Puerto Rican Snacks

Puerto Rican Pumpkin Fritters

In Puerto Rico, these pumpkin fritters are called “barriguitas de vieja” or “old lady bellies”… I just think that name is a tad discriminatory. Who said all old ladies bellies are sweet and wrinkly??? I am sure some old bellies out there are not sweet… LOL!!!!! I am so lame, I laugh at my own jokes…

Enjoy these, which are super delicious regardless of my bad jokes.

PUERTO RICAN PUMPKIN FRITTERS

2 cups fresh pumpkin puree
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
A few grates of fresh nutmeg
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp egg replacer + 2 tbs water
Canola Oil for frying
  1. First we steam the pumpkins to make the puree… I just peel and cut some pumpkin pieces and place them in a shallow pan that has a lid. I add about ½ inch of water and some kosher salt. Cover the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as you hear the water inside boiling, turn down the heat and allow the steam inside cook the pumpkins for about 10-15 minutes. Check the pumpkins at about 10 minutes… if they’re not completely done, just cover again, wait about 1 minute and turn off the heat and leave there uncovered for some 10-15 minutes more. They’ll be done by then.
  2. I just take the pumpkin pieces out into a bowl and mash… if you feel they’re too stringy, you can certainly pass the mashed pumpkin thru a sieve. But I don’t usually do that… I don’t find it’s necessary. You can certainly do all this steaming and mashing ahead. I did it the night before to use the mashed pumpkin for this recipe and for a pumpkin cheesecake I was making too.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the egg replacer with the water. Stir vigorously or whisk and set aside.
  4. Now we assemble the batter… in a large bowl mix together all the ingredients, including the egg replacer mix. I use my hands to mix well and almost knead the recipe. I tried using a spoon or spatula and it does not work well.

5.  In a frying pan add about 1 inch oil to fry these fritters over medium-high heat… wait until the oil has reached temperature before adding the first one. I usually check if the oil is ready by inserting the back side of a wooden spoon into the oil. If the oil bubbles around it, the oil is ready.

6.  Using 2 spoons create little mounds of batter to fry. My mom likes to spread them a bit once they’re in the pan so they’re not too thick and they fry faster. Once they’re golden brown on one side, flip them over to fry on the other side.

7.  Once they’re cooked and golden brown on both sides, take them out and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

When they’ve cooled off a bit, enjoy one after the other. You’ll see they’re addictive…

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Fried Quesadillas

I get these cravings sometimes… it could be anything, but lately it’s been of Mexican food. And not always I can get to Los Pioneros to get a fix of Tacos de Nopales. So I have to make do at home…

The easiest fix is to make quesadillas. A tortilla and cheese glorified into something special… When I visited Guadalajara and when I once traveled to NYC with my friend Guillén, I learned the best quesadillas need to be fried.

But I am trying to watch what I eat, because even when you’re vegetarian, I can add up some unwanted pounds. So I devised a way to get the feel and taste of the fried quesadilla without using lots and lots of oil.

Here’s how I make them…

FRIED QUESADILLAS

4 white corn tortillas, organic preferable
8-12 thin slices of pepper jack cheese
Olive Oil
  1. Brush tortillas with a little olive oil… as little as possible. I stack the tortillas and lightly oil the first one on top on one side, flip it and oil on the other side. This will slightly oil the second tortilla… then flip the second tortilla and so on until all tortillas are slightly oiled on both sides.

2.  Warm a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. You can do this with a small skillet, but it’s easier to make these quesadillas 2 at a time if you have the larger skillet. Place 2 tortillas side by side. They will overlap slightly… but don’t worry about that. Warm them on both sides for them to become pliable and somewhat charred on both sides. They will shrink a little…

3.   When tortillas have been warmed up on both sides, place 2- 3 cheese slices on one half of tortilla and fold over the side without cheese to create a half circle/half moon. Flatten the top of the tortilla with a spatula a bit to allow the top side of the tortilla to fuse to the cheese inside. Flip once or twice until both sides are toasted/charred a bit and the cheese has melted completely.

4.  Set aside on a plate to allow to cool a bit before serving. Repeat with remaining tortillas and cheese.

These are quesadillas to eat with your hands… not with a fork and knife. The corn tortilla is heartier and it will make it challenging to cut them up. So bite into them and enjoy.

Serve them with a side salad of tomato and avocado, guacamole or a fresh tomato salsa.

Mango Passion Fruit Lassi

Believe it or not, I’m getting ready for my 4th trip to India next year… We will be visiting at early in the year to ensure we do not combust from the India heat felt April on. You would think that growing up in the Caribbean would prepare you for the Indian heat – NOOOOOO!!! We have breezes and sea around us… the heat in India feels 200 times hotter than any summer in Puerto Rico.

But I do love to visit India, especially for spiritual trips like the one I am about to make. Our love for mangos is something both our cultures, India and Caribbean,  coincide in. Lassis are one of the first things I learned about Indian cuisine and I just love to drink them (the sweet kind, of course) when I travel there. They’re a great way to keep the heat at bay – the heat from the climate and the heat from the spicy food you eat. And as much as I love eating a mango just as a fruit… I also love to make it into a smoothie.

This version of a lassi yogurt drink is something I came up with the other day as an experiment. The combination is tangy and not too sweet, just like a refreshing drink should be. It’s like India and Puerto Rico combined in a glass… maybe not too traditional but very, very delicious.

 

MANGO PASSION FRUIT LASSI

1 cup of mango, cut into small pieces
1 cup passion fruit nectar or juice
½ cup greek yogurt
2 tbs agave nectar
3 ice cubes
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend at a high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Enjoy as part of your breakfast or as a snack.

Yuca Alcapurrias

When I traveled recently to Paraguay, we wanted to thank all the hospitality our Paraguayan friends showed towards us with a Puerto Rican dinner.  Well… almost Puerto Rican, because we had representation from every member of our group… a little from the Dominican Republic, a little from Brazil, a little that came from inspiration from the Coronel Oviedo market…  But amongst the dishes that were typical to Puerto Rico were our alcapurrias.

With the copious amounts of yucca we had at our disposal in Paraguay, we had to make some sort of fritter with yucca and what’s a better example of a Puerto Rican fritter than an alcapurria. I have tried to share with all of you an alcapurria recipe for a long time now. But, I do not make alcapurrias all by myself at home. Usually, this is a group project and even though they’re not super difficult to make, it goes easier if the tasks are shared.

Alcapurrias are traditionally made with a masa made from ground plantain and yautía. Yuca is also very traditional, so we are not deviating too much from a very traditional recipe here. But instead of filling them with ground meat, we will be using mixed vegetables. You could also use a combination of mixed vegetables and textured vegetable protein to resemble more the ground meat filling. These are amongst the most iconic fritters you can find here in Puerto Rico… present in almost every celebration, especially in patron saint festivities and even at the Luquillo Beach kisokos and Loíza.

This recipe comes from Yazmín and Joel, who were the master alcapurria fryers. My title is more master alcapurria eater. The best thing is to make a bunch of these at one sitting… fry some to eat immediately and any left over, freeze them for later frying. As with any fritter, they’re best eaten immediately after frying or else, they get soggy. They’re so laborious that is not something that you can whip up whenever you get the craving. This takes time… you’re all under advisement.

Joel frying some mean alcapurrias in Paraguay

In Paraguay, we were lucky we had a whole team helping with making these alcapurrias, especially to grind the yuca manually. In Puerto Rico, we have the help of a Champion machine where we grind the yuca and the moisture is separated from the dry masa.  But if the task of grinding yuca blows your mind, at the stores they sell frozen masa for alcapurrias or pasteles, ready to go. I’ve never used them, but I believe the only thing you need to do is thaw it completely and squeeze it as dry as possible and season it, just like I teach you here…

YUCA ALCAPURRIAS

Ground raw yuca, about 5 lbs of yuca, pealed and washed well
10 cloves of garlic, mashed in a mortar/pestle or in the food processor
2 ½ tbs salt
¼ cup of annatto oil
 
Mixed Vegetables Filling
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
1 large onion, diced
½ cup of tomato sauce
1 tsp Garlic and Herbs seasoning
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive Oil
 
Canola Oil for frying
  1.  If you have a manual grinder use that to grind the raw yuca. If you have a Kitchen Aid with the grinder attachment, use that. If you have a Champion machine, use that. If you prefer to purchase the masa frozen from the supermarket, that’s perfect too.

2. After the yuca is ground, you should wring out as much liquid from it as possible with a cotton cloth or towel. The idea is that the masa is as dry as possible. If you skip this step, the alcapurria might fall apart when frying and that’s no fun after you’ve worked so hard to make these.

3. Season the masa with the mashed garlic, salt and annatto oil. Set aside.

4.  To prepare the filling… in a large skillet, add a bit of olive oil and sauté the onions for a while under medium heat until they soften. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Add the mixed vegetables and the tomato sauce. Mix everything well. Season with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs. Mix once again. Cover the skillet to allow all the veggies to cook well and the flavor meld. Turn the stove off and allow the mixture to cool off a bit before we start assembling the alcapurrias.

6.  In another large skillet, add about 1 ½” of canola oil fro frying the alcapurrias in medium high heat. When the oil is ready, you can check it using the wooden spoon method, we start to prepare and fry the alcapurrias.

7.  With a large kitchen spoon, pour a spoonful of masa onto our other hand that’s covered with either wax paper, aluminium foil or even the traditional banana leaf. Spread the masa with the back of the spoon leaving some thicker borders. Add about 2 tbs of filling in the center of the masa and using the back of the larger spoon again work the thicker masa you left on the edges to cover over the filling. The idea is to surround the filling completely in masa. You might need to practice this a bit, and that’s perfectly OK.

8.  My friend Mai, places the waxpaper on top of a cutting board and folds the paper over so the masa envelops the filling. You almost always finish giving the alcapurria its form with the larger spoon.

9.  Helping yourself with the paper you have the alcapurria in, drop it carefully into the hot oil. Don’t touch it much as the masa is still soft and it can break open. With a spoon you can drizzle some of the hot oil over the alcapurria so the tp part that is not submerged in the hot oil can create a bit of a crust and make it less susceptible to the inadvertent touch of a spoon, etc. It’ll also make it easier to turn over later on.

10.  When the alcapurria is golden on the bottom side, turn it over so it can cook/fry on the other side. The oil should be hot, but not too hot to allow the masa to cook through. If the oil is too hot, it will get hard on the outside but the masa will remain raw. Not good… This is especially important if you’re cooking an alcapurria that has been frozen.

11.  When its golden brown all over, take it out of the oil with a slotted spoon and place it to drain the excess oil on top of paper towels.

12.  You can fry as many alcapurrias you can fit comfortably in your skillet. Don’t try to overcrowd the skillet so they do not fall apart when they’re just put into the oil. Two to three per skillet is the perfect amount. When you get the swing of it, you’ll become like an alcapurria-making machine. Keep on making alcapurrias until you ran out of masa and/or filling.

My mom organizing alcapurrias on some paper towels…

13.  Allow the alcapurrias to cool off for about 15 minutes before digging into them. This is a fried food after all and the insides get very hot and steamy. If you want, you could cut them open in half to allow them to cool off a bit faster.

To freeze the alcapurrias, all you need to do is to cut pieces of waxed paper to separate each alcapurria and place them one next to the other in a resalable zipped plastic bag. This way, when you get the alcapurria craving, you take one out and fry them or bake them in the oven, which turn out pretty good indeed. It’s the same principle as when we make tostones or soy meatballs ahead of time and freeze them.

Frozen alcapurrias stored in a freezer zipper bag

This is how a frozen alcapurria will look like… you can bake in an oven or fry.

I hope you like alcapurrias as much as Puerto Ricans love them. These alcapurrias as vegetarian, but taste just as traditional as any alcapurria made in Luquillo, Loíza, any patron saint festivity or school verbena fair.

 

Paraguayans eat a lot of yucca… they call it mandioca and it’s a daily staple in their diet.

I was forewarned by my mom and other people who’ve been to the Yoga Center in Paraguay that I would have mandioca coming out of my ears by the end of our trip. To be honest… we ate mandioca in various ways, but I never felt overwhelmed by it.

One of my favorite ways to have yucca while we were in Paraguay was in a fritter form. Girl is Latin and we LOOOVE all things fried, no?

We made these as a form of karma yoga to help out an orphanage. My friend Ester and her husband help out this orphanage regularly and the organizer told them a few days prior that their pantry was empty and there are nothing for them to feed the kids with. So Ester and Ferreira rallied a few of us visiting them in Coronel Oviedo to help out the kids.  We made over 200 of these fritters… we only kept a few for ourselves and the rest was given to the kids.

They’re delicious. This is an adaptation of a local dish in Paraguay… the original name is in Guaraní, their native Paraguayan tongue. It’s traditionally made with ground beef but our version uses textured soy protein. The locals say the secret is in how you season it, because none of the non-vegetarians were able to tell the difference.

We did this recipe in very large scale as you will appreciate by the pictures… this is my scaled down version. You can certainly freeze the extra tortas and fry at a later occasion.  Thanks to Ester and Ferreira for the recipe…

YUCCA AND SOY FRITTERS

4 large yucca roots, peeled and scrubbed clean
1 cup of dry textured soy protein, soaked in 2 -3 cups of filtered water
1 green bell pepper, cut into pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into pieces
1 bunch of scallions, roots removed and cut in thirds
8-10 garlic cloves, peeled
1 ½ cups of soy sauce
About 3-4 cups of fine cormeal flour
Canola Oil to fry the fritters in
  1. First we boil the yuccas… after the yucca pieces are well-peeled, cut, scrubbed clean making sure the inner core with the tough thread removed, you put them in a pot with plenty of salted water to boil.

We peeled and cooked a whole “saco” of mandioca…

2. Cover the pot while boiling and reduce the heat once it’s reached a rolling boiling point to prevent the bottom pieces from scorching. Boil the yucca pieces until they’re fork tender.

3. After the yucca is cooked, allow it to cool off and dry out a bit over clean kitchen cloths or towels.

4. While the yucca cooks we prepare the sofrito and the soy protein…

5. Using a hand grinder we make the sofrito by mixing the green and red peppers, the garlic cloves and the scallions. Using the hand grinder gives you a coarser texture than using a food processor. But if you don’t have a grinder, pulsing the veggies in your food processor will do just fine. Pulse until the mixture is well ground but not liquidy yet. Set aside.

6. The soy protein should be left to soak in the water for about 30 minutes. After it has soaked for that long and it’s now soft and tripled in size, drain and squeeze it dry. I use a fine mesh strainer and squeeze it using my fist. It does not have to be bone-dry, but it should not be wet and dripping.

7. Place the dried-out soy protein in a large bowl. Add about 1 cup of the sofrito mixture you created. Save any leftover unless it’s just a small amount and just add it up. Add the soy sauce to season and mix everything well. Set aside.

8. Now that the yucca has cooled off, we grind it using the hand grater. This is a labor of love, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts afterwards. It’s not so bad doing a smaller batch like this one. But we made it for 200+ fritters and we had to take turns grinding yucca. So don’t be surprised with your arm hurts a bit afterwards.

9. After the yucca is ground, add it to the soy mixture. You can add it in batches while you’re grinding it. The yucca is very starchy and it’ll mix into the soy better if it’s just ground. The best way to mix this is using your very clean hands. Mix together the yucca and the soy until you have a homogeneous mixture that’s more yucca than soy.

10. Add about 1 cup of the fine cornmeal and mix well once again. We’re ready to make the fritters…

11. Prepare a tray with some cornmeal in the bottom. The mixture is sticky and the cornmeal will prevent them from sticking too much to the tray or your hands.

12. Using a generous amount of corn flour, create tennis-sized balls. Use plenty of corn flour… don’t be afraid to use it. After a ball is created, pat it into a patty. Set aside on the corn flour dusted tray. Keep making fritters until you run out of mixture.

13. In a large skillet filled with about 1 inch with oil over medium high heat, we fry the fritters. After you put them in, leave them until they develop a crust on one side. They’re soft and they’ll break apart if you move them around before once side if crispy. Sometimes it helps if you do not crowd the pan too much and if you spoon some of the hot oil over the fritter so that the top side hardens just a tad bit before flipping.

14. Flip them carefully using a spatula and fry golden brown on the other side.

15. Drain over a clean paper towel over a tray… wait a bit until they cool off to take a bite.

These fritters are a bit of a labor of love… but they’re well worth it. If you’re Paraguayan and know the name in Guaraní of this fritter, please share it with us in the comment section. GRACIAS!!!

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