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Toronto Star

A Taste Of Puerto Rico

By Susan Sampson

16 February 2005
Copyright © 2005 Toronto Star. All rights reserved.

These recipes were inspired by and developed from the cookbooks A Taste of Puerto Rico: Traditional and New Dishes from the Puerto Rican Community (Dutton, 1994, $22) by Yvonne Ortiz, Puerto Rican Cookery (Pelican Publishing Co., 2003, $30.95) by Carmen Aboy Vallejuli, A Taste of the Caribbean Cookbook (Caribbean Press, 2000) by Angela Spenceley, as well as the online magazine at . html.

An essential weapon when you try these is a spatter guard - a flat, mesh screen that prevents hot oil from spitting all over you and your stove.


(Salt Cod Fritters)

Eat these tasty tidbits hot and fresh, and you will think twice about salt cod. This preserved fish is used in many cuisines and is widely available. Bacalaitos are good dipped in Aji-Li-Mojili Sauce (recipe follows).

1/2 lb (225 g) salt cod

1/2 each: red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, chopped

2 tbsp each: chopped cilantro, chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp chili flakes

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 cups water

Corn oil for frying

In large pan, cover salt cod generously with cold water and soak overnight. Drain. Cover generously with cold water and bring to boil over high heat. Drain. Again, cover generously with cold water and bring to boil over high heat. Drain. Cool to room temperature.

Using fingers, pull cod into tiny shreds. Place in large bowl. Stir in peppers, cilantro, onion, garlic and chili flakes. Stir in flour, salt, pepper and baking powder. Stir in water until blended. Let sit 30 minutes at room temperature.

Pour oil into large skillet to depth of 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Heat over medium-high until shimmery. Drop about 2 tablespoons of batter for each fritter into skillet. Do not crowd. Fry in batches, turning once, until golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. (Reduce heat to medium if necessary.) Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Makes about 35.

Aji-Li-Mojili Sauce

A classic, tangy sauce served with meat, fried fish or tostones. Look for miniature sweet red chilies about the size of jalapeños; they are sold in some supermarkets and specialty shops. Or use fresh pimento chilies, sold in Latin markets.

3 cloves garlic

10 peppercorns

4 miniature sweet red chilies, seeded, cut in pieces

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp lime juice

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 tbsp white vinegar (optional)

In blender, finely chop garlic and peppercorns. Add chilies and salt. Chop. Add lime juice. Blend. With machine running, drizzle in oil. Taste. Blend in vinegar (if desired).

Makes about 3/4 cup.


(Fried Plantains)

I used a tostonera to flatten the plantains. This small wooden press, featuring a circular, 1/4-inch deep indentation, is essential equipment in Puerto Rico. However, the plantains can easily be flattened with your hand or a rolling pin; just put them between 2 pieces of waxed paper or foil. Moistening the flattened plantains before re-frying causes a lot of spattering; you could skip this step. Tostones are sometimes dipped in or drizzled with garlic sauce, like Mojo de Ajo (recipe follows).

4 cups cold water

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp salt

1/2 tsp granulated sugar

3 green plantains, peeled

Corn oil for frying

Salt + pepper to taste

In large bowl, stir together water, garlic, salt and sugar.

Slice plantains diagonally in 1-inch segments. Add to bowl. Soak 15 to 20 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon. Pat dry. Reserve water.

Pour oil into large skillet to depth of 3/4 to 1 inch. Heat on medium-high until shimmery. Fry plantains 5 to 8 minutes, until softened, but not quite cooked through.

Flatten to about 1/4-inch thickness. Dip in reserved water, shake off excess and return to hot oil. (Reduce heat to medium, if necessary.) Fry until golden and crispy on the outside and meaty inside, about 30 seconds. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Makes about 25.

Yuca Fries

Also called cassava or manioc, yuca is a thick root with tough brown skin. The flesh should be white and firm; cut away any pulpy or weepy bits. Yuca is sold in many supermarkets, as well as Caribbean and Latin American grocery stores. For a satisfying alternative to these fries, simply mash the boiled yuca with Mojo de Ajo (recipe follows), then garnish with the thyme.

1-1/2 lb (675 g) yuca, peeled

8 cups water

1 tbsp salt + more to taste

Corn oil for frying

Mojo de Ajo (Garlic Dipping Sauce) to taste

1 tbsp chopped thyme

Cut yuca into strips measuring about 3 inches by 1/2 inch wide by 1/2-inch.

In large pot, bring water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil over high heat. Add yuca, reduce heat to medium and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until tender but still firm. Drain. Pat dry.

Pour oil into large skillet to depth of about 3/4 inch. Heat on medium-high until shimmery. Fry yuca in small batches 3 to 5 minutes, until golden and crispy on the outside, and creamy on the inside. Reduce heat to medium if necessary. Drain on paper towels.

Place on platter. Drizzle with Mojo de Ajo or serve alongside. Sprinkle with salt. Sprinkle thyme over top.

Makes 4 servings.

Mojo de Ajo

(Garlic Dipping Sauce)

This sauce is really a simple flavoured oil, but the taste and scent are so addictive. Its flavour improves overnight. Store, tightly covered, in fridge. The garlic is traditionally crushed using a mortar and pestle, but using a blender is faster and easier.

3 to 4 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Chop garlic in blender. Add salt. With motor running, drizzle in oil.

Makes about 1/2 cup.

Barriguitas de Viejas (Fried Calabaza Dumplings)

Here are some tasty tidbits for dessert or snack time. Calabaza is West Indian pumpkin. You can buy it in chunks in Caribbean grocery stores.

3 lb (1-1/4 kg) piece calabaza, peeled, cut in 1-inch dice

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp each: ground cinnamon, vanilla extract

1/2 tsp salt

2-1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour

Corn oil for frying

Icing sugar to taste

Cook pumpkin in large pan of boiling, salted water 10 minutes or until tender. Drain. Mash with hand masher. Cool to room temperature. Stir in eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Stir in 2-1/2 cups flour until blended.

Pour oil into large skillet to depth of 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Heat on medium-high until shimmery. Drop heaping tablespoon of batter into oil. Fry 2 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Cool briefly and taste. If not firm enough, stir remaining 1/2 cup flour into batter.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoons into oil. Fry in batches, turning once, about 3 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy on the outside, and cooked through. Reduce heat to medium if necessary. Drain on paper towels.

Serve warm, sprinkled with icing sugar.

Makes about 50.

Mojo Isleño (Fried Fish With Tomato Sauce)

This would work with any kind of fairly firm fish, like snapper.

3/4 cup olive oil

1 spanish onion (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 lb/550 to 675 g)

3 cloves garlic (2 minced, 1 crushed)

1 cup tomato sauce

3/4 cup water

24 pimento-stuffed green olives

1/4 cup bottled pimentos, drained, chopped

1 tbsp capers, drained

1 tbsp white vinegar

2 tsp sea salt

1 tsp granulated sugar

1 bay leaf

2 lb (900 g) skinless tilapia fillets

Salt to taste

Heat 1/4 cup oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onion and minced garlic, stirring, until softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add tomato sauce, water, olives, pimentos, capers, vinegar, salt, sugar and bay leaf. Cover and cook 30 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Cover to keep warm.

Heat remaining 1/2 cup oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmery. Fry crushed garlic until browned, then discard.

In batches, fry tilapia 3 to 6 minutes (depending on thickness), turning once, just until it flakes easily. (Do not overcook.) Remove to platter or serving dishes. Top with sauce.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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