Asian · Central American · Side dish

Stewed Plantains in Coconut Milk

This is riff off a recipe from the cookbook: My Two Souths by Asha Gomez. This cookbook is a delightful and interesting approach as it fuses southern cooking with south Indian cuisine. We tested this recipe out as great appreciators of plantains and coconut milk, and it quickly became a favorite because of flavor and how easy it is to make.

One thing about food that never ceases to amaze me is how so many cuisines are connected; for example, plantains and coconut milk feature in a multitude of cultures: Central America, India, Africa and south Asia. It is fascinating to investigate how other cultures interpret the same ingredients. In the end, we are all winners:)

This is a simple recipe, but it is incredibly flavorful. It is also very easy to make even during a busy work week for a satisfying, comforting treat. It can be a side dish, but frankly, I have eaten it as a sweet comfort when it is cold outside, after a meal.

You will need:

  • 3-4 very ripe plantains (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) well-shaken and stirred unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3/4 sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom or 8-10 crushed green cardamom pods

Steps:

  1. In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3 cups of water, the cardamom, the salt, vanilla and the sugar to a boil. Add the plantains and cook over medium heat until the plantains are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring just to a simmer to prevent curdling. The stewed plantains will have the consistency of a chowder. Remove from heat. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Central American · Dessert · Mediterranean

Simple & Refreshing Summer Desserts

While I have a fair amount of baking recipes on this site, in truth, I don’t bake much in the summer. Instead, I prefer quick and easy cool treats for us to enjoy that take advantage of the fresh fruit available. Also, I don’t eat much dairy – only bits of parmesan and feta – so this rules out a lot of ice cream. I favor granitas (italian ices), batidos or agua frescas (fruit drinks) and desserts made with coconut milk. I realized many people out there might be like me and might want some refreshing ideas. What follows are some of my own recipes, as well as recipes I’ve collected from others that we often make for summer evenings. The beauty is no oven, ice-cream machines or molds are required. Simple and refreshing.

Most flavors are grounded in Italian and Latin American flavors reflecting our home and preferences, but some such as the Chai tea latte popsicle are from other cultures that we truly enjoy. A few ideas are from cookbooks that I love: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Granitas:

What I love about granitas is that they are relatively easy to make – you blend them and then leave them in the freezer until you are ready to enjoy. They are very healthy, as well, as it is simply fruit and water. If you add sugar, you can sub out stevia for those who are sugar conscious. Honey is also a tasty substitue. I take advantage of using very naturally sweet fruits (i.e. pineapple, watermelon), fresh mint from the garden and limes to make most of my combos. My basic recipe is as follows:

  • 6-8 cups of fresh fruit, chopped
  • 2 tbs lime juice (or 1 lime)
  • 2 tbs honey or 1/4 cup sugar
  • fresh mint (2-4 tbs)

When you blend it together, spread it into a 9×13 baking pan and freeze for an hour and 1/2. Scrape the ice and then put back in the freezer. Set the pan out for 15-20 minutes before serving, so it thaws to the best texture.

Granita ideas:

  • Watermelon Mint Granita – if you have a bunch of leftover watermelon, this is is fast and easy to put together. It is my favorite of all time.
  • Pineapple Mint Granita – simply use canned or fresh pineapple.
  • Lemon & Rosemary Granita – Omit the lime juice and honey. Instead use: 3 cups water, 1 cup sugar, 1 and 1/4 cup lemon juice, 2 tbs lemon zest. Three sprigs rosemary.
  • Strawberry Mint Granita– 1.5 lbs of hulled strawberries. 1/2 cup sugar (to taste). 2 tbs lemon juice, instead of lime.
  • Melon & Mint Granita – Use cantalope and increase the honey/sugar to desired sweetness.
  • Coconut Granita- I literally use a can of coconut milk, lime juice, and sugar. It’s ridiculously easy.

Quick Coconut Milk “icecream”

This is a great substitute for those who are dairy free, lactose intolerant or don’t have an ice-cream maker. Like granitas, I utilize a 9 x13 baking dish and the freezer. Generally, this freezes within an hour, and better than granitas, no scraping necessary:). The basic recipe is as follows:

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups of frozen fruit
  • sugar to taste, if desired. I would begin with a 1/3 of a cup and build to desired level of sweetness.

Coconut Milk Icecream ideas:

  • Mango & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Pineapple & Cardamom – add three crushed pods of cardamom seed.
  • Papaya & Pineapple – use a combination of these frozen fruits and a dash of lime juice.

Ice Pops or Popsicles

What I love about these is that they can be as simple as pouring some fruit juice in to a mold, or you can make it more elaborate or alcoholic for a summer evening refresher. I like silicone molds, which you can find online for around 8 dollars, but of course, the molds from dollar tree will work just as well in a pinch.

Popsicle ideas

Icy Popsicles: The basic recipe is 2 cups whole fruit (frozen or fresh), 1/4 cup honey or sugar, and coconut water/orange juice/lime juice water as needed for blending.

  • Strawberry-Watermelon – 1 cup strawberries, 1 cup watermelon, 1/4 cup sugar or honey. Lime juice as needed.
  • Mango-Papaya – 1 cup mango, 1 cup papaya, 1/4 cup sugar or honey, orange juice as needed.
  • Any fruit juice – simply add to the molds and freeze.
  • Strawberry Rose – 1 lb stawberries, mint leaves, splash of rosewater, honey & 1 bottle of rose’ wine (source: Bottom of the Pot)*

Creamy Popsicles:

  • Orange Mango Coconut Yogurt – 4 cups frozen mango, 1/4 cup orange juice, 1 can coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Peach Yogurt – 2 ripe peaches, 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 cup honey or sugar
  • Pineapple Chia Seed – 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 1/2 cup crushed pineapple, 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • Chai tea latte – use a commercial concentrate base of chai tea latte and combine with almond milk, regular milk or coconut milk to desired taste.

Batidos or Agua Frescas

Fruit drinks are a refreshing treat for anytime, and of course, you can add a little alcohol in the evening for some fun. In Costa Rica, they are known as batidos, but in much of Latin America – agua frescas. I love watermelon batidos when I am dehydrated or tamarind when I am constipated or sluggish. They are better than juice because you still have the fiber and vitamins from the cut fruit.

Regardless when you get them in restaurants they are usually made with pulpy syrup base. The old school way is a machete and blender. They can come made with water or with milk. The basic recipe for a batido is essentially 1 cup fruit, 1 cup water OR can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey. From there, you can add other layers.

Here are some ideas.

  • Tamarind & Orange Blossom – 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup tamarind paste, 1 tsp orange blossom water. You make this over the stove and store in the fridge as a syrup. When ready, combine with five cups of water. Alcohol: tequila. (Source: Bottom of the Pot)*
  • Pina Colada – Pineapple juice, 1 can crema de coco (coconut cream), ice and blend. Alcohol: rum
  • Papaya: 1 cup papaya, 1 can evaporated milk (or coconut milk if dairy free), 1/4 sugar or honey.
  • Peach Lassi – 2 ripe peaches, 3 tbs honey, lime juice (1 lime), 1 cup yogurt (Source: Everyone’s Table)*
  • Limonada de coco – 1 cup cream of coconut, 2 1/2 cups crushed ice, juice of 3 limes, 2 tbs sugar Alcohol: rum
  • Cucumber Limeade – blend cucumbers and strain with lime juice and sugar. So refreshing.
  • Other great fruits – watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberry, pineapple, strawberry, mango – or any combination.

*If you haven’t please check out these amazing cookbooks: Everyone’s Table by Gregory Gourdet and Bottom of the Pot by Naz Deravian.

Baking · Central American · Dessert · Spanish

Tres Leches

There are many iterations of Tres Leches that vary according to country and tradition. Regardless of recipe, tres leches is essentially a cake soaked in three types of milk (evaporated, condensed, and cream). While soaked sponges is far from new (i.e. rum cakes or tiramisu), tres leches utilizes canned milk, which became popular in the 20th century. Several writers trace the cake’s origins to Mexico, but it quickly became popular in Central and Latin America. The recipe that follows is an adaptation from my former colleague who is from Venezuela. Years ago, we had a tres leches bake-off, and out of all the recipes we have tried, hers was the clear and proven winner. This is a very simple, but very delicious recipe. Although it fast to bake and assemble, you will need several hours for cooling and chilling.

For the cake:

  • 5 eggs
  • 200g sugar (1 cup)
  • 200g flour (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 can condensed milk
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

For the frosting:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup confectioner sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • cinnamon, for dusting

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).
  2. Cream butter & sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla until fluffy and light. Add in flour and baking powder, and beat until well-blended. Pour batter into greased 13 x 9 baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden.
  3. Prick the baked cake multiple time with a fork and allow to cool completely. After the cake has cooled, blend condensed milk, evaporated milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream. Drizzle over the cooled cake and allow it to rest in the fridge for several hours (2-2/12 hours). This will allow the cake to expand and absorb the liquid.
  4. Beat remaining cream (2 cups) with confectioners sugar and vanilla until stiff. Layer onto the cooled cake and dust with cinnamon. Serve chilled.
Central American · Side dish

Curtido

Curtido or encurtido is a type of lightly fermented cabbage relish. It is typical in Central American cuisine, and is usually made with cabbage, onions, carrots, oregano, and sometimes lime juice. On Costa Rican tables, it is also really common to see a mason jar of spicy, pickled vegetables (chilero) which you add to your meals. It is essentially the same as giardineria in Italy. Curtido is a bit similar to American coleslaw in function, but with spice and without mayonnaise. It is really fresh and crunchy and goes on so many dishes.

While you often serve it with pupusas, we add it to all kinds of dishes to provide an acidic, textured punch: stir fry, hot dogs, with fish, crab cakes or sandwiches.

You will need:

  • ½ head green cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 small white onion, sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, grated
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • Chiles* optional

Steps:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, and carrots. Pour the boiling water over the vegetables and toss. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Then, drain.
  2. Combine the vinegar, lime juice, oregano, salt, and chiles** in a measuring cup. Pour over the slaw and toss to coat. Once thoroughly mixed, transfer the curtido and any leftover liquid in the bowl to an airtight container.
  3. Chill for at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator or overnight for best results. This will keep for about 4-5 days.
Appetizer · Central American · Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

How to Eat Your Vegetables

I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.

I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?

When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.

While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.

Quick and Easy:

  1. Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
  2. Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
  3. Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
  4. Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
  5. Curtido This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
  6. Grilled zucchini & summer squash – if you have time for the grill, this is fast and easy to put together.

Vegetable Spreads:

  1. Caponata – this is best made ahead and chilled. This is salty, sour, sweet, and decadent, all at the same time.
  2. Pisto Manchego – like Caponata, this is great spread onto a bread. Has roasted flavors & cumin notes.
  3. Roasted Red pepper Dip – this is great with pita and one I used to always bring to the break room.
  4. Romesco – this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.

Takes a little time, but worth it:

  1. Greek salad – this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
  2. Ciambottathis is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
  3. Eggplants and honey – you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
  4. Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.

In the winter:

  1. Maple sweet potatoes – this is so delicious in the dead of winter.
  2. Roasted potatoes, brusell sprouts and asparagus I often make this in fall in a large baking sheet.

Central American · Spanish

Black Beans & Rice

The recipe for black beans and rice varies from country to country, and as a result, there are arguments over the best version. Some add coconut, some add ham hocks or bacon, and some call for a lot of fresh cilantro. Unfortunately, there is no way to know exactly how my husband‘s grandmother made her recipe that he still misses to this day. I tried my best to get close to her original – this recipe borrows heavily from Cuban black beans, and can be adapted in a variety of ways. I use a lot of cilantro, because that was Abuelita’s preference. Now, on a time-saving note, you can totally use a slow cooker for this, but I must admit, I love making this with a great pot (see below) and letting it simmer on the stove old-school style. You can prepare regular white rice or Cilantro lime rice.

Portion: makes around 2 quarts.

Time: 2 1/2 – 3 hours

You will need:

  • 1 lb dried black beans, picked through and rinsed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (divided)
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, finely chopped (divided)
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1 tsp dried Italian oregano (divided)
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped Cilantro leaves
  • 1 heaping tbs sofrito (optional)

Step one:

Bring beans, bay leaf, ¼ cup chopped onion, ¼ cup chopped bell pepper, 1 Tbsp. garlic, 1 Tbsp. salt, ½ tsp. oregano, and 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot or ditch oven.

Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and adding more hot water if needed to cover, until beans are tender and covered by about ¼” liquid, 2½–3 hours. Discard bay leaf.

Step two:

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-low. Add remaining onion, bell pepper, garlic, and oregano; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and beginning to brown, 6-7 minutes. Stir into cooked beans. Add 1 heaping tbsp of sofrito, if desired, as well as 1/4 cup fresh cilantro.

Step three:

Stir beans while simmering for 2 1/2 to three hours until cooked down.

One half hour before serving the beans, prepare your rice.

Serve black beans over cilantro rice and top with fresh cilantro, if desired.

Central American · Dessert · Recipes

Arroz con Leche

FullSizeRender(5)

Arroz con leche recipes vary widely depending on what country you are dealing with. This one is based off a Costa Rican version that I searched long and hard for. I was trying to replicate my guy’s grandmother’s recipe, and with a few tweaks, it was a success. As a boy, he loved to eat it straight from the pan while it was hot and sweet- but it can be refrigerated and will last for days.

You need:

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 4 1/2 cups water
  3. 2 cinnamon sticks
  4. 3 cloves
  5. 1 can evaporated milk
  6. 2 cans condensed milk
  7. 1 tsp vanilla
  8. 1/2 tbs grated orange skin
  9. pinch of salt

Step one: add orange peel, h20, cinnamon sticks and cloves to a sauce pan.

FullSizeRender(1)

Bring to a boil and then add rice. When the rice has absorbed all of the water, add evaporated milk.

FullSizeRender(2)

This is the consistency you are gunning for.

FullSizeRender(3)

Step two: Bring to a boil again, and then add condensed milk, salt and vanilla.

FullSizeRender(4)

Step three: Boil for 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy:)

IMG_2221

Central American · Recipes

Tomatillo Chicken Stew

chili-verde-078

I have been on a tomatillo kick lately.  I served this with a little sour cream and cilantro, and I made some cornbread to go along with it – a perfect fall dish after a long day at work. If you choose to buy salsa verde, this becomes a very quick, economical meal, as well. If you use one complete beer or 1-1.5 cups of chicken broth the consistency will be more soupy. Reducing the liquid gives you more of a chili consistency. Either way works well.

Simply assemble the ingredients and cook on a low and slow setting – 6-8 hours.

Serving suggestions: fresh cilantro, avocado, sour cream, Mexican cheese, cornbread as a side dish, corn tortillas.

You will need:

  1. 2 lbs chicken breast or thighs
  2. 2 cups Salsa Verde/tomatillo salsa* – you can buy this (use a 16 oz jar) or make it. see recipe below
  3. half white onion, sliced thinly
  4. 1 bell pepper, diced (I used a yellow one for this recipe)
  5. 1 can pinto beans
  6. 1 can cannelini beans
  7. 1 cup chicken broth or a little less than one beer
  8. 2 tsp cumin
  9. salt and pepper to taste
  10. fresh cilantro
  11. jalapenos (de-seeded) if you want to add spice

Homemade Tomatillo salsa:

  • 1 1/2 lbs fresh tomatillos
  • 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro
  • 2 jalapeños, stems removed and deseeded (for extra heat use serranos instead)
  • juice and zest from 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon cumin powder
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
Central American · Recipes

Chicken & Black Bean Quesadillas

You will need:

  1. Large tortillas
  2. 2-3 cups Mexican blend cheese
  3. 2 large chicken breasts
  4. 1/2 white onion, sliced thin
  5. 1 red bell pepper
  6. 1 can Black beans, rinsed
  7. 2 cloves garlic, minced
  8. 2 tsp cumin
  9. 1-2 tbs olive oil
  10. Salt and pepper to taste
  11. 1-2 tbs butter

1.Prepare your veggies. Slice your onions and peppers, and mince your garlic.

2. Sauté onion, peppers, 1 clove garlic, 1/2 tsp cumin, salt and pepper in 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat for 6-8 minutes until browned.

3. Season chicken with 1 clove of garlic, 1 tsp cumin, salt and pepper. Sauté chicken breast in 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat until cooked. Stir in 1/4 cup black beans and heat. Set aside.

.

4. In a non stick skillet or griddle, melt 1 tbs butter. Add one tortilla and sprinkle one half of it with cheese.

5. Add chicken, peppers, black beans and onions.

6. Fold over and cook on both sides, until browned and the cheese is melted.

7. Cut up, serve and enjoy:)

IMG_0520

Central American · Recipes

Carnitas

img_4454

Carnitas are delicious in a fresh tortilla or tostada. I enjoy them with guacamole or avocado.

You will need:

  • 1 3.5-4 lb boneless pork butt roast, trimmed of fat, and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 oranges – use them to make 1/3 cup orange juice and keep the halves.
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh cilantro
  • lime wedges
  • warm tortillas
  • avocado*

img_4452

Step one:

Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine pork, water, onion, lime juice, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in dutch oven. The liquid should barely cover the meat. Add orange juice and spent orange halves to pot. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium high heat on the stove.

Cover pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the meat is soft and falls apart, about 2 hours.

Step two:

Remove pot from the oven. Use a slotted spoon and transfer pork to a bowl. Throw away the orange halves, onion and bay leaves. Do not skim the fat from the liquid. Place the pot over high heat and simmer the braising liquid, stir often until thick and syrupy (10-12 minutes). You should have 1 cup of reduced liquid.

Step three:

Shred the pork with 2 forks on a cutting board or preferred surface. Return the pork to the bowl and add the braising liquid. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Step four:

Spread pork pieces in an even layer on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Broil pork until well browned and edges are slightly crisp on both sides (10-15 minutes).

Serve with tortillas,  cilantro and lime.

img_4453

 

img_4455