Posts Tagged ‘cocina puertorriquena’

If you have been following this blog, you already know we are “boat people”.  I grew up spending many weekends and vacations on my father’s boat. The freedom and liberty you feel while navigating the ocean is exhilarating as well as therapeutic. There is something about being in contact with nature, on the open water and a weird mix of vulnerability and control that is hard to describe.  If you haven’t had a boat ride up to now, I encourage you to do so and add it to your bucket list, because it is an experience you shouldn’t miss.

With my dad (I am with lifejacket) and my cousins Anibal, Priscilla and Gretchen. Circa 1978

My brothers Joaco and Manolo taking "boat showers". Circa 1992

"Fancy dinner" at Bitter End Marina 1994 with Lupe and Felo

Making guacamole with my brothers on the boat. 1994

As we were growing up, my brothers and I, enjoyed going to the boat a lot mostly because we like water sports and love the beach, but my parents liked it mostly because it was a chance to sequester us and have us all to themselves on the boat with nowhere to go for the whole weekend. Je, je!   Believe it or not, living in a small space with a group of people for many days in a remote bay or beach, help you acquire skills that will be useful in everyday life. You learn to share limited space with others, to be considerate and tolerant, to pick-up after yourself, about engineering and mechanics, improvising, assume roles, be responsible, respect authority (only one captain!), be safe, look after each other, encourage conversation, live in harmony with your surroundings, negotiate, meet new people, be self-sufficient, and help strangers in need.  All of these qualities are strengthened in “boat life”.

Canito, our mate, with my son 2002





Summer 2010

My parents summer 2010

Among the many great memories I have of that period in my childhood and adolescence, I remember we would get up very early while on the boat and, in order to let my parents sleep a bit more, Canito, our beloved mate for over 15 years, would always make these delicious Eggs on a Nest (Huevo al Nido) for breakfast.  Time passed, we grew up and started families of our own. Eventually, and not surprisingly, I married a “boat person” and I have my own “boat family “.  We still go on boat trips with my parents and my brothers, although now we each have our own. I proudly admit we also sequester our kids on boat trips for quality family time and feed them Eggs on a Nest for breakfast.  I guess some things never change…


Eggs on a Nest (Huevo al Nido)


club sandwich bread (your choice of whole wheat or white)

butter (about 1/2 tsp for each serving)


salt and pepper to taste


1.  Cut out hole in center of bread with a 2 1/2 inch in diameter round cookie or biscuit cutter (for a fun twist, use a heart shaped cookie cutter on Valentine’s day). Save cut-out.

2.  Heat butter in non stick skillet over med-low heat.

3.  Meanwhile, crack egg and pour in a measuring cup or rameking. Set aside.

4.  Once butter is melted and evenly distributed on skillet place bread on skillet and let toast for about a minute.  Pour egg in the center and cover for just 2 minutes.  Flip with a spatula. Cover and let cook for a little under 2 more minutes).

5.  Meanwhile, toast cut-out bread in toaster oven or toaster.

6.  Once ready, season to taste and serve. Dip toasted cut out in middle of egg to eat. Then cut and eat remaining egg and toast as you wish.

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My grandmother Ita always says an “arroz guisado” (stewed rice) is as good as the “sofrito” you make.  In Puerto Rico, sofrito refers to a blend of oil, onions, garlic, aji dulce (sweet peppers), bay leaf, tomato sauce, “alcaparrado” (a blend of manzanilla olives and capers), cubanel and bell peppers, culantro (recao) and sometimes, ham, cilantro, oregano, annatto oil and cumin that is sauteed for a prolonged time to create a base for rice, legumes, soup or stews.  Sofrito has its origins in Mediterranean cuisine and is also popular in Greece, Portugal and Spain.  As a result of colonization and the discovery of the new world, many latin american countries have their own variation of sofrito for each specific region.

Arroz con Salchichas is a popular Puertorrican one pot meal that is inexpensive, simple and savory.  It is sometimes called “the hurricane season diet” because it is easy to prepare over a gas stove, feeds a crowd and its ingredients don’t need refrigeration. It is loved by young and old and is a staple dish in traditional Puertorrican families, comfort food for many and an “antojito” (craving) for expatriates.


Arroz con Salchichas


2 tbsp canola oil (annatto oil can also be used for a deeper red color)

1/4 cup cubanel (pimiento de cocinar) or green pepper finely chopped

1/3 cup yellow onion finely chopped

1 fresh garlic clove minced

1 tbsp red bell pepper finely chopped

2 tsp fine sea salt

2 laurel leaves

1 “recaito ice cube” (about 1 1/2 tbsp store bought recaito)

2 cans vienna sausage coarsely sliced (save brine)

1/4 cup canned sweet corn

2 tbsp alcaparrado (mix of manzanilla spanish olives and capers)

1/2 cup tomato sauce

3 cups medium white rice

3 cups chicken stock


1.  Heat oil (med-low) then add green cubanel pepper, onions, garlic and red pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes.

2.  Add rest of ingredients, except chicken broth and rice, and saute in med low for about 7-8 minutes.

3.  Add rice to sofrito and quickly saute to cover all rice with color.  Then add chicken stock and sausage brine and bring heat to medium.  Let cook uncovered until almost all liquid has evaporated and you see bubbles on top of rice.

4.  Bring heat to low.  Stir with a slotted spoon and continue to cook covered, until rice is done (about 10-12 more minutes).

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Barrigas de Vieja means “the belly of an old lady”, because they are flabby, soft and without a consistent shape. I know its a funny name, but these sweet pumpkin fritters are truly delicious. They are also called “tortitas de calabaza”.  I grew up having these fritters sometimes as a snack or appetizer before dinner.  My mother and grandmother are experts making them.  You can make the batter the day before and refrigerate until ready to use.  Most recipes call for the pumpkin to be boiled, but I prefer to steam it in order to keep most of its nutrients and to avoid the pumpkin pieces to absorb too much liquid.  I find this method yields a better consistency. Wether  you call this fruit (has seeds inside and is the fruit of a flower) pumpkin, squash, calabaza, zapallo or auyama, you will find it is very versatile and can be used for sweet or savory recipes.  Here is my version of Barrigas de Vieja (Sweet Pumpkin Fritters).


Barrigas de Vieja (Pumpkin Fritters)


4 cups cubed pumpkin (approx. 1×2 inch pieces which end up being about 2 cups once cooked and mashed)

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp fine sea salt

1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 egg (beaten)

about 1 cup of canola oil (to cover at least half of fritter)


1.  Steam pumpkin until soft.  Puree with a potato masher or with fork. In a small bowl sift flour, cinnamon and salt, set aside.

2.  Add sugar and stir with a spoon. Add dry ingredients from bowl and vanilla. Continue to stir with spoon.

3.  At this point pumpkin mixture should no be too hot. Beat egg and add to mixture.  Stir until fully incorporated.

4.  Heat oil (med or med-hi depending on stove) in large frying pan.  Spoon pumpkin mixture (I use soup spoon) and turn once golden on each side (about 2 minutes each). Set aside in plate with paper towel to drain excess oil. Yields about 2 dozen units. Serve immediately as an appetizer or as a side dish.

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Beans are a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates (the good carbs that give energy to brain and muscles) and dietary fiber.  Also, beans have the “good fat” your body needs and a low glycemic index, meaning they have the ability to give you energy over a sustained period of time by slowly releasing its nutrients into your blood stream. In Latin American and Caribbean dinner tables, beans are always present.  Most of the time they are stewed or refried.  I really like my version of three bean salad which is easy, healthy and full of flavor.   Also, beans are inexpensive and easy to store for long periods of time (canned or dry). I use organic canned beans when I find them. Serve this salad with your favorite lettuce, baby greens or over toasted bread as quick snack like a “bruschetta tre fagioli”.  They always taste better the next day when the flavors settle! Be mindful I add olive oil and not extra-virgin olive oil. My aunt Evamari makes a wicked three bean salad similar to this one.  Keeps in the fridge for about a week.


Three Bean Salad


1 15.5 ounce canned black beans

1 15.5 ounce canned pink beans

1 15.5 ounce canned chickpeas

4 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

4 tbsp finely chopped red onion

2 fresh garlic cloves minced

2 tbsp finely chopped red bell pepper

2 tsp fine sea salt

pinch ground cumin

pinch smoked sweet paprika

2 cups of olive oil

pepper to taste


1.  Open cans and drain beans in colander.  In a large bowl, mix all ingredients and refrigerate.  Serve with green salad, alone or over toasted bread.

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Tostones, twice fried green plantains or breadfruit (pana) patties, are a staple in caribbean cuisine and often served as a side dish, appetizer or snack.  They are called “patacones” or “tachinos” in some south american countries and can be made fresh or nowadays they also come frozen. Some people season them with plain salt, garlic mojito or mayo-ketchup, but I like to serve with this sauce which I call Mojito Caribeño.  All you need is a sharp knife to finely chop ingredients and a mortar and pestle to bring it all together.  This dipping sauce has a strong aroma and irresistible flavor. Simply spread over tostones and enjoy.  If you want to make it spicy, add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a few drops of “pique” (hot sauce).

click here to print recipe

Mojito Caribeño


2 large culantro leaves (recao) finely chopped

2 garlic cloves

1 tsp very finely chopped yellow onion

1 tsp very finely chopped cubanel or green pepper

scant 1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

1 tsp vinegar

pinch of ground cumin

pinch of dried oregano

4 tbsp tomato sauce

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp lemon juice


1.  In a mortar and pestle (pilón) mash garlic with some of the salt.

recao- culantro leaves

2.  Add finely chopped culantro (recao), onions and green pepper.  Mash with the pestle.

3.  Add cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Mash a bit more to create a coarse paste.

4.  Add vinegar, tomato sauce, olive oil and lemon juice and stir with a spoon until all ingredients are incorporated.  Serve with tostones de platano o pana (fried plantains or breadfruit).  Refrigerate if you have any leftovers.

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My sister in law Frances is an expert at improvising in the kitchen.  For more times than I can remember, I have seen her juggle in the kitchen to feed a large group of unannounced guests with delicious homemade meals.  This rice is inspired in one of her trademarks.  She makes it in a rice cooker, but I don’t own a rice cooker so I make it in my caldero, chef’s pan or heavy bottomed sauce pan.  In addition, she uses extra-long grain white rice which I substitute with Jasmine Rice.  It is easy, colorful and a nice twist to traditional white rice. Also, this rice is aromatic and full of flavor. By making little changes like these in everyday meals we get inspired to get out of the routine and explore new possibilities.  Accompany with filet mignon, grilled chicken or bbq ribs.


Arroz con Pimientos (rice with peppers)

approximately 8 generous servings


4 tbsp (1/2 stick) of butter

1/4 green bell pepper (cubed)

1/4 red bell pepper (cubed)

1/4 yellow bell pepper (cubed)

1/4 cup onions (coarsely chopped)

3 cups jasmine rice

1 tbsp salt

4 1/2 cups of water


1.  In a medium size heavy bottom pan or caldero, melt butter (med heat).

2.  Sauté  onions and peppers until onions are translucent.

3.  Add jasmine rice and stir to coat all grains with the melted butter.

4.  Add water and cook uncovered until most of water has evaporated and you can see small holes in the top of rice.

5.  Stir with a slotted spoon or large fork. Reduce heat to low and cover until rice is cooked, about 15-20 more minutes.

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Arroz con Amarillos is nothing more than my Arroz con Cilantro recipe with fried sweet plantains, but boy, what a difference they make! YUMMY! Savory and sweet in every bite!  Plantains can be cooked green or ripe. Amarillos (what ripe plantains are called in Puerto Rico) or plátanos maduros (like they are called in other latin american countries)  are a staple dish in most tropical countries around the world.  They can be steamed, boiled, baked, grilled or fried. Nowadays,  fried plantains (green or ripe) come frozen and ready to eat, but of course, it is much better if you find fresh ripe sweet plantains. In order for the plantain to be sweet it must be yellow with black patches on the outside.  Green plantains, used for tostones, mofongo (mashed) or chips (mariquitas or platanutres), are “starchy” like potatoes and seasoned with salt, bacon, onions or broth.  On the other hand, sweet plantains, used for piononos and pastelón,  are naturally sweet and need no seasoning and go great to accompany savory/salty meals. When I use the frozen kind to make this rice, I thaw them and saute in a skillet with a bit of butter. If I make it with fresh ripe plantains I don’t add the butter since they are coated with the vegetable oil in which they have been fried.  When I make  this rice dish people always come back for more. My friend Alexandra loves this kind of rice! I have offered it to our guests in Thanksgiving with our traditional whole fried turkey as well as with Filet Mignon, Prime Rib or New York Strip.  Also, great with a side salad or sauteed veggies.


Arroz con Amarillos


Arroz con Cilantro Recipe

3 ripe sweet plantains or 2 boxes of frozen Goya sweet plantains (11 ounce each)


1.  If using frozen plantains, thaw and saute in about 2 tbsp of butter over med-hi heat.  If using fresh ripe plantains, slice very ripe plantains about 1/2 inch thick and fry over med-hi heat in canola or vegetable oil until golden brown.

2.  Cube fried plantains and stir into cooked rice.

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