A paella wannabe

This is another winning recipe from my old Panamanian cookbook, El Arte de Cocinar,¬†by Berta¬†de Pelaez. Berta¬†must be Martha Stewart’s sister from another mother. I don’t remember if I saw Julia on TV when I was growing up, I do know Berta’s show was a daily event for my mom and I. She inspired my mom to expand her cooking and fueled her entertaining dreams.

I don’t believe I ever had this dish while I lived in Panama, but I’m definitely gonna make up for that with gusto! This turned out to be an easy, quick and delicious recipe, almost a quick take on a paella, really. I must admit, I made this a few months ago and didn’t share, it got lost amongst files and trips and lazy days. Now, I don’t want you to think it lacks luster, it really is a dish you should make. Soon.

I’m not sure about the name of the recipe, don’t really know what makes it ‘provincial style’, but it’s not my recipe. Also, the original called for fish pieces and salchichas–these would be wieners, instead, I opted for shrimp and soft Spanish chorizo. Enough of that, here’s the food.

Arroz a la Provinciana (Provincial style rice)

1 cp pork shoulder, cubed
1 cp Spanish chorizo, cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 tsp cumin
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & pepper
1 can stewed tomatoes, diced
1 cp white wine
1/4 lb squid, cleaned & sliced to rounds
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/4 cp olive oil, approx
3 cps rice

Season the pork with the cumin, salt, pepper and garlic. Add a bit of oil to a medium saucepan, heat it over medium high and add the chorizo. Once the fat begins to render, add the pork cubes and brown for a few minutes. Remove from the pan, leaving the oil behind, then add the onions and bell pepper. Continue to cook until the onions are translucent, then remove from the oil and combine with the shrimp and squid.

Return the pork and chorizo to the pan over high heat, add the wine and allow it to burn off the alcohol before adding the tomatoes. Add about 1 cp of water and coo until the pork is tender. Remove pork mixture from the  pan and reserve any liquid. Add a bit more oil and heat over high temperature.

Rinse and drain the rice and add to the heated pan, stirring to coat all the grains with the oil and until the grains look white and not translucent. Stir in the pork and chorizo. Measure any liquid that you reserved and add enough water to measure 5 cps of liquid. Add to the rice, check and adjust the seasoning as needed. Do not stir once it begins to boil!!!!

Allow the rice to cook without disturbing it, until the liquid evaporates. When it is almost dry and you can see the top of the rice, delicately add the shrimp, squid and onion mixture, spreading it evenly across the top DO NOT STIR INTO THE RICE.

Lower the temperature to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Allow the rice to steam for about 15 minutes. At that time, you can feel free to stir with wild abandon, but be careful not butcher the cooked seafood. Now get a fork and start eating!

Cookingly yours,


Once you go black…

Well, you know what they say. That statement is definitely accurate when it refers to plantains. Yes, you heard me right. Plantains. More specifically, ripe plantains. The darker the skin on the plantain, the sweeter it will be.

If you¬†were to purchase plantains and allow them to ripen at home, it would take about 7-9 days to get them to that dark dar stage. Now, mind you, you don’t want them to be mushy. They should feel¬†the same way a ripe avocado does. Soft and springy, not mushy. When you fry up plantains into tajadas using very ripe ones, you end up with this kind of caramelization. Heavenly!

Plantains are very versatile. And this recipe may be just the thing you’ve been looking for to spice up your Thanksgiving table. Side dishes around the world can be similar, even when prepared¬†with very different ingredients. Pl√°tanos¬†en Tentaci√≥n (loosely translates to tempting plantains) are a popular side dish in Panama, present on every party and holiday table.

If you’re bored with traditional sweet potatoes or just want to introduce your loved ones to something exotic, you should bring home the tropics with this traditional dish.

Plátanos en tentación (Glazed plantains)

2 ripe plantains (best if peel is dark brown-to black)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons butter

Peel the plantains and slice them in half, lengthwise. Then cut the halves into pieces about 2-inches long.

Place the plantain pieces into a medium-sized skillet (about 12-inches), then sprinkle the sugar, cinnamon, salt over the plantains.

Divide the butter into 4 pieces and drop it in the skillet. Cover the plantains with water, this will take about 2 cups of water, add the vanilla.

Bring it to a soft boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the sugar dissolves. Allow it to cook until the water evaporates, about 20 minutes.

Once the water has dried, the plantains will begin to caramelize in the residual syrup. Reduce the temperature to low, and turn the plantain pieces a few times to make sure they brown evenly. Serve warm. These can be made ahead and reheated before serving.

For additional delicious shots, click here.

Cookingly yours,

One potato, two potatoes, YUCA!

I thought I would trick you into reading this one. It’s not so much tricking as it is deceiving. The truth is, yuca is the Latin Americans’ potato. Both are tubers. They have similar textures, although yuca is more fibrous. And they could probably be swapped out in most dishes.

Today I’m going to share with you two variations in the way we prepare yuca throughout Latin America. First, let me redirect you to a post from months ago. It walks you through the process of choosing, peeling and cooking yuca. Once you have that part done, then you can move on to one of these methods. Yuca con mojo is essentially a garlicky plate of yuca. Mojo is Latin-Caribbean sauce/dressing that is spooned over foods in Cuba and Puerto Rico, especially. The other variation would be Yuca Fries with Spicy Mayo-Ketchup dipping sauce. No real recipes here, just a bit of this and a pinch of that.

Yuca con Mojo

1 lb yuca, cooked and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp garlic puree
Sea salt
Juice of 1 lime
2/3 cp olive oil
1/2 cp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

Keep the yuca warm or prepare the mojo while they cook. Heat up a small pan over medium temperature and add the minced garlic, make sure to stir it constantly to avoid burning it. Once that garlic softens, add the garlic puree and lime juice. Stir until well blended and cook for about 5 minutes over medium low temperature. Add half of the parsley and season with salt. Remove it from the heat.

Drizzle over the warm yuca and serve with another sprinkling of parsley. YUM!

Yuca Fries with Spicy Mayo-Ketchup

1 lb yuca, parboiled and cut into thick fries
Vegetable oil for frying
Sea salt
1 cp real mayonnaise
1/4 cp Ketchup
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1-2 tsps habanero hot sauce
1 tsp sugar

Fry the yuca in enough oil to cover them, make sure the yuca has had a chance to cool before frying. It will take about 5 minutes to fry them to a golden brown. In the meantime, combine the rest of the ingredients and whisk them together. Check the seasoning and add a bit of salt IF necessary. Don’t forget you’ll salt the yuca after it has fried.

Serve as dipping sauce for the fries. By the way, both of these sauces/dips go incredibly well with potatoes and plantains. You can see more hunger-inducing shots here.

Cookingly yours,

Jumping beans

Well, not really, but they are yummy beans. I have to begin by telling you that I’m not intimately acquainted with white or navy beans. We just don’t have these in Panama, at least *I* didn’t have them. We have the prepared cans of pork & beans, which I believe are made with these, but that’s it.

I had never really seen¬† them until I saw Martha Stewart cook them down and add mussels to it. I was so intrigued by the recipe that I had to try it and ended up loving the beans. I’ve made them since, but rarely, and always as a base for something seafood, such as this delicious Salt Cod & Clam Stew.

Considering how much I’ve enjoyed these little beans, I’ve been trying¬†to add them more and more often to my repertoire. Hence this pot o’beans. I made them the same way I make all my beans, and WOW. Why did I wait so long?!

No need for a recipe here, let the beans move you.

White Beans a la Latina

White / Navy beans
Bay leaves
Bacon, diced
Onions, finely chopped
Cilantro, finely chopped
Sea salt & black pepper

Rinse and soak the beans in hot water for about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse again before putting them into a medium size pan. Add 1-2 whole cloves of garlic, peel and all, and 1-2 bay leaves and 1-2 slices of bacon. Cover with water and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat until the water comes to a hard simmer. Cook for about an hour, or until the beans are fork tender.

*Note: Do not add salt to your beans before they soften, season them after they are tender.

In a small skillet, cook the bacon to render the fat, it doesn’t have to be crisp. Add the onions and cilantro, cook them until the onions have soften and are translucent.

Once the beans have cooked, drain some of the liquid reserving just enough to see some just under the top of the beans. Depending on the amount of beans you cooked, this would be close to 1 cup of liquid. Discard the bay leaves and add the bacon & onion mixture. Bring it to a simmer, check the seasoning and adjust with salt & pepper. Simmer it for another 10 minutes or so before serving.

We served these alongside some lamb & rice.

I hope you enjoy it too!
Cookingly yours,

Picadillo, a Mexican standard

Picadillo is well-known, even if slightly different, in all Latin countries. It always begins the same way, with ground beef that is increased with local vegetables and aromatics. In Panama, we add tomatoes or tomato sauce, capers, olives and sometimes raisins. Puerto Rico’s and Cuba’s version is similar to ours.

The Hubbz loves his picadillo Mexican style and I do too. I have to admit that I prefer it when he makes it, and it has nothing to do with being cooked for. I don’t exactly know why, but his tastes different than mine. My mami says it’s in the hand. At least that’s what she used to say about cake batters. Maybe we all have our own inherently unique ‘flavor’ that is somehow infused into the things we cook. Seriously. Have you ever mimicked a recipe from someone you know and not been able to get it to taste quite the same? It happens. I don’t know how, but it does.

Anyway, I made this batch following The Hubbz directions. It was very good, just not Hubbz good, maybe you’ll hit the spot.

The Hubbz’ Mexican Picadillo

2 lbs ground beef (avoid lean beef)
1-1/2 tbsp fajita seasoning
2 tsps Herbs d’Provence
1 large onion, diced
1/2 each red and yellow bell pepper, diced
1 or 2 serrano peppers, finely diced
2 cps potatoes, peeled and finely diced
Cilantro, finely chopped

Heat up a large pan, make sure it has a tight-fitting lid, over high heat and add the beef. Break it up as you drop it in the skillet. Once you’ve got it all in, season it liberally with the fajita seasoning and herbs d’Provence. Don’t be shy with the fajita seasoning; even though it has salt and you may be worried about over-salting, remember you’ll be adding potatoes and other veggies that will soak up the salt.

Crumble the beef as you work the seasoning in. Keep the temperature high, to help brown the beef a bit. The moisture in the ground beef will sweat out, once it evaporates, the beef will begin browning.

Add the onions and peppers. Make sure to stir it constantly to avoid too much from sticking to the bottom. Cook until the onions are translucent before adding the potatoes.

Once you add the potatoes, add about 1 cp of broth or water cover and reduce the temperature to medium-low. Come back and stir it every so often, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary. Allow it to simmer for 30 minutes or so, until the potatoes are tender and falling apart. As a matter of fact, the potatoes will be almost impossible to spot once this is cooked all the way.

We like to serve it with flour tortillas or rice.

Ay que rico!

Cookingly yours,