girls in Macon called Parks’ daddy the minute they were engaged, “Doctuh Popejoy? Hey! It’s Elizabeth Louise and I’m gettin’ married in May.  Do you think you might could do the roses for the weddin’?”  Every girl wanted Dr. Popejoy’s roses.  Anyway, the morning I first tasted grits, Parks was to pick me up in her car and then we were to go on to BettyGeorge’s house and from there probably to some day drinking party or something event I’ll never recall.  I always thought “George” was Betty’s first or middle name but years later I found out it was her last name, though, to me, she’ll ALWAYS be BettyGeorge, one name, first name.  Regardless, Parks pulled up to my dorm, tooted the horn and off we went.  We laughed and chatted as she flew through the twisted streets of Macon when suddenly we slowed, entered huge wrought gates and stopped in front of the most gorgeous, majestic estate encircled by enormous, ancient trees dripping with Spanish moss.  The windows were floor to ceiling; the front door double and very, very thick.  The house was positively exquisite in every possible way. Now, Gentle Reader, I had traveled a good bit.  I had seen many a stately home.  I had not just fallen off the turnip truck.  But this was something else.  My jaw actually dropped.  As Parks popped out of the driver’s side of the car I turned to her and asked in complete disbelief, “THIS is Betty George’s house??”  Parks whooped and laughed while announcing, “No! I just always wanted to do this!  C’mon…we gotta get outa here before we get caught for trespassing!”  Gosh, but that was one good-looking piece of property.  Two seconds later we pulled into BettyGeorge’s house, Park’s let herself in and we met BettyGeorge in the kitchen.  Her parents weren’t home so we flopped down as teenagers are wont to do while BettyGeorge poured us glasses of sweet tea in faceted glasses, none of that plastic stuff.  As I sat I spied a cast iron skillet on the stove with a few golden rectangles each about the size of a pack of cards still glistening with oil and I innocently asked, “What’s that?”  They both whirled around and replying, “That?  Are you kidding?  You can’t be serious.”  “No, really.  I mean, I don’t know.  What is it?”, I questioned, embarrassed that I, clearly, didn’t know what “that” was.  “Those are fried grits,  shug!  Haven’t you ever had ’em?”  “No!”, I emphatically answered, “My mother doesn’t cook.”  They shot each other that pathetic, “Oh, God. Poor li’l thang” look.  I didn’t care.  I’d gone my entire life hungry and I did not care.  Just explain it to me, okay?  You don’t have to feel sorry for me, only will you please fill me in?  And they did.  Both girls ever so patiently explained to me that all manner of dishes can be made from grits, whether they be left over from breakfast or not.   All manner of ingredients could be added to them from cheese to sausage to greens.  There were only two rules.  The first, and most important, never, ever prepare quick or instant grits.  Ever.  Just don’t do it.  It’s nasty.  Only old-fashioned, regular grits will do.   You WILL know the difference.  And number two.  Always, always, always stir the liquid to make a “tornado” while slowly pouring in the grits.  And there ya go.  I’m pretty certain those girls have absolutely no recollection of that morning in BettyGeorge’s kitchen,  but I do.  It was magic.  Southern magic.  Make this.  You’ll swoon.

This casserole is beyond perfect for brunch or a special occasion.  It’s one of the dishes I’ll be serving this Easter Sunday.  It’s rich and gorgeous and everyone goes crazy over it.  All ingredients can be prepared in advance except the grits.  That said, cook up the grits before church, mix it all together, slap it in the oven and take off.  When you come home the casserole will be all warm and bubbly.  Btw, sliced spring onions scattered over the top right before serving are really great.

Way Southern Grits and Greens Casserole

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 15 or 16 regular bacon slices or 10 thick sliced bacon slices
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely grated
  •  1 1 pound bag frozen, chopped collard greens
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, well-drained
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups grits, not instant or quick cooking
  • 1 1/4 cups parmesan cheese, grated and divided
  • 1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, grated and divided
  • 2-3 pinches red pepper flakes, optional
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350° and grease a 9X13 casserole dish and set aside.
  2. In a large skillet cook the bacon, set aside to drain on paper towels and discard bacon fat leaving 3 tablespoons in the pan.
  3. Add the onions and garlic to the pan and cook until soft and clear.
  4. Add the collards, stirring continuously until completely coated with the onions and garlic.
  5. Add tomatoes and pepper flakes, stir well and turn off heat.
  6. To a large pot add the heavy cream, half and half, chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  7. Drop the heat to simmer, and stirring the liquid with a large whisk, slowly pour the grits into the boiling liquid.
  8. Continue whisking until the grits are done according to the package directions, 15-20 minutes.
  9. Add to the grits 1 cup of parmesan and 1 1/4 cups of Monterey Jack to the grits, stirring until melted.
  10. Add the collard mixture to the grits and gently fold until well combined.
  11. Pour the collard and grits mixture into the baking dish.
  12. Top the dish with the remaining parmesan and Monterey Jack.
  13. Crumble the bacon and scatter over the casserole evenly.
  14. Bake until golden on top or serve at room temperature.

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Fried Green Plantain Chips

One of the highlights of our summers in Puerto Rico was our trips into Viejo San Juan, Old San Juan.  Cynthia and I would be taken by our aunt, Madrinita, and, of course, Mama would accompany us.  It was an all-day affair of shopping at my aunt’s favorite jewelry store, always lunch at La Mallorquina, the oldest operating restaurant in the Western Hemisphere and culminating perhaps with a tour of cellist Pedro Casals’ house.  What wonderful times we had!  In and out of shops we went, Mama buying gorgeous French and Belgian sets of tablecloths and napkins, Madrinita giving in to the siren call of a particularly lovely gold bracelet as Cynthia and I stood by watching wide-eyed and highly impressed.  My mother and aunt adored each other and this outing gave them the opportunity to spend uninterrupted hours catching up on family news and their own sister secrets.  Cynthia and I were already BFF’s so we, too, shared our own 8-year-old/six-year-old secrets, whispering that maybe, just maybe, this was the trip Madrinita would buy us some pretty little earrings, a delicate ring or exquisite charm for our bracelets.  As we grew older, Madrinita and Mama strolled ahead of us, arm in arm, chattering away.  Cynthia and I lagged behind enjoying the lazy afternoon, soaking in the beauty of cascading bougainvilla spilling off the balconies above us and the magnificence of the smooth blue cobblestones below our feet dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  One of our favorite games was to hunt for ruts and grooves cut into the cobblestones by horses dragging canons up to the fort and back.  Puerto Rico was a Spanish territory, a jewel in their crown, and the Spaniards were quick to defend it against land attacks.  We were content with the pleasures of the sun on our skinny, little arms, the soft padding sound of our shoe leather against the rounded cobblestones and the dichotomy between the loud, riot of colors and the quiet, graciousness of the residents.  Toward the end of the day Cynthia and I tended to unravel.  After a day  of walking and getting too much sun we both needed energy, a small pick-me-up to tide us over until we got back to home base: our grandparent’s house.  On every corner it seems there was a minute wooden cart, always gaily painted a bright red, shielded from the searing afternoon rays of the sun by a striped awning or umbrella.  Alongside the cart and in the shade sat the vendor usually on a folded, wooden chair, wearing a straw hat and welcoming us with a brilliantly white and friendly smile.  All the vendors were kind and patient with us, treating us as the adults we had yet to be.  Some sold ice cream, some snow cones shaved from huge blocks of ice and others offered little bags of plantain chips gathered in small, wax paper bags, folded at the top and fastened with one staple in the center of the parcel.  We were, and still are, crazy about them.  Each bag was 10¢.  When enjoying these plantain chips with my husband, Jimmy, he pointed out it gives new meaning to “dime bag”.  But they were a fabulous treat for us and gave us the stamina needed until we reached home.  We loved everything about them, from the “snap” of the first chip down to the bits of salt at the bottom of every bag.  Another perfect ending to a perfect day.

This is one hors d’oeuvre you won’t often see here in the states unless you are at a gathering with Latinos.  Plantain chips are easy and quick to prepare.  And although they are fried, you will find that properly stored, the chips stay fresh and crisp for two or three days after preparing…if they last that long.  In fact, I find their flavor almost deeper the following day.  Plantain chips are typically served as an appetizer or snack but my family and I love them crumbled over shrimp, fish or mixed green salad.  We like them sprinkled with sea salt or drizzled with a little chimichurri sauce. They marry exceptionally well with all manner of sea food.  This recipe may be doubled or tripled and if not serving immediately, do not need to be reheated. Just serve them at room temperature.  The thick, hard peel of the green plantain has to come off, easily done but not as easy as peeling a yellow banana.  Plantains stain your fingers so I always wear disposable gloves.  The following is how I peel them.  You will find 3-4 ridges running lengthwise on each plantain.  Using a paring knife cut through the peel down the length of the plantain taking care not to cut into the flesh.  Starting at the top, slide your finger under the skin and pry each section away.  I run the paring knife lightly over the surface of each plantain to scrape off any bits of peel left behind.  You’ll see the flecks of peels as they will turn gray in color making it easy to scrape off any missed.  The chips are thinly sliced into a 1/16″ thickness.  I use a lightweight mandoline that makes slicing the plantains a snap but obviously a sharp kitchen knife will work just fine.  Some people then give the sliced plantains a quick rinse of salted water, drain them well, then fry them.  The rinsing keeps the starchy slices from sticking together.  However, I find no matter how well I drain them there is always a certain amount of moisture causing the hot oil to pop so I don’t rinse.  It’s up to you.  I keep my gloves on while frying, also, to avoid any stains as my fingers touch the slices while dropping them into the hot oil.  Last of all, and this is important, the very second you take the chips out of the hot oil and drain on paper towels sprinkle them with sea salt.  The tiny bit of oil on them will help the salt to stick whilst the oil drains off.

Fried Green Plantain Chips

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 green plantains
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • sea salt
  1. Peel the plantains and cut into round slices 1/16″ thick, about the thickness of a quarter.
  2. In a frying pan heat about 2-3 inches vegetable or canola oil to a little lower than high, about 375°.
  3. If rinsing the slices do so now.  Fill a large bowl with salted water, put the sliced plantains in the water, swirl with your hand and drain in a colander.   Pat dry with paper towels.
  4. Carefully drop the chips into the hot oil in batches.  I typically fry one sliced plantain at a time.
  5. As the slices hit the hot oil, stir with a spider or slotted spoon to keep the chips from sticking together.
  6. Fry until golden, about 3-4 minutes, gently stirring all the while to ensure even cooking.
  7. With the spider or slotted spoon, remove the chips and transfer to paper towels to drain.
  8. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt and serve.
  9. If serving another time, store the cooled plantain chips in an airtight gallon freezer bag or plastic container.

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Make it Mofongo

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In Puerto Rico if pork is king, and by the way it is, then the prince would have to be the exquisite plantain…in all its forms.  Plantains can be boiled, baked or fried.  They can be mashed, shredded or creamed.  Green or ripe, the starchy member of the banana family is a favorite through out the Latin Caribbean and is used in a myriad of dishes including stuffed into many a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving turkey! Although its roots hail from Africa, the plantain immigrated and laid down permanent roots in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Colombia, Peru through to the Amazon region.  To say plantains are wildly popular in these places is an understatement.  Mofongo is made from fried green plantains which are then mashed in a mortar and pestle with fresh garlic, salt and olive oil.  It can be served alone or with crispy pork cracklins mashed in.  Often a well is fashioned in the middle of the mofongo mass and spicy shrimp or lobster or savory chicken or pork chunks  are stuffed in.  A small bowl of homemade chicken broth is served on the side to wet the dish.  It’s crazy good!  We NEVER had mofongo at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico.  Every once in a blue moon my grandmother would prepare tostones for us, which are like flat, round plantain fries; crunchy and salty on the outside,  earthy and almost creamy in the middle.  But mofongo?  Uh uh.  Not in our house.  Even so, when I lived in Puerto Rico as a young girl  in her 20’s, I discovered the glory and wonder of the mashed plantain at the beach with friends.  Mofongo is made all over the island but is especially good at the beach.

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A good number of beaches boast kiosks which sell all manner of local island fare and are known for their mouth-watering dishes, mofongo being one of them.  I remember my first bowl was stuffed with local crab.  One bite and I was head over heels in love.  You’ll often here laughter when crabs are discussed on the island.  Local crabs are sometimes fed by hand and almost raised as family pets.  The incredible sweetness of the meat will convince you as to the love of local seafood.  Often at these kiosks when seafood is ordered, the person who is preparing your meal in front of you will mention in passing, “You’ll love these little fried fish!  They come from the waters a couple of miles down the road.  You can’t get them anywhere else on the island.”  Rum and rum drinks are sold with a smile to anyone old enough to order.   The beat of salsa and reggaeton spills down the beach.  Gorgeous girls stroll up and down the beach and, as in so many post-colonial territories, they walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm, as sisters would.  The water is almost always clear as an aquamarine… you’ll want to stay all day… with two fingers of local rum and a bowl of mofongo.  Buen Provecho!

Mofongo

  • Servings: 5-6 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 7-8 green plantains
  • 1-2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5-6 tablespoons olive oil to taste
  • vegetable oil for frying

 

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When you go to the store make certain you purchase plantains and not green sweet bananas.  You cannot peel and eat green plantains raw.  Notice in the photo above plantains have three or four, sometimes five ridges or sides running up and down the plantains.  A small paring knife is all you need to score each ridge from top to bottom to make peeling easy.  Use your finger or the paring knife to ease under the peel, separating the skin from the plantain.  Work from section to section.  Cut the plantains in 1″-1 1/2″  pieces and drop into a bowl with water that has been salted, 2-3 tablespoons of salt will do.  After 15 minutes, drain, dry and set aside.

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While the vegetable oil is heating up in your frying pan, crush the garlic and salt together in a mortar and pestle to make a smooth paste.  Set aside.

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Pour vegetable in a large frying pan over medium heat.  When hot carefully place as many plantain pieces in pan as will fit, cut sides up and down and fry for 7 minutes.  You don’t want to brown them just cook them so adjust the temperature accordingly.  After the first 7 minutes turn the plantains over and fry for another 7 minutes.  Drain on paper towels and fry the remaining pieces the same way; 7 minutes on each side.  While the last plantains are frying take 3-4 of the cooked, drained pieces and drop into the garlic-salt mixture in the mortar.  Using the pestle, crush the cooked plantains to make a fairly smooth mash.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of good olive oil and salt to taste to each batch of mashed plantains.  Leave the mash in the mortar as you add more and more chunks of plantains.  Work quickly while the fried plantains are warm so they absorb the flavors of the salt, garlic and olive oil.  Continue until all plantain pieces have been fried and mashed.  Serve immediately or as soon as you can.

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Rosti, the perfect late night potato cake…with scallions and bacon

Snowy bank of fluffy potatoes just waiting for butter.
Snowy bank of fluffy potatoes just waiting for butter.

After a night of clubbing, dancing and partying, nothing is more welcome than a plate of straightforward carbs. Throw some high quality fat in the mix and we’ll be good to go.  Rosti, or Swiss potato cake is it.  I used to keep a large boiled potato in the refrigerator and prepare it all the time.  It seem like hundreds of years ago when I lived in Atlanta, that I would eventually make my way home at the end of some crazy night… well, you get the picture.  I got in late, okay?  I had a few different apartments during that time, each one lovely and charming with its own mind bending fusion of quirky, funky and downright bizarre neighbors.  One place was on Frederica Street, affectionately called “Fred” by my cronies and me, perched at the top of a hill.  This is back when Atlanta still had character, color and stories were being made.  It was some kinda fast livin’.  Anyway, across the street from my apartment lived the scariest looking guy you ever did see in what little kids would have called a haunted house if a child had ever walked down the street and seen the house.  Falling apart from top to bottom, it looked as though it should have been condemned.  Old tires, cement blocks and general crap was thrown anywhere and everywhere.  A few of the windows had been covered with tin foil.  It was dark and menacing, the cheap curtains hung on the remaining windows were always drawn and the flickering blue of a television set was the only light at night casting eerie shadows on his already freaky looking property.  Creepy.  Every now and again my neighbor friends, Lee and Desiree, and I would see a big, hefty man emerge, always wearing a black wife beater, dirty jeans stained with oil and black boots that had seen their better days.  Even in the dead of winter this was his uniform.  He sported an enormous handlebar mustache that spanned from ear to ear and wore his long, greasy hair slicked back, his gold hoop earring gleaming wickedly.  And he was ancient.  Had to have been at least 50!  Well, as it happened, my neighbors and I had spent the good part of an afternoon well into cocktails when we spied this ol’ monster of a man poking around in his front yard.  Filled with 101-proof liquid courage the three of us excitedly decided to cross the street, introduce ourselves and, maybe, make a new friend.  We took the jug o’ brown with us.  Over we went and when he saw us approaching he scowled, his face filled with distrust and irritation.  By then it was too late to turn back, so with plastered smiles on our faces we stuck out our hands, made our introductions and let the jug be seen.  Honey, when that man caught sight of that bottle his face lit up like a damn Christmas tree.  “Felix.”, he said sweetly, “Felix Kowalski.” I happily replied, “Well, Fee, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you!”  From that day forward he was known to us as “Fee” and although he never crossed the street and visited us, not once, we came and went, in and out of his house just as happy as you please.  He had become our friend.  I always made way too much food and regularly took him plates that he seemed to just suck down.  Although Fee was from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, I remember…Mott Street, that giant was a softie.  The man had adopted every cat in the area, fed them and welcomed them into his home.  On authority but off the record from others in the hood, he would sell anyone in need a joint…for $1.00.  But listen to this.  And this is what I loved about him.  Big, burly Fee was fully and unreservedly addicted to the “Smurfs” cartoon show.  The Smurfs!  Remember those little blue characters?  Yeah, well, he was like a little boy when that program came on.  He was up at all hours watching that show.  So when I came home from a night of partying, I’d start this dish and while the potatoes were browning in the pan I’d take a hot shower and, time I got out, flip them to brown on the other side.  Regardless of the time, Fee always answered his door with a smile on his face, eager to dig into some warm, homemade food.  This was one of his favorites.  Mine, too.

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Rosti is really like a round hash brown cake and can be prepared with solely potatoes or with a few herbs and  meat.  The dish is served all over Switzerland and, as you can well imagine, every recipe is different.  Some grate their potatoes raw, others boil their potatoes, jackets on, then grate them. I lean towards the latter method, it’s always worked for me.  By boiling the whole potatoes you’re more likely to end up with a golden, crispy crust and a creamy, buttery inside, which is exactly what you want.  If you’re hesitant to try this, half the recipe and start with a small, non-stick skillet, way easier to flip.  It’s a great winter side for chicken and meats or even as an entrée with a salad.

 

Rosti, Potato Cake

  • 3 pounds russet potatoes, boiled in their skins and completely cooled.  That’s about 3 large potatoes
  • 10 slices smoked, thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 5 scallions, chopped, dark green tops reserved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided, 3 and 2
  • salt and pepper
  1. Remove skins from potatoes and, using a box grater, grate potatoes on the largest holes and into a large bowl.  Set aside.
  2. Cook bacon then remove with a slotted spoon from pan to a paper towel to drain.  Reserve bacon grease in skillet.
  3. Add the cooked bacon, the white chopped scallions and a bit of salt and pepper to the potatoes and very gently toss trying not to break up the potato shreds.
  4. To the pan with the bacon grease add the olive oil and 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
  5. When butter foams up add the potato mixture, pressing down with the back of the spoon to smooth and shape the rosti.
  6. Drop the temperature to low and allow to slowly brown for at least 20 minutes.  Shake the pan occasionally to loosen the cake.  Run a rubber spatula around the rim of the pan to shape the rosti.
  7. Invert potato cake to a plate or baking sheet.
  8. Raise the heat to medium and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan.
  9. When the butter foams, slide the potato cake back into the pan and cook another 10-15 minutes.
  10. Transfer to serving platter, scatter remaining scallions over the rosti and serve in wedges.

Cilantro Rice will Save the Dinner

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Why is it every time we finish preparing dinner, eating dinner then cleaning up from dinner, it seems we have to start all over again; from deciding what to have, to making a list, assembling the meal, it seems as though the cycle just doesn’t end.  Lord knows, it’s exhausting.  To add to our woes, our families become bored and disinterested when the same meal is prepared over and over.  I know I could eat salad EVERY SINGLE NIGHT but, for some reason, my husband and son revolt on day number 2.  Precious little time and money also contribute to the problem.  As luck would have it, I ran across an article in the New York Times cooking section that brought to mind something I keep on hand, in the freezer, that I had completely forgotten about.  I puree large quantities of cilantro, fresh baby spinach, a little onion and garlic and a bit of lime zest together in the food processor and, after freezing the mixture in ice-cube trays, I transfer the frozen cubes to a plastic freezer bag for soups, stews and anything else that might need a blast of color or flavor.  I had forgotten about them because my freezer is an ice-covered disaster.  I label everything but the freezer’s small and packed…and…whatever.  I can’t go into it.  I’ll get all angry and mean.  Just believe me when I say these cilantro cubes are just the ticket to wake up a dreary, tiresome dinner.  I add five or six of these babies to a pot of rice cooking and my dinner has completely changed.  My leftover chicken thighs stand up a bit taller next to cilantro rice and sliced tomatoes.  Leftover steak and grilled shrimp or fish love cozying up to the bright and cheerful side dish.  I prepare the cilantro puree in batches, mix it all together in a large bowl then divvy it up into the ice-cube trays.  After the cubes have frozen solid I’ll put them in a labeled freezer bag, squeeze out the air and flatten the bag for easy storage in the freezer.  I add a bit less water to the pot if I’m preparing rice, maybe one or two tablespoons less per cube.  Towards the end of the rice’s cooking time I check to see if more water is needed and if the color is to my liking.  If the rice has a little too much water I’ll remove the lid of the pot and allow that excess to steam off.  I might add another cube or two or only water if that’s what’s needed.  But I find cilantro rice is a welcome change from plain white or brown, jasmine or basmati.  The spinach gives almost no flavor but deepens the rich emerald color.  The onion, garlic and lime zest takes this condiment to another savory level.  They take away the raw harshness that a strong cilantro taste can sometimes bring.  I add no salt as I can season the dish itself later.  So tuck this recipe under your bonnet and the next time you find yourself wanting to rattle around in the kitchen consider preparing this.  Keep the cubes on hand and you’ll buy yourself shortcut and a culinary hack.  Your sweet family will love you for it!

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Cilantro Cubes

  • Servings: 2 ice cube trays or 28
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 large bunches fresh cilantro, washed, dried and leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 8-ounce bag baby spinach leaves
  • 2 bunches flat leaf parsley, washed, dried and leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • zest of two limes

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  1. Working in batches, combine all ingredients in your food processor pulsing until mixture has pureed.
  2.  Transfer mixture to ice cube trays or storage containers and freeze until ready to use.

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Puerto Rican Guava Hand Pies

IMG_7492 Pastelillos are almost bar food. They’re good at family get togethers, poolside and right now while we’re watching the World Cup. They’re all kinds of stuffings sweet and savory for these little pies. They can be made cocktail size or larger to stand in as breakfast or lunch on the fly. Just about all cultures have these. My niece, Elizabeth, just left a day or two ago for Delhi working on a 6 month project. She’ll find some spectacular hand pies there such as spicy curried potato pies, curried lamb and curried lentil. I made for this lazy, Sunday afternoon guava and cheese hand pies. They’re deep-fried, easy and delicious. Here’s the hook. The dough is already made, rolled out and cut into perfect rounds. All you have to do is stuff them and drop them into a waiting pan of hot oil. The guava paste can be purchased at the grocery store. It’s a gorgeous, deep garnet color, sticky and firm. It will melt in the pie while frying. Cream cheese is great in the pie as well as “queso fresco”, a crumbly, salty white cheese. It’s a savory-sweet match made in heaven. One day soon I will post a recipe for the meat filling, picadillo. Truly. I promise. Meantime, I’m dropping these bad boys in hot fat and rooting for Greece. Pame Ellada!   Well, as we all know now Greece did not make it.  These hand pies are perfect to drown your sorrows.  That and a tall, stiff drink.  They’re perfect for an impromptu get together because they’re easy and totally unexpected.  The sweet-salty mix goes well with all manner of drinks and people think guava’s so exotic.  And quite frankly, it is!  Back to the dough.  The pastelillo rounds are in the Hispanic frozen food section of your grocery store.  They come 10 to a package and should be defrosted in the refrigerator otherwise they can get a little soggy.  Goya makes them as well as some other companies.  Try to find guava paste in the tin; I find it to have the most flavor.  The outside of the fried pastelillos will look blistered and puffed up when finished.  Oh!  And let them cool a bit after draining on paper towels.  The hot guava paste is like molten lava in your mouth!  Buen provecho!

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GUAVA AND CHEESE HAND PIES

yield:  20 large or 40 cocktail size

  • 2 packages pastelillo dough rounds, each package containing 10, for cocktail size cut each round in half
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, minced into small cubes
  • 8 ounces guava paste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Place one dough round on your work surface, dip your finger or a pastry brush into the egg and lightly paint the egg wash on the edge of just one half of the dough.
  2. Onto one half of the dough round place a tablespoon of both guava paste and cream cheese or cheese of your choice.  For cocktail size use half the amount cheese and guava.
  3. Fold the pastelillo in half.  Using a fork press the edges together to form a tight seal.  If there are any holes in the dough makes sure they are pinched closed because if the paste or cheese leaks out into your pan you’re going to have a great, big mess.
  4. Repeat with all the rounds until finished and set aside.
  5. In a large frying pan heat about 2-3 inches of oil to 350° or medium high.  Add the stuffed pastelillos being careful not to crowd the pan.  Fry on each side 2-3 minutes or until each side is golden.
  6. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
  7. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar to make them look pretty.

Fried Plantain Chips, Beach Food Puerto Rican Style

Doesn’t it seem as though the prettiest or most fun beaches always have the most delicious food close by? Beach food. Pick-up food. And it’s almost always hideously bad for you. But something about being in the hot sun, maybe under a thatched shack…a fruity rum drink or a cold beer in your hand makes it natural to throw caution to the wind and start ordering. Some sort of scalding hot, deep-fried, savory bit blanketed in a crispy, salty outside which will transport you to paradise with every single bite. Puerto Rico is no exception. The beaches are exquisite, some known for surfing others for sunning but all tempt with the king of naughty…hot fat. All manner of delectable morsels are fried to a golden perfection on those beaches; some amiably co-mingling with garlic or onion and cornmeal while some are happy to be fried naked with no breading what so ever. One of our favorite treats are fried, green plantains, Tostones. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside these yellow speckled rounds are perfect with an icy beer or cold rum drink. They’re served in wax paper triangles, sometimes with a garlic and olive oil sauce drizzled lightly. Perfect for a hot, lazy day in the sun!  Every now and again my grandmother would make them for us.  Not often enough so tostones were a real treat.  And reason enough for a big, family get together.  Plantains must be cooked; they cannot be eaten raw.  They look like bananas but they’re not.  Bananas are high in sugar whereas plantains are high in starch.  There are hundreds of recipes for plantains but, typically, three stages of ripeness will determine how they are prepared.  For good tostones you want hard, deep green plantains.  As they ripen plantains will begin to turn yellow and that is perfect for frying and serving as a side.  As they darken and ripen they turn black.  Don’t throw them out!  At that stage the plantains are at their sweetest and are wonderful as dessert baked in butter, sugar and rum served hot over melting vanilla ice cream.  The plantain is truly your friend.

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Fried Plantains or Tostones

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 4 large, dark green plantains
  • vegetable for frying
  • small bowl of water with 2-3 mashed up garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt for sprinkling
  1. Cut about 1″ off each end of the plantain.  Cut the plantain from end to end cutting only through the skin.
  2. Work your finger under the skin and pull the skin away from the plantain working from top to bottom.  The plantain will stain your fingers.  I’ve heard it said of a Puerto Rican newly arrived to the States, “She still has the stain of plantains” meaning she’s country or a hillbilly…”una jibara”.
  3. In a deep-frying pan heat 2″ of vegetable oil to 350° of medium high.  Cut the plantain into 1″ pieces or, if you want larger tostones, cut into 2″ pieces.
  4. Add them to the hot oil and fry until they are just starting to turn golden, about 5-6 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Leave the oil as you’ll be using it again.
  6. Place one piece of plantain on your counter and using a small plate, bowl or small pan press down firmly on the piece of plantain.  Continue with all.
  7. Bring your frying pan back up to medium high.
  8. Lightly dip each tostone into the salted garlic water and quickly but carefully return the smashed tostones to the hot frying pan.  Don’t leave the tostones long in the water or they’ll fall apart.  Just a quick dip is all they need.
  9. Fry the tostones again until they turn a rich, golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  10. Immediately sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

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