Tag Archives: caribbean

Island Shrimp, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Curry

Isn’t it great when family members can help other family members with academics, college or careers?  One of our nieces, Meg, reached out to her Uncle Jimmy for help with a skype interview for a summer internship.  We’re so happy to learn she got it!  When Delta Airlines made moves to open a reservations office in San Juan my aunt, Madrinita, helped me out and secured an interview for me.  It was certainly no guarantee of being hired but it got my toe in the door. The rest was up to me.  Hundreds and hundreds of people were interviewed for 13 positions.  I was just out of college, young and foolish and completely unaware of any competition for these highly coveted positions.  With the beauty and confidence of one in their early 20’s, I sailed through all my interviews happy to be on a mini-vacation during the day while spending precious moments with my family at night, secure in the knowledge that the world truly was my oyster.  I scored that position myself but had my aunt not let me know, had she not set up the initial interview, that chapter of my life would have been rewritten.  I lived with my relatives for some time and although we had a few disagreements, (for instance, how can I be home by 10:00 pm if I’m not leaving the house until 11:00pm.  Right?), we all enjoyed this unexpected gift of time spent with each other.  I gained a fierce loyalty and love of the island and its people, from the cool, wet mountains down to the white, hot beaches.  I had some great times and, of course, some not so great moments but regardless, Puerto Rico is my safe haven, my refuge, the stuff of my dreams.  My hope is that you’ll pour “dos dedos”, two fingers, of rum, crank the salsa and explore this island recipe.  Buen provecho!

This recipe has so many Caribbean flavors.  Sweet potato and pumpkin are huge in the islands and linger softly in the background tone of so many dishes such as beans, soups and curries.  Coconut milk is used in both sweet and savory dishes while cilantro plays a major role in countless savory dishes.  I put a whole scotch bonnet pepper in the the pot and fish it out before serving.  If one of your guests mistakes it for a chunk of tomato they’re in for one helluva bad surprise.  If you like your food screaming hot then, by all means  mince two or three of the peppers and throw them in but I find one is just fine.  This curry is served over rice and I prefer an organic, short grain brown.  Short grain is sweeter than long and pairs well with this dish.  Please know all these ingredient amounts are easily changed.  If you’re not crazy about pumpkin then leave it out and double up on the sweet potato.  Not a fan of zucchini?  Add carrots or potatoes instead.  And basil is brilliant in place of cilantro so play around with this forgiving dish until you come up with your own island version.  Enjoy!

Island Shrimp, Sweet Potato and Zucchini Curry

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped, approximately a generous 1/2 cup
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2-3 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 1 medium size bell pepper, seeded and cut into small thin strips
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
  • 2 13.5 cans unsweetened coconut milk, lite or reduced fat is fine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 pound calabasa squash, peeled and cut into 2 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 scotch bonnet pepper, optional
  • 4 medium size zucchini, cut lengthwise into quarters then chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 1/2 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, with or without the tail, it’s your choice
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped and divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large, deep-sided saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until soft but not browned, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the bay leaves, bell pepper, tomatoes and curry powder, stirring for several minutes.
  4. Add the sweet potatoes, coconut milk and water and gently stir.
  5. Simmer 10 minutes then add the squash and scotch bonnet, if using.  Gently stir.
  6. Simmer 10 minutes or until sweet potatoes and calabasa are fork tender.
  7. Add the zucchini and cook 3-4 minutes.
  8. Add the shrimp and 1/2 cup of the cilantro and cook just until the shrimp turn pink, about 2-3 minutes.
  9. Taste for salt and pepper.
  10. Scatter remaining cilantro over curry and serve.

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Make Ahead For Easter – Guava Cream Cheese Flan, yeah baby!

IMG_8722_1024 In the days before Easter Mama always prepared one of her two signature dishes, flan.  Hers was always beyond perfection.  There were never any offensive bubble holes and, without fail, a generous amount of caramelized syrup.  I’ve told y’all before…that woman could.not.cook.  Dinners were a consistent disaster, everything was burned to a charcoal briquet level on one side.  Her solution to that problem?  Serve the dinner burn side down and no one will ever know.  That, coupled with the fact that my little sister Pamela knocked her glass of milk over just about every night, made for stressful dinners round our dining room table.  Mama just wasn’t into eating or cooking and assumed everyone else felt the same way.  But her Sunday roasts and flans were spectacular triumphs.  The dessert was always the traditional egg, milk and vanilla flan, her mother’s recipe.  In recent years many have ventured into additional flavors such as mango, coconut, guava and other Caribbean tastes.  Mama stuck with what she knew.  I find a guava cream cheese flan is easier due to the changed instructions.  For my mother’s traditional version the eggs are beaten until smooth but as lightly as possible so as not to create unsightly holes when the custard is baked.  Whereas a flan with cream cheese can be made in a food processor or blender.  The addition of the fruit and cream cheese produces a dessert much denser, almost a cheesecake in texture, and no holes.  It’s rich and creamy, just perfect for a holiday.  The fact that it needs serious chilling time in the refrigerator makes for a splendid do-ahead last course. IMG_8734_1024

 

Guava Cream Cheese Flan

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 14-ounce pack guava paste, cut into pieces
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Love having fresh guavas in the kitchen. Their perfume is positively heady!
Love having fresh guavas in the kitchen. Their perfume is positively heady!
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. To a food processor or blender, I think the blender works best, add 1 cup sugar, milk, cream cheese and guava paste.  Blend until smooth.  Add the eggs, vanilla and salt and pulse until the eggs are completely broken up and incorporated into the cream cheese mixture.
  3. Heat 1 cup of sugar in 10″ round cake pan melting slowly over medium heat.  Do not stir as that will create sugar crystals and you want a smooth syrup.  Gently swirl the melted sugar, covering the bottom and sides, until the syrup turns a golden brown.
  4. Place round cake pan in a bain marie, a bain marie being a pan with hot water for slow, even cooking.  The water in  the bain marie should come up about 3/4 of the side of the cake pan.
  5. Bake for about 50 minutes then remove from oven.  Cool in bain marie.  The flan will continue cooking in the hot water.
  6. When completely cool remove cake pan from water, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.  I chill mine overnight and often a couple of days in advance of serving.
  7. When ready to serve have a serving dish or platter with a good-sized lip to catch the syrup that WILL come flying out.  Holding the flan with one hand use the other hand to firmly rap the sides of the custard loosening it.  You’ll see the flan come away from the sides of the baking pan.  Cover the top of the flan with the platter and over your sink QUICKLY invert the custard.  The flan should flop right onto the platter followed by the syrup.  If you’re not accustomed to doing this, the transfer from baking pan to serving platter can be done hours in advance when you’re not pressed for time and no one is watching.  Cover the flan with plastic wrap and place back in the refrigerator to stay cool until ready to serve.

Pollo en Escabeche, Puerto Rican Fried, Pickled Chicken

When I flew down to Puerto Rico 30…35 years ago to begin work with Delta Airlines nothing prepared me for the level of partying that took place on that island.  The island celebrates a good 26, 26!, holidays.  Both January and July have 4 public holidays!  Sure, I had spent months, whole summers, vacationing with our grandparents and making the rounds to visit all the extended family members during the holidays.  But as a child and even as a young adult, one has no idea the degree of seriousness taken to make merry until one is wholly independent.  There were scads of Lopez family parties.  All-day pig roasts were pretty common place at my Tio Enrique’s mountain farm.  Being girls my sisters, cousins and I were not privy to the surreptitious sipping of rum my male cousins and uncles enjoyed while overseeing the roasting of the pig on a spit.  Even the farm hand whose job was to stand all day and turn the spit enjoyed the fruit of the cane.  Whenever our grandfather or any of our uncles would wander up to the house they were always so relaxed and happy… there’s a big surprise.  So, after college, when I moved to Puerto Rico I completely embraced this new lifestyle of “party down”.  My friends were the kids who had also been hired by Delta; all 12 local except me.  We were known as “the Dirty Dozen”.

Just a handful of "the Dirty Dozen".
Just a handful of “the Dirty Dozen”.

Training had been incredibly rigorous and demanding.  We were often and regularly tested on airline and Delta standards and it was made perfectly clear we would not be hired if we failed.  I remember one woman crying and saying she couldn’t make it…it was too hard.  I tried to get across to her it was just a matter of memorization.  To have been hired by Delta was quite an achievement at that time.  Literally hundreds of people had applied for our 13 positions in reservations.  She quit.  Right in the middle of our six-week training.  Her name was Sonia.  I’ll never forget.  Anyway, when the weekend or any holiday rolled around we were ready.  We became really close, the 12 of us, and spent free time together.  We had parties in clubs, in each other’s homes, at the beach, really anywhere we could.  We’d dance the night away and sip on rum.

More of the "Dirty Dozen" with our beautiful Janet tearing it up with Rafa!! How I love my people!
More of the “Dirty Dozen” with our beautiful Janet tearing it up with Rafa.  How I love my people!

I remember one of the boys in our group went crabbing and I tasted for the first time crab cooked in tomatoes, wine, garlic, onions and fresh bay leaves.  The crabs were simmered in an enormous pot in the back courtyard of someone’s house.  The next day I went out and bought an equally big pot and still have it to this day.  One of the dishes I was introduced to was “Pescado en Escaveche”, ceviche or pickled fish.  It was eaten as an hors d’oeuvre, the sauce cold, tart and salty.  The fish was sweet and tender.  These tastes were most welcome on blistering, hot tropical days.  Through the years I’ve changed the recipe to feature bite sized pieces of chicken which are fried then marinated.  Steeped in a pot-pourri of vinegar, caramelized onions and black peppercorns, it’s one of those perfect pairings that need to be prepared in advance.  Yay.  I’m all for anything that can be made in advance.  Just right to serve or take to a party.  I usually offer this dish with whole grain wheat crackers, Triscuits, but I’ve also presented it with thin, toasted rounds of French bread.  It’s fantastic and no one, NO ONE, ever shows up with it!

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Pollo en Escabeche Fried and Pickled Chicken

  • Servings: 10-15
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup white or cider vinegar
  • 10-15 whole peppercorns
  • 5 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 2 pounds onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  1. In a large acid resistant pot or kettle simmer uncovered 1 cup olive oil, vinegar,  1 teaspoon salt, bay leaves and onions for about 1 hour.  Set aside to cool.
  2. Mix flour with remaining salt and toss chicken in it to completely coat.  Discard leftover flour.
  3. In a large frying pan heat remaining 1/2 cup olive oil with the garlic cloves.  As soon as the cloves begin to brown remove from pan and discard the garlic.
  4. Over medium heat cover bottom of pan with one layer of chicken frying in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan.
  5. In a Pyrex or glass container pour half the warm onion-vinegar sauce.  Add half the chicken, the remaining sauce and then the remaining chicken.  Gently toss to thoroughly coat the chicken with the sauce.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  7. Serve cold.

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Coconut Rice Pudding

 

In my house, we quote often from movies, and I’m not even a big movie goer.  The earliest quote I remember, and we used it often, was “…Ain’t got no underwear!”, from the musical, “Hair”.  Mom and Dad saw the play in Palm Beach and I saw the movie.  Dad would sing that line to us anytime one of us would ask him for money.  I guess we were supposed to feel sorry for him, no underwear = no money?  Apparently it didn’t faze us a bit as we continually went back for more.  One of my favorite movies, if not my favorite, is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  With a stellar cast of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis, it is my #1, go-to, cheer me up movie.  I will frequently quote from the movie, “Never mix, never worry”, a line I happily chose to follow in high school.  I love that movie… it’s so brutal.  And visceral.  Pamela and I have adopted a line from “Beetlejuice”, a movie we watched over and over screaming and cackling with sheer delight over some really terrific lines.  Our favorite is most often and best used in public, drawing questioning looks from strangers that are now certain those two girls are really strange losers.  It is heard most often in Publix, Target and the Dixie, when one sister unexpectedly comes upon the other.  Low, harsh and guttural, one will call the other, “Hey! AIL-VUS!!”  The head of the startled sister being called will shoot up in recognition.  We always laugh as if it’s the very first time.  At our boy’s baseball games, she and I would yell, “Hey, battuh, battuh, battuh, battuh.  Suh-WING, battuh”, from the movie everyone adores, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.  Sometimes when I say goodbye to my son, James, but only if he’s going out, not when he’s going back to school, I’ll yell as he goes through our gate, “His mama call ‘im Cassius Clay, I call ‘im Cassius Clay!” and I’m always rewarded with a blazing, white smile.   If James is going out for the evening, and in an exceptionally good mood, he might say to the dog, Pericles, “I have a date with LEEsa!”  And many an advice session has been wrapped up with a resounding, “Go on, honey. Take a chi-ance!”, again, from “Coming To America”.   So take a chance and try this rice pudding.  The same way your favorite movie makes you happy, this recipe won’t let you down.

This is an exquisite recipe from Puerto Rico, rich in spices, smooth with coconut milk and warm in comfort and steadfastness.  We fall back on it because it says the right thing to us.  It does the right thing for us.  It will fill part of the black hole.  It’s home with an offbeat twist.  All the ingredients are found at the grocery store and, lagniappe, it’s a walk away kind of recipe.  It just knows what to do and how to do it.  This is a rice pudding, cooked in coconut milk in lieu of whole milk.  Replacing vanilla, are whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, freshly bruised ginger and star anise.  We’re not in Kansas anymore.  Trust me.  It’s unbelievably satisfying!

 

Coconut Rice Pudding

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 2 cups short or medium grain rice
  • 4 cans coconut milk, don’t use lite.  Just don’t.
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large piece fresh ginger, about the size of a man’s thumb
  • 8 cinnamon sticks
  • 7 or 8 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cup raisins, (optional)
  • ground cinnamon for garnish
  1. In large bowl, wash and rinse rice in water until water runs pretty clear.
  2. Add fresh water to bowl, an inch above rice, and let soak for at least 2 hours.  This will soften the rice and keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot when cooked.
  3. When rice has soaked sufficiently, drain and add to heavy-bottomed pot along with cloves, cinnamon sticks, salt, and 3 cans of coconut milk.
  4. Take the whole piece of ginger and using something hard and heavy, I use a pestle but a wine bottle, heavy sauce pan or meat tenderizer can be used, give the ginger a couple good whacks.  Just enough to open it to allow the flavor out.  Add that to the pot.
  5. Stir well, cover and cook at low heat checking every once in a while that it’s not cooking at too aggressive a boil.  You want it to just simmer.
  6. When the rice is just about dry, add the sugar, the last can of coconut milk and the raisins if you’re using them.  Stir, cover and continue to cook on low.
  7. When rice is almost dry pour onto platter and chill.
  8. Sprinkle with cinnamon just before serving. Buen provecho!

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com