Posts Tagged ‘recipe’

Sofrito – Puerto Rican Fresh Bouillon

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Puerto Rican Sofrito - Fresh Bouillon -

Sofrito is the essence in Puerto Rican dishes like arroz con pollo – the next rice recipe in the queue. It’s also the foundation of flavor for beans, soups and other good eats.

What is sofrito? It’s a blend of fresh vegetables and herbs. You could liken it to fresh bouillon because it can be added to a dish to round it out and give it depth.

The idea to liken this fresh base to a “bouillon” was inspired by Heidi at 101 Cookbooks. She posted a recipe for homemade bouillon a few months ago. Her version had carrots, fennel, and a slew of other veggies and herbs – preserved with salt. When I read her post, I immediately reconceptualized a way to explain the culinary use of sofrito.

This sofrito is Puerto Rican. It is not spicy. But, it is flavorful! The main ingredients include: onion, peppers (bell pepper and aji dulce), garlic, cilantro and recao.

In Puerto Rican cookery, recao is also referred to as culantro. It is an herb typically found in tropical areas like Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and Mexico. It has a mild green flavor that is reminiscent of, but not as strong as cilantro.

Look for it in the fresh herb section of ethnic markets labeled as spirit weed, fit weed, cilantro extranjero, cilantro habanero, or in Asian/Vietnamese markets as ngo gai.  I managed to score some at Rancho Liborio, here in Denver.

If you are a sofrito purist and have access to aji dulce, yours will likely be greener in hue. I used a red pepper, which gave it a reddish tinge.

This fresh bouillon is a great addition to your kitchen staples, especially if you’re big on Latino and Caribbean food. It can be made in large batches and frozen in smaller portions (such as ice cube trays) for convenience. For vegetarians and vegans, it’s a nice alternative to oomph up flavor. And, another huge plus, there’s no salt.

Try it! If you make sofrito and have any interesting uses for it, please leave a comment.


Rice: 5 Ways to Make Horchata- Mexico’s Rice Drink

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Horchata Rice Drink - Hot Cold -  ForkFingersChopsticks

In Mexico and some parts of the U.S., horchata is ubiquitous. The cinnamon-infused rice drink is served cold in huge jars alongside agua de jamaica (hibiscus tea) and other fruit based aguas frescas. This week, we’re also drinking it hot . . .

Despite the unpredictability of spring weather here in Colorado, it’s my favorite of all seasons.

New growth budding on leafless branches. Greener grasses and spring bulbs readying to bloom. Wet snowfalls. Cool weather herbs and greens peeking through in the garden. My first few outings on my bicycle and overestimating how far I could ride. Sore muscles. More snow.

A few days ago we took advantage of 60 degree weather here in Colorado, and cleaned several beds and remnants of seasons since passed. My momma was the willing assistant – helping me carry several tarps full of leaves and turn the compost bin.

That sort of work made us thirsty. Luck (and some pre-planning) was ours, I had three kinds of cold horchata ready to drink. Snap!

As refreshing as it was, we had to fight the urge to drink it all. I still had pictures to take the next day of the “hot” shot – a steamed horchata with a shot of espresso.

A cold blast came through Denver the very next day. Rain quickly turned to snow. And, of course we were out and about in the worst of it. A bit chilled when we got home, we pulled out the horchata again – this time served hot with espresso for momma; steamed and plain for me ( I’m a caffeine wuss).

The hot version, is inspired by Taza de Café, a northwest Denver coffee shop, which serves up horcha-tté, a luscious horchata drink with espresso.

So, horchata is a drink for any season!

Below are 5 ways to make this quintessential Mexican rice drink. Check them out and this song called Horchata by Vampire Weekend, which was released last fall.


Tidbits on Horchata:

  1. In Mexico, horchata is typically made from rice and water, although some make creamier versions using milk and/or almonds. There is also an horchata made from ground melon seeds.
  2. Horchata, also called orxata, and this method of making refreshing drinks comes originally from Spain, where they use ground seeds, nuts and grains. There, instead of rice, they use tigernuts, also called chufas.

Source:  The Mexican Gourmet by Maria Dolores Torres Yzabal & Shelton Wiseman


Rice: Mexican Rice – Arroz a la Mexicana

Thursday, March 18th, 2010


Mexican rice, also called arroz a la Mexicana or arroz rojo, is a requisite when it comes to Mexican food.

In the States, it is a standard side served along with beans. In Mexico, it is one of the most popular sopas secas (dry soups), in a multi-course meal, typically served before the main course.

In case you’re confused, Mexican rice is different than Spanish rice, although some people use the names interchangeably. The Mexican version gets its reddish hue from tomatoes, while Spanish rice generally uses saffron.

Mexican rice was one of the first dishes I learned to cook that required a little skill in the kitchen – sautéing, boiling and steaming. Sounds tricky, but it really just requires keeping a watchful eye on the pot during the sauté.

I’ve been making rice for eons and only recently realized that the technique I learned from my momma, and she from her abuela, was considered a pilaf. In pilafs, the rice/grain is browned in fat before it is simmered in a flavored broth. This cooking process creates fluffy, flavorful rice that’s moist. It also gives it a faint smoky taste from browning.

As you’ll see from the ingredient list and the photos, I add vegetables to my rice. It’s the way my family does it and it’s also the way many in Mexico make it – cocineros add carrots, peas, zucchini and/or fresh whole chiles for flavor. However, if you add peas, promise not to use the canned stuff! Ewww.

Most of the time, I eat this rice with black beans, lots of fresh pico de gallo, and slices of avocado atop. (The pre-cursor to Chipotle’s® bowl.) Others usually eat it as a side dish. Try it with rajas and grilled chicken, caldo de res, mole poblano, and Mexican zucchini – calabacitas con elote.

Tidbits on Rice:

  1. Rice was introduced to Mexico via the Spanish during colonization via the Spanish trade route from Manila in the Philippines to Acapulco in Mexico. In Mexico, the route is referred to as the Nao de China.
  2. The length of rice grains should be considered for your desired end result. Long grain rice is fluffy and has separate individual grains after cooking, while medium grain rice clings together a bit more but remains a bit more tender and moist. Short grain rice tends to stick together and is best for things like rice puddings.

Sources:  Encyclopedia of Food & Culture; The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy


Rice: Five Spice Brown Fried Rice

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Brown Fried Rice -

It’s ironic but my favorite five spice mix has six ingredients:  Chinese cinnamon, Chinese #1 ginger, star anise, ground fennel, cloves and black pepper.

A quick search online indicates that it’s not all that uncommon and there are mixes aptly named “seven spice.” Supposedly, it’s not so much the number of spices used that’s of import but encompassing all five flavors – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty.

Regardless, the spice mix is what turns this vegetable-laden brown rice dish into a Chinese-inspired main course that’s quick and easy. In China, stir-frys were eaten out of practicality – meat was scarce but rice and vegetables were more plentiful. Stir-frying also conserved fuel by cooking food quickly.

Even though I write this food blog – and put more time into cooking than some – I take advantage of some practical approaches to cooking. For instance, I make one big batch of rice for the week. We’re not huge pasta or bread eaters in our house, so our starchy carb is rice. It’s usually eaten with a lot of soups and beans.

Over the last few months though, I’ve been making fried rice out of leftover brown rice. It’s a go to recipe when I want something substantial without a whole lot of effort. Each time I’ve made it’s been a little of this and that – how I generally cook. I provided measurements just as a guide but hope you make it your own. So, use whatever vegetables you have in the crisper, change out/omit the meat source and even use white rice.

And, one more thing – this is a healthy meal and a good way to eat more vegetables and fiber – despite the word “fried.”

Tidbits on Rice:

  1. Rice feeds more than half of the world’s population.
  2. Asia, Latin America and Africa comprise the world’s major rice growing regions. Notably, most rice is consumed within 10 miles of where it is produced.


Lentils: Lentil & Plantain Salad – Ensalada de Lentejas Y Platanos

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Ensalada Lentejas con Platanos - Lentil

Apparently, lentils and bananas are combined more commonly than we think.

I came upon a Banana-Lentil Salad recipe while browsing Nuevo Latino: Recipes that Celebrate the New Latin-American Cuisine by Douglas Rodriguez, a James Beard award-winning chef. His salad trails back to the Spanish Canary Islands.

In Mexico, as well as in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, lentejas y platanos (lentils and plantains) are frequently eaten as a soup usually stewed with pork. And, in places like Puebla, Mexico, pineapple is also added to the mix, according to The Art of Mexican Cooking by renowned cookbook author Diana Kennedy, who links the savory/sweet combo to Moorish Spain. The combination can also be traced to some African recipes.

This salad recipe, however, is my version of lentejas and platanos. It’s loosely inspired by Rodriguez and traditional lentejas recipes.

If you’re leary about the lentil/plantain combo – have the salad without the plantains, it’s still plenty flavorful and healthy. However, you’re on notice that it’s those platanos fritos (fried plantains) that makes this salad special.

The caramelized plantains have sweet, tender insides that are also a tad bit tangy and a perfect contrast to the crunchiness of peppers, onion and celery, and the nuttiness of wild rice and lentils.

It’s an unusual twist that’s not so unusual.

Tidbits on Lentils:

  1. Before cooking lentils, be sure to sort the legumes to remove any debris such as dirt and stones. Then rinse well in a colander and drain. It is not necessary to pre-soak lentils before cooking.
  2. Store unused lentils in an airtight container in a cool, dry location for up to one year.
  3. Lentils are high in soluble fiber and recommended for people with diabetes and cholestoral problems.


Lentils: Comforting Red Lentil Soup

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Red Lentil

This red lentil soup is comfort food.

It takes the edge off a cold, winter day and satiates my panza (belly).

It’s a souped-up tomato soup – made hearty with red lentils and flavorful with my favorite warming spices:  ginger, cumin and chile.  Several Ethiopian red lentil dishes are similar; this one is more simple.

Last month, I made a jumbo batch for a New Year’s snowshoe group outing. It was a crowd pleaser. After trekking steep hills in gusty winds at 11,000 ft., we huddled near a fire pit warming cold fingers and toes. And, we grubbed! Hot chocolate, hot ginger tea, home-made sweets, grilled spicy sausage on sticks and, yes, red lentil soup. It was a wonderful way to start the New Year – outdoors, warm and belly full.

Red lentils cook faster than other lentils because they are hulled. Although they are referred to as red, they are actually a salmon pink hue. When cooked, the discs turn golden and are delicate, which makes them well-suited for purées or soups.

This lentil soup is a filling main course especially when served with crusty bread. It’s also a nutritious side dish with a sandwich (or sausage on a stick).

Tidbits on Lentils:

  1. Lentils’ botanical name Lens culinaris means cooking lens, a reference to its convex shape.
  2. Up until the later part of the last century, lentils and other beans were generally stigmatized as peasant food – they were staples to those who could not afford meat. However, in places like Egypt, there were aficionados who were particularly fond of red lentils. In India, where vegetarianism was prominent, lentils were also integral to diet.

Source:  Beans: A History by Ken Albala


Lentils: Easy Dal – Indian Lentil Stew

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010


Growing up Catholic, lentils were standard in my house every Lenten season. Now, as an adult, I eat them year-round but more frequently during the colder months in hearty soups and other comforting dishes. Although some of you may be scrunching your nose about now, don’t. They make for good eating. Yes, lentils prepared inadequately can be boring and flavorless – perhaps why they get associated with deprivation. But, spiced right, they are oh so scrumptious and uber healthy.

For inspiration on cooking lentils, I look toward India, Pakistan and other countries in the Indian subcontinent, where lentils are integral to diet and dal.

Simply speaking, a dal (also spelled dahl, daal or daahl depending on the specific region) is a stew made from legumes such as lentils and is typically seasoned with turmeric, ginger, and other spices. It is enjoyed with roti (flatbread), fragrant basmati rice, and vegetables.

Traditional dal requires making lentils from scratch. Even though they cook relatively fast compared to other legumes, we’re keeping it simple. Pre-made lentils and a handful of other ingredients (that are likely in your pantry) are all that is needed. This easy recipe is a healthy go-to-meal for those nights when you want something home-made but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. It takes about 15 minutes to prepare.

Try this dish as an alternative for a Lenten Friday meal or, if you’re like me, anytime.

Tidbits on Lentils:

  1. Lentils are believed to have originated from Eastern Turkey and Northern Syria and are thought to be one of the first crops cultivated by man. They have been a food source for over 8000 years, although wild lentils, dating back 11,000 years, have also been found in a Greek cave.
  2. There are at least 50 cultivated varieties of lentils that come in various forms (split versus whole), various sizes, and an array of colors including yellow, red, green, brown and black.
  3. Lentils are often considered a good substitute for meat and have gained popularity as a Lenten food. These legumes are a good source of lean protein. They are a complete protein paired with grains, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products.


Quinoa: SAME Cafe’s Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

SAME Cafe - Denver

This post is my introduction to quinoa. It’s a little out of the ordinary because SAME Café is out of the ordinary . . .

It’s a sunny winter day in Denver, still several minutes before the doors open at SAME Café and there’s a line of people forming outside on this East Colfax sidewalk. The group is a mix of sorts – several in tattered clothes, others in suits, and a few hip folks with piercings and tattoos. They are here for lunch. This, however, is no regular café.

SAME is short for “So All May Eat” and the unusual mode of business here is that people pay what they want. Yeah, that’s right, there’s no set menu price. And, for folks who can’t pay, they can work in exchange. There’s no cash register, just a donation box where people pay what they feel their meal was worth. And, if a person can, leave a little more to help out someone less fortunate.

The nonprofit has been open for three years. In 2009, SAME served over 18,500 meals; since it opened – almost 35,000 meals. It is not a soup kitchen. It’s a communal concept based on dignity with good food at its core. A typical menu looks something like this:  Zuppa Tuscana Soup, Beer Cheese Soup, Chicken Salad, Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad, Sausage & Mushroom Pizza, Apple Walnut & Bleu Cheese Pizza, and cookies. The menu changes daily and focuses on seasonal ingredients with vegetarian options always offered in the daily menu of soups, salads and pizzas.

This month SAME Café was recognized with the Channel 7 Everyday Hero Award and also an impressive MSN Hometown Heroes Award, an online viewer voting contest connected to their NBC Nightly News segment with Brian Williams (watch the video).

SAME is the brainchild of Brad and Libby Birky who were concerned about the hunger issue here in Denver. The two work full-time at the café, along with one part-time employee and the many volunteers who help with meal preparation, cleaning and numerous miscellaneous tasks.

Notably, Libby is also the “Salad Queen” and she generously allowed me to come observe her in action as she prepared the quinoa salad. Her recipe is below with my measurements/ratios (she made a gargantuan bowlful; the recipe is adjusted for a smaller quantity). The salad is refreshing with the citrus-based dressing, fresh parsley and sweet raisins. For those unfamiliar with quinoa salads, this version is tabouleh-esque.

How to Support SAME:

2010 is off to a busy start at SAME. The economic downturn is one reason, as is the season – when the temperatures drop the café sees more people in need of a warm meal. Here’s how you can support their mission:

  • Go in to eat. The food is lovely, particularly the salads and soups!
  • Email them about volunteering
  • Make a donation, financial or in-kind (see their wish list in their weekly blog)
  • Spread the word (share this post with friends and colleagues – see the green icon below). Their meal count helps their funding prospects.

Golden Sunshine Quinoa Salad - Parsley Quinoa - Summer


Cabbage: Beef & Cabbage Soup – Caldo de Res

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Caldo de

There are certain dishes that make me nostalgic for childhood.

You know what I’m talking about. A smell or taste that conjures vivid memories of comfort – when life was more simple and childhood dramas were easily soothed by your momma or daddy’s home-made goodies. Like, a bandage and a kiss or hug, but you could eat it. For me, these cabbage recipes have been just that:  the yeasty smell of my mom’s cabbage burgers baking, warming the house and our tummies on a cold day; and, this beef and cabbage soup from my abuela Juarez.

Grandma Juarez is no longer with us. And, I’m sure, I’m not the only one of the 37 grandkids and 46 great-grandchildren who thinks of her when I eat this soup. I remember several a Sunday afternoon visit and her never-empty pot of soup simmering in her little kitchen. Somehow it managed to feed whomever stopped by that day. That, and tortillas de harina (flour tortillas), but that’s another recipe and story.

Caldo de res is comfort soup, perfect for a dreary day or cool night. Tender bites of roast simmered in a beefy broth with winter vegetables – onion, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. It’s a standard in Mexican households and restaurants, although the ingredients may vary slightly – some adding chayote or zucchini.

The recipe below is adapted from my abuela’s recipe (I use a whole head of cabbage and more veggies, and brown the roast first). It also contains her rumoured “secret” ingredient (which, now, is no longer secret), hierba buena, spearmint used in Mexican teas and cooking. It adds a special, fresh dimension to this soothing broth.

For those who’ve never tried caldo de res, if you like Vietnamese pho, which also has a tasty beef broth, you’ll want to try this soup.

Tidbits on Cabbage:

  1. When shopping for cabbage, look for one with a shiny, crisp exterior. It should also feel solid and compact. Avoid buying those that look wilted, brown or dried-out.
  2. Don’t wash cabbage until you are ready to use it. Cabbage can be rinsed after cutting or chopping, drain well.
  3. Boiling cabbage tenderizes the leaves, causing it to release sugar and the characteristic cabbage aroma.