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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Delectable Shrimp and Calamari in Pepper Sauce with Homemade Plantain Chips

Over Spring Break, I tried Bolivian food at this restaurant nearby (I am still in Miami) that I've had on my list since I randomly passed by it while working as a census taker in Little Havana last summer.  I have never had Bolivian food and had no clue what to expect.  I must say, I was absolutely amazed.  I can't believe you don't hear more about Bolivian food.  It's delicious!  

Bolivian food has a distinctly indigenous Andean flair--most dishes contain potatoes in some form with easy-over eggs, there's a heavy use of peppers (not necessarily hot), and most dishes are accompanied with rice as well.  The dish I had was asado borracho, which came with the characteristically Bolivian chorrellana, which is a sauce made of julienned peppers and onions with tomato.  

I've been craving seafood this week, but I've also had a taste for that delicious, peppery, slightly smoky, lightly spicy sauce.  I decided that I would try to recreate it using what I had at home and make a seafood dish with it.  Voila shrimp and calamari in pepper sauce :)!  I must admit, the flavors were spot on!  I loved how the combo of peppers created a nice layered burn--some of it was a slow burn, some was a smoky burn, and some was a a more delayed burn, and the sweet peppers created a wonderful balance.  

Here is a photo of the inspiration for my dish, Las Americas Restaurant's asado borracho (drunken grilled steak on a bed of fried potato rounds topped with a fried egg and chorrellana sauce with a side of toasty grilled hot dog, yes hot dog).

So, if you've never had Bolivian food before, here's your chance to try something similar; if you're looking for something new to do with seafood, this is for you, too.  Serve with white rice and, if you like, throw in an easy-over egg to make it more authentic.  Bolivians don't seem big on seafood, by the way, likely because they're landlocked.  The seafood is my own thing.  Don't forget the mariquitas (plaintain chips ;).  I had a huge craving, so I threw that in, too.


1 lb of shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/3 lb of calamari
red bell pepper, julienned (maybe 6 sticks)
green bell pepper, julienned (maybe 8 sticks) 
yellow bell pepper, julienned (maybe 6 sticks
Hungarian pepper (in reg. supermarket, use Cubanelle if you don't see it), julienned (about 5 sticks)
2 thai peppers, sliced as thinly as possible on a bias
about 6 thin slices of jalapeño, cut on bias
1/3 habanero pepper, julienned as finely as possible

1 small onion, julienned
4 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
1 full-size can of diced tomatoes (not flavored, Hunt's brand recommended)
2 TB of smoked pork chop or smoked ham, in small cubes
1/8 cup olive oil
salt to taste

Sautee the garlic in the olive oil over low heat for a minute or two to get the flavor into the oil.  Don't cut back on the oil amount.  You'll need it to sautee all of the veggies.  The point of adding it all in the beginning is to let the garlic flavor seep into it.  

Add in the onions and bring up the heat to medium low.

Toss the onions in the oil until coated.  Sautee until mildly softened and add peppers.  You want to let the onions soften first so that they are near caramelization by the time the peppers are cooked, and they will release more sweetness.  Salt and sautee until softened.  

Stir in pork and sautee for a minute or two to let flavors blend.

Add the can of tomatoes, re-salt, blend everything together, and turn the heat up to medium.  Let sautee a minute or two so that the flavors blend.  

Add in the shrimp only, cover and cook for about 5 minutes.  They should only be half-way done at this point.

Give everything a gentle stir and add in the calamari.  Cook no more than 5 minutes, until  the seafood is cooked.  Be sure that throughout the whole process of cooking the seafood that you never have a full boil going.  You just want a simmer to avoid overcooking the seafood.  Calamari should be tender, not chewy when done and shrimp should be bright pink and slightly curled, but not in a ring when it reaches doneness.  If all of the shrimp form a ring, they are likely overcooked.

Plantain Chips (Mariquitas)
1 pot of oil 
1 plantain, sliced thinly, either on a bias or in rounds
1 clove of garlic cut into three pieces

Heat oil with garlic slices over medium high heat.  Meanwhile, soak plantain slices in salt water to remove sticky residue and flavor the chips.  Once the oil is ready, pat the plantain slices dry and add the one-by-one into the oil, stirring constantly.  Let the chips fry until golden brown and crispy.  Be sure to stir constantly as they can and will stick if you don't.  After the first minute or so of frying, remove the garlic, as it has already released it's flavor and you don't want it to begin to get bitter.

Remove the chips from the oil and let drain on a paper-towel-lined plate.  Enjoy their crispy, garlicky goodness!!  No need to add salt since they were soaked in salt water and are already perfectly seasoned ;).  If you so desire, serve with Cuban mojo sauce.  Here is a recipe  Just be sure that you're using mariquita mojo (not the one with all of the herbs that you use to marinade).

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Summer's Festival Line-Up!!

Any good Richmonder knows that the best part of living in this city has to be the amazing variety of festivals we have, especially in the summer.  Richmond's festivals are a great chance to explore new cuisines, learn about different cultures, buy some cool handicrafts, and enjoy some great music and dance performances.  Although it's been a while since I've lived full-time in Richmond, I always get super excited about filling up my calendar with festival dates!

I've checked out a couple, but I definitely have a lot more to see.  Somehow I always end up missing the Filipino Festival, but this year, I am going to make absolutely sure that I make it there.  Who can say know to lechon and halo halo?  Not me!  Lechon is one of my favorite foods, so I just have to try it Filipino-style.

So here's the rest of this year's amazing line-up!

Church Hill Irish Festival - tomorrow (Mar 25th) and Sunday, rain or shine!

French Food Festival - Apr 30

Lebanese Food Festival - May 13-15

Greek Food Festival - May 20-22

Broad Appetit - June 5th

St. Joseph's Italian Festival - June 11th

Filipino Festival - August 12th and 13th  Last year, they even had a drive-thru!

Festival of India - no date set this year; normally in Sept

Que Pasa Festival - Oct 1

Imagine Festival - Oct 8

St. Benedict Oktoberfest - Oct 16-18

Richmond Oktoberfest - October 21-22

Festivals Nearby
DC National BBQ Battle - June 25-26
DC Caribbean Carnival - June 25-26 (admission $10)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Not Your Mama's Lentil Soup

While I was doing my veggie challenge, I actually fell in love with lentils.  Lentils are a great alternative to beans since they cook in a fraction of the time that it takes to whip up a pot of beans.  Just about thirty minutes is all you need to have your lentils ready to eat.  I love all kinds of lentil soups and I also like making a spread out of lentils and mashing them with salt, oil, garlic, herbs, and other seasonings before having them on flatbread with fresh veggies such as cucumber, tomato, olives, etc.  Sometimes I even season them up with curry and put raisins in the mix. 

Here's a simple yet delicious recipe for a tasty lentil soup.  The flavor is dark, garlicky, and somewhat smoky and spicy from the Thai chili with a bit of brightness from the culantro. I came up with this recipe in an attempt to make a dish that was well-balanced both in nutrition and in flavor.  Remember that red pepper is very high in vitamin C.  Buttercup squash is a great source of vitamin A and also contains vitamin C, calcium, and iron.  Celery also contains the same vitamins.  Who said healthy food had to be boring?  Enjoy!


Lentil Soup
1 package lentils
¼  buttercup squash (any grocery store--do NOT substitute with the similar-looking acorn squash)
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1/8 cup diced red pepper
1/8 cup diced onion
2-3 culantro leaves (sawleaf herb--easily found at SE Asian market) (a substitute, but not equivalent is the much brighter cilantro)
Half stalk of celery, diced
2 thai peppers, whole with stem removed (SE Asian market)
Handful of black peppercorns
Pinch of dried oregano
1 tsp turmeric
2-3 tsp salt
Goya Adobo to taste (I used the one with the blue top)

Mix ingredients together and cook according to package instructions, until desired tenderness. 

Serve with sliced avocado and even rice, if you so desire.  Yum!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dominican Seafood and Dumplings in Coconut Sauce

As far as Dominican food goes, it's easy to believe that such a small island has a homogeneous national cuisine.  In fact, to think that actually is partially correct. There is a basic sazon (seasoning) that is used all over the country and a huge shared repertoire of braised meats, casseroles, soups, and stews.  However, if you take a closer look, there are some important regional variations.

The Cibao Valley region is known for its heavy use of plantains.  In the Southwest, near the border, there is more Haitian influence, so food tends to be somewhat spicy, whereas traditional Dominican food is anything but spicy.  In the capital, there are many more immigrants, so beloved dishes such as quipe (the Dominican version of kibbeh), and tipili (Tabbouleh) from Lebanese immigrants, as well as chofan (chow fan) from the Chinese immigrants first entered the Dominican kitchen there and are now enjoyed all over the nation.

Finally, in the East, where there is the highest concentration of sugar plantations, there is much more West Indian influence from the cocolos (West Indian immigrants) who came to cut sugar cane before the cane cutting labor force became primarily Haitian in the mid 1900s.  There is also more Haitian influence for the same reason.  As a result, there is a greater use of flour preparations, such as dumplings being added into sancocho (as they are in similar Haitian dishes) and full dumpling-based dishes (such as domplines ahogados) as well as johnny cakes, or yaniqueques from the West Indian influence.

In Samana, West Indian-influenced favorites include ginger beer and conconete (sweet spiced coconut bread rounds) in addition to yaniqueques.   Samana (in the east), because it hasan abundance of coconut trees, and I believe the highest concentration of coconut trees in the world, is famous for dishes using coconut milk.  Among these dishes is  their famous pescado con coco or fish in coconut sauce (see past post), which has become beloved all over the nation.

So, as I was looking up information about the Southwest, I came across a recipe from the region. The recipe was for something I'd never had before, domplines sancristobaleros (San Cristobal style dumplings) or Domplin de PicaPica (picapica is the name for sardines sold in a spicy tomato sauce). These dumplings are in finger-like oblong shapes and are added to a stew of shrimp, sardines in tomato sauce, corn, coconut milk, and Dominican sazon.  Dominican sazon consists of about a 1:2 ratio of parsley to cilantro, along with onion, garlic, cubanelle pepper, oregano, tomato paste, and sometimes celery and/or celery leaf.

End result--a rich, lightly creamy, flavorful broth with tender seafood and dumplings.

This recipe was adapted from: (you can find a photo here as well)

Domplines de PicaPica

Ingredients for Stew:
1 smoked pork chop, cubed
4 cans of sardines in tomato sauce (I prefer without bones, if possible, otherwise, you can opt to leave the bones or carefully remove by hand)
1 lb of shrimp
1/4 cup or just over of diced onion
1/3 cup or so of finely diced cubanelle pepper
half a habanero or scotch bonnet pepper (Since pica pica is not easily found in the US, we have to make it spicy ourselves)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp chopped cilantro
1 tsp chopped parlsey
1/2 to 3/4 can of corn (or get the half size can), drained
1 can of coconut milk
2/3 - 3/4 cup of water
1 TB fresh lime juice
a pinch of oregano (less than 1/8 tsp)

1 Cup of flour
warm water (or you could use milk, but that's not the traditional way) to form dumplilng dough
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional--traditionally, Dominican dumplings are harder than American, but I prefer more tender ones and baking powder helps with this)
oil (butter would likely make them even more tender, but oil is traditional)

Water for Boiling Dumplings
2-3 cloves of garlic, slice in half or smashed
5 sprigs of cilantro

Bring to a boil a pot of water with cilantro, garlic, salt, and oil.  Meanwhile, mix 1 cup of flour with water, oil, salt, and baking powder.  Drop the dumplings into the seasoned boiling water, stirring occasionally.  Let boil until they rise to the surface.  Remove from the water and set aside.

Sautee the onions and peppers, salted, over medium low heat until translucent.  Add in the garlic and herbs and sautee for about 20-30 seconds.  Sometimes I like to add 2/3 of the herbs in now and add the rest just before adding the coconut milk.

Add in the cubed smoked pork chop and sautee a bit for it to pick up the flavor of the sazon.  Add in the corn and lime and sautee until it has a chance to absorb the flavors.  Add in the water and the shrimp and sautee until almost cooked.

Add in the habanero pepper, four cans of sardines, with the tomato sauce they are canned in.  Remove some of ingredients from the stew (preferably the shrimp so they don't overcook) to make room for the coconut milk to be distributed.  Add in the coconut milk and gently blend it in.

Add in the reserved dumplings and let the dish sautee a bit so that the flavors blend.

Taste for salt and pepper and enjoy!  Serve with tostones (twice fried green plantains--if you are clueless on this, comment and I'll help) and a slice of lime to squeeze over the top.

*Maps are the property of

Friday, March 18, 2011

Grilled Mediterranean-Inspired Herb Tofu

As promised, I have more recipes from my vegetarian series.  This one is a wonderfully delicious Mediterranean-inspired marinated grilled tofu recipe.  This fresh and flavorful dish is perfect for summer or any time at all.  I have grilled mine in my toaster oven and on my Foreman grill.  I think the Foreman is my preferred method, but either way, it is super delish!  

The smashing of all of the ingredients brings out their flavor and creates a smoother marinade that will keep the herbs from burning and integrate the flavors better.  Smashing the peppercorns gives you a nice spiciness that you don't normally associate with peppercorns.

The fresh Mediterranean salad is a wonderful, nutritious accompaniment to this dish.  This dish is bursting with flavor and is great for both your taste buds and your waistline.  Try this easy yet flavorful recipe yourself and show your the meat eaters in your life just how tasty tofu can be.  Enjoy!


1/4 tsp dried rosemary
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large basil leaf
¼-1/2   tsp oregano
Handful peppercorns (15)
Juice of one lime (you can also use lemon, but lime is much more easily accessible and more affordable in Miami)
1 tsp salt
1 TB olive oil
1 pack extra firm tofu (rinsed, patted dry, and sliced longways into four)

Cucumber, diced
Tomato, diced
olives, diced
white vinegar

1 mortar and pestle (easily found at any SE Asian market ($9-$15 for the mid sized one). The stone Thai versions are idea for creating smooth pastes--be sure it's deep enough to not splash when you are pounding the ingredients. Also, the sides should be thick to prevent breakage. Don't fall for the thinner, more shallow American versions)

Smash all garlic, herbs, salt, and peppercorns. together in a mortar and pestle until you form a homogeneous paste.

Gently blend in the olive oil and lime juice.

Marinate tofu ½ hr – 8 hrs. 

Grill to crispiness.

Serve with salad of diced tomato, olive (I used black), and seedless cucumber with a few splashes of white vinegar. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Warm, Comforting and Super Easy Cuban Garlic Soup - Sopa de Ajo Cubano

I know it's freezing cold on the regular these days back home, but it was in the mid 80s here for the past month, and all of a sudden the past week has dropped down into the low 70s and into the 60s at night.  I know you guys will have no sympathy, but for me, that is freezing!!

All of this rapidly changing weather plus the onset of allergy season here has me super congested.  I've got a runny nose that just won't stop.  So, with the nights being chilly and me battling all this congestion, I've been in the mood for soup.  After having Cuban food with my friend the other night, I was craving some garlicky Cuban goodness, but it had to be something quick.  I Googled and Googled some more until I decided on Cuban garlic soup (sopa de ajo).

Sopa de ajo was inherited from the Spanish and Cubans have adapted it to their taste.  This is like their version of chicken soup; Cubans swear a good sopa de ajo can cure the worst of head colds.  After trying my first bowl tonight, I have to say, it's definitely a better cure-all than chicken soup.  Even the smell of this soup cooking makes you start feeling better.  I must say, a little garlic seems to take care of way more than just vampires.  This warm, comforting soup has a rich, garlicky flavor and a velvety texture to which garlicky toasted bread croutons are added for a deliciously crunchy variation of texture.  Any garlic lover is sure to enjoy this incredibly easy and flavorful dish.

The trick is to be sure to temper the beaten eggs just before the soup reaches a boil, whisking rapidly and adding the broth in a slow, steady stream.  If your eggs curdle, it likely isn't ruined.  Just strain the egg; the flavor is likely fine

Also, be sure to strain out the garlic and onion before serving .

Add the croutons only as you are serving.  Do not add to the main pot if you plan to have leftovers.

The following recipe was adapted from : (the soup looks nothing like the photo--it's yellow and velvety)

References: (pimenton dulce - paprika)

Sopa de Ajo Cubano
16 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small onion, minced
2 quarts of chicken stock (2 cartons)
3 eggs
8 slices of Cuban bread (or French as a substitute, but do NOT use white sandwich), cubed
1 tsp paprika (optional) --this is closer to the Spanish version, but most Cubans don't use it
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of olive oil for sauteeing (yes, you do need it all.  You will be splitting it up into three fryings)

Over medium low heat, sautee the minced garlic for a few minutes in the olive oil, until softened.

Once softened, strain the oil and set the garlic aside (you will use it toward the end).

Coat the bottom of the pan with the garlic oil and turn the heat up to medium to medium high.  You do not need to pour it all in, just coat the bottom of the pan (maybe 2 tsp - 1TB)

Fry the cubed bread until crispy (does not need to be brown).

Remove the bread from the oil and set aside for later use.

Add the rest of the oil, turn the heat to medium, and sautee the onion until translucent

Once the onions are translucent, add in the chicken broth, add in the garlic, and add the paprika, if using.

Serve the soup with the garlic bread croutons you fried previously and one raw egg per person over the toast, which you allow to cook in the hot soup bowl.  Enjoy!

Some people do the bread in full slices
Some people poach the egg in the soup per person by opening a raw egg onto the top of the soup while it boils and letting the egg cook 2-3 min.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nicaraguan Fajita with rice

Hi guys!

I wanted to share a quick recipe I made this weekend. This recipe is uber easy, full of flavor, and is surprisingly low in fat. The meat used is very lean and the red peppers used are packed with vitamins. Red peppers are among the highest sources of vitamin C and actually have three times the vitamin C of their green counterparts. It is not at all a bad habit to choose your foods based on color. Foods that are orange, yellow, or red, tend to be higher in vitamin C and beta carotene, while dark leafy greens, for example, are rich in fiber, folic acid, potassium, and magnesium, and are surprisingly high in vitamin C. Folic acid and potassium are especially important in the diets of women. Women who have adequate amounts of folic acid in their diets both before and during pregnancy significantly decrease the risk of birth defects. Potassium also plays a key role in cardiovascular and bone health, as well as muscle contraction.

Pregnant women often experience an increase in the frequency of charlie horses because of an increased need for potassium. If you find yourself getting charlie horses often, it is typically due to potassium deficiency. Try to eat a banana for the moment to help it. Also, try to increase your overall consumption of foods such as leafy greens and bananas, as well as beans, which are all good sources of potassium, as a permanent solution to frequent muscle cramping. So whether you are pregnant, have high blood pressure, or frequent muscle cramps, being intentional about incorporating more of these foods into your diet may be just what the doctor ordered.

Below you will find some useful websites for further reading on the topic of potassium and folic acid and their roles in the health of our body's systems.

Here are some regarding the relationship of fruit and vegetable color to vitamin and mineral content:!&id=5165572

I hope you enjoy this deliciously tasty recipe that I've adapted from Nicaragua en mi Sazon with Maria Esther.

Fajita Nicaraguense (Nicaraguan Fajita)

1 lb of top round steak, sliced into strips and marinated for 1 hour - overnight

Meat marinade
2 cloves, smashed into a paste or grated
2 TB Worcestershire sauce
Salt (maybe a teaspoon or so)

½ onion, julienned
bell pepper*, julienned (use what you like. I used green and red (red is among the best sources of vit. C)
Celery, ½ cup*
2 cloves of garlic, minced

*the measurements for the celery and bell pepper really don’t matter. Simply go by your own preference. I just provided approximate measurements for any novice cooks out there.

! TB of vinegar (any type you like, I used white)
3 TB water

In a very lightly greased pan (either with non-stick spray or by spreading the oil over the pan with a napkin) sautee the onion over medium heat until softened. This will not take but a few minutes. Since there Is very little oil, it will not become transparent. At this point, add in the other vegetables, including the garlic, toss, and cook until they start to soften. Once the vegetables are slightly softened, add in the vinegar, water, and salt to taste, lower the heat to low and cook until desired doneness.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan over medium heat, greased in the same manner, cook the beef. Be sure to cook the meat in a single layer so that all of the meat cooks properly. This means that, depending on the size of the pan, you may do two or three panfuls of meat. With this in mind, start cooking the meat when you start the veggies off.
Once everything is done. Toss the veggies and meat together and enjoy!

I had mine with Nicaraguan-style white rice, which I tried for the first time. There really was a significant difference in flavor that I very much enjoyed. The rice was very flavorful and had that slight tanginess that I always enjoy in Nicaraguan food. What makes it Nicaraguan style is that it is toasted first, but not everyone seasons it with garlic and green pepper.  The recipe is below.

Nicaraguan-style White Rice

1-1/2 cups of long grain white rice, rinsed (swish it around in a pot of cool water with your hand then drain the water. Repeat one to three times until the water is almost but not all the way clear.
2-1/2 cups of water (I don’t like the 1:2 ratio of rice to water. It is too wet for me.)
1 slice of green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 slice of onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 TB butter, olive oil, or half a TB of each (this usually turns out nicely)
Juice of ½ lime
A pinch of salt

Gently stir all of the ingredients together in a medium-sized pot. Bring the rice to a boil, stirring. Once it boils, cover it and take the heat down to low. Let the rice steam on low for 20 minutes. Do not open the pot during this time. Remove from heat and let steam for another 10 minutes. Again, do not open the pot. Once the 10 minutes are up, fluff and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Garlic Parmesan Broccoli

Hi everyone!

As promised, I told you that I would integrate some of the wonderful recipes I came up with during my two veggie months that I mentioned.  This recipe is a super flavorful garlic parmesan broccoli recipe.

So, I already love broccoli anyway, but oh my goodness, this is the most amazing broccoli I have ever had in my entire life!!  My garlic Parmesan broccoli tasted like something from a fine restaurant.  Just amazing and bursting with flavor without overpowering the broccoli.  At the same time, if you have a resident veggie hater around, serve them this broccoli and make them a total convert!  I promise!

Garlic Parmesan Broccoli
1 bunch Fresh broccoli
About 10 black peppercorns
½ tsp salt
1 TB parmesan cheese (in the can)
2 cloves fresh garlic
Thumb length piece of a leek or green onion chopped into small pieces

Stir in
A drizzle of olive oil to toss broccoli with

1. Mash the ingredients above, besides olive oil, in a mortar and pestle or in a ziplock using a rolling pin to mash.  If it's all you have, use a food processor, but the oils really come out when the ingredients are mashed.
2. Toss the broccoli with all of the mashed ingredients that have been blended with olive oil.
3. Cook in your preferred method until al dente and enjoy! I just sauteed mine over medium heat.

You may never want regular broccoli or broccoli and cheese again ;).