Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

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BERENJENA RELLENA (Stuffed Eggplant)

This recipe is the Nuyorican way of making stuffed eggplant. Eggplant is a popular vegetable in our culture.. We prepare it fried, stewed, baked, and, as in this dish, stuffed. What makes our dish different is that we stuff it with seafood. Specifically, crabmeat, conch meat or shrimp.  This goes back to life on the island of Puerto Rico, where seafood was a major component of the diet. And it transferred to when we migrated to the mainland. And, we did substitute some changes. In Spanish Harlem, our family, when times were lean, would stuff the eggplant with canned tuna and, you know what, it tasted just as good.

Th recipe itself is simple enough. Just mixed the eggplant pulp with the crabmeat, bread crumbs and seasonings and stuff the eggplant shell. Note that the seasonings include  aji dulce. Think of small chili peppers that are sweet. Aji in Spanish means ‘chili pepper’ and dulce means ‘sweet’ Some may consider this a contradiction in terms but, it is what it is. These peppers are popular in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine and can be found in Latino food markets and, even online.

This dish is not your usual stuffed eggplant recipe as in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cooking. As stated, this is our Nuyorican version and, as delicious as they come. Enjoy.

(Stuffed Eggplant)


1 medium eggplant
1/2 cup water
I pound crabmeat (canned is okay)
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
3 aji dulce (sweet chili pepper), seeded and chopped
6 fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
2 eggs, well beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons butter


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut eggplant in half lengthwise. Scoop our inner pulp but do not pierce outer shell. Save pulp.
3. Pour water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add eggplant pulp and steam, covered, until soft. Drain, remove pulp and mash thoroughly.
4. In a large bowl, combine pulp, crabmeat, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, aji dulce, cilantro and eggs.
5. Brush inside of eggplant shells with olive oil. Stuff shells with crabmeat mixture. Dot each shell with a teaspoon of butter and bake for ½ hour.
Yield: 4 servings.











In our culture, eggs are an every time meal, not just for breakfast or brunch. Back on the block we had them for dinner or whenever times were lean. With that in mind, the recipe given below was especially popular. It’s Huevos al Horno, or baked eggs. The eggs weren’t simply baked, they were served with a white sauce to give it a certain panache. I’ve modified the sauce by adding turmeric to it for color and enhanced flavor. Traditionally, baked eggs was served over rice or with tostones (friend green plantains) or crusty bread. Yes, it’ s thrifty meal but, done right, it becomes a banquet.

I would suggest, for this recipe, while the eggs are being boiled, prepare the white sauce and place it on low heat in the back burner while cooking the eggs. That way the sauce will be ready when the eggs are baked. Or you can prepare the sauce earlier in the day and have it ready. Whatever works for you best.

(Baked Eggs)


8 hard boiled eggs
3 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
½ chopped bell pepper (green, red or yellow)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 cups basic white sauce (see below)
¼ cup grated Parmesan or cheddar cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2.  Slice hard boiled eggs in half lengthwise and reserve yolks. Set the hollow whites aside.
  3.  In a small bowl, mix eggs and cream. Set aside.
  4. Heat butter in a large skillet or frying pan. Add onion, garlic and pepper. Stir-fry until tender (2-3 minutes).
  5. Add eggs, salt and pepper and sauté briefly.
  6.  Stuff the hollow egg whites with the egg mixture. Arrange eggs in a baking dish.
  7.  Spoon white sauce over eggs and sprinkle with cheese.
  8.  Bake for 20 minutes, and serve.
    Yield: 4 to 6 servings.



3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1½ cups milk
½ teaspoon ground turmeric


  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Blend in salt and pepper.
  2.  Gradually add milk, stirring over medium heat until sauce thickens and comes to a boil.
  3.  Stir in turmeric and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
    Yield: About 2 cups




As a self described historian, I’m fascinated by foods from bygone eras. I love checking out old, ancient cookbooks. One of my favorites is attributed to Apicius, a Roman gourmet who lived in the 1st century CE and who’s tome, De re culinaria or De re coquinaria  (On the Subject of Cooking) is one of the earliest cookbooks known to humanity. In it, Apicius notes the dishes enjoyed by the Roman elite during the reign of Emperor Tiberius.

The recipe given, Numidian Chicken (with modifications), is one of Apicius’ entries. Numidia was located in what is today Algeria; and had been a Roman province since 46 BCE. Obviously, Apicius considered their cooking on par with Roman cuisine since he included this recipe in his cookbook. Full disclosure: the recipe does contain ingredients that are hard to find. One of them is lazar root. an ingredient which is now extinct. The other is liquamen, a fish sauce that was used to salt dishes. To create liquamen today, even in a modern kitchen, is a long involved process that includes using fish blood. The only substitute I found online is simply mixing 1 teaspoon salt with 2 ounces white wine. I went with that. If you want it less, you can reduce the salt content to ½ or ¼ teaspoon.

The recipe itself is simple enough. It involves par-boiling a chicken (cut up), then roasting it. The final step is preparing an aromatic sauce with various ingredients and seasonings that are still available today. In Apicius’ time the idea was to pound the ingredients and seasonings. That is, crushing them (I guess in a giant mortar) then cooking to make a sauce that was poured over the chicken. It is not as complex as you think. For instance, instead of pounding the ingredients, I blend them in a food processor. One of the benefits of 21st century living. It just takes patience, and you have a meal a Roman Patrician would savor. Except, you are the Roman gourmand.

The dish goes good with rice, couscous, quinoa or farro. You can add a modern Italian bent to it and serve it over pasta. In our clan, we like it as is with a good crusty loaf of bread. With a fine wine, Italian or otherwise, you have a meal that Caesar and his contemporaries would find delicious—and so will you. Toga is optional.


1 fryer chicken, 2½ to 3 pounds, cut into serving pieces
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup dried dates
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt mixed with 2 ounces white wine
2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2.  Rinse chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
  3.  Place chicken in a pan or pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes.
  4.  Remove from water and place in an oven proof dish (we prefer cast iron), sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and bake 45-50 minutes or until tender.
  5.  Meanwhile, place dates, pine nuts, cumin, remaining pepper, coriander seed, vinegar, honey, salt-wine mixture and olive oil in a food processor. Blend and mix well. Transfer to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. If sauce is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of white wine to thin it. Or, if too thin, you can add a bit of starch mixed with water. Here, it’s a judgment call. I find that when I heat the sauce, it comes out on the thick side. Pour over chicken and serve, either in the oven proof dish or a serving platter.
    Yield: 4 servings.


When I’m looking for an exceptional mushroom dish, I always go to Baked Mushrooms. It’s not the normal way to prepare the fame fungi. Yes, mushrooms are an organism belonging to the fungi kingdom.  That being said, my favorite recipe for baked mushroom is the French classic: Champignons au Four. It is simply a mix of mushrooms, salt pork (also known as fatback), parsley and scallions. Let me add that, if you’re not partial to salt pork, you can always substitute bacon but, it will not render the same flavor or texture. Proceed as you think best.  Our usual accompaniment to this dish is plain boiled rice; but you can serve it with your preferred grain or even pasta. This time around we paired it with couscous, and it was marvelous.

As to the mushrooms, the recipe calls for small  white mushrooms. We tried it with small Portobello, and it came out just as good. Keep in mind it has to be small, whole mushroom. If you want to use large mushroom, sliced or cut up, you’re welcomed to try. if you want to experiment, go right ahead.

I’ve had this recipe for years hidden away in one of my desk drawers. How I got it, I can’t recall. It does serve its purpose when I want an out of the ordinary mushroom dish. It makes for a great vegetarian meal that everyone, vegetarian or not, will love.



1 pound small mushrooms, washed and patted dry with paper towels
¼ pound salt pork, rinsed, diced, blanched in boiling water for 5 minters and drained
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of ground nutmeg
8 sprigs parsley, main stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degree F.
  2. Mix the mushrooms, salt pork, butter, chopped parsley, scallions, salt and pepper together. Put the mixture into an ovenproof dish (we prefer cast iron). Place in oven and cook for 30 to 40 minutes or until mushrooms, salt pork and scallions are lightly browned.
  3.  Just before serving, fry the parsley sprigs in the oil and use them to garnish the dish.
    Yield: 3-4 servings.


RELLENOS DE HARINA DE MAIZ (Stuffed Cornmeal balls)

This one of those dishes where Puerto Ricans on the mainland U. S. took a native dish and changed it to suit their needs. On the island, this dish was prepared as pastelillos or meat pies. This entails the use of plantains leaves.  A portion of cornmeal filling in placed on a leaf, which is then folded to give the meat pie its shape. The meat pie is then carefully removed from the plantain leaf and deep-fried, hopefully retaining its form. Nuyorican’s find this time consuming We’ve developed our own way of doing things. We shape the cornmeal mixture with the hands, or by using two spoons. Then we fry it.

Even with the Nuyorican method, this dish that takes time. This is not a quicky meal  and, in our culture, it is served as an appetizer or a meal in itself.  But the time it takes to make it is well worth the effort. Note that beef is used to stuff the cornmeal balls. If preferred, you can substitute ground chicken or turkey. I know some folks, on the high end, who stuff it with veal. Use whatever suits your taste.

This recipe calls for sofrito, that popular flavoring indigenous to criollo cooking. In Puerto Rican cuisine, sofrito is the standout. Think of garam masala in Indian cuisine or kimchi in Korean  cooking. Sofrito serves the same purpose. Today you can find processed sofrito in specialty food stores or most supermarket and, honestly, it’s chemicalized crap. Your best bet is to make some at home. We have a recipe for it on my post of 11/08/10.  If you can’t find the right ingredients in your area, here’s a quick recipe that will do in a pinch. It’s not the genuine stuff, but it’ll be close. In a blender or food processor, blend 1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro; 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley; 1 medium chopped green pepper; 1 clove garlic; 1 coarsely chopped medium onion; 3 sweet chili peppers (not the hit kind). This will make about ¾ cup . You can double or triple the recipe if desired. It should be stored in a closed tight jar in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 day, or in the freezer compartment indefinitely.

(Stuffed Cornmeal Balls)


1 cup water
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups yellow cornmeal
½ cup flour
¾ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons sofrito  (see above)
1 cup lean ground beef (about ¼ pound)
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
½ teaspoon capers
Vegetable oil for frying


  1. Boil water in a small saucepan and add the salt and butter.
  2.  Combine cornmeal and flour in a bowl. Add the boiling water, mixing well to form a soft dough. Set aside and let stand for 30 minutes.
  3.  Meanwhile heat olive oil in a skillet or cast iron pan. Add sofrito and ground beef. Sauté over medium heat until meat loses its red color.
  4.  Stir in tomato sauce and capers. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
  5.  For the final step, some folks like to shape the cornmeal using two spoons.  That is, scooping out a spoonful of cornmeal mix, and smoothing out the mixture so  that it’s level with the spoon. Then placing  a teaspoon of beef filling atop the cornmeal. Lastly,  covering filling with a tablespoon filled level with the cornmeal mix, and shaping the whole cornmeal ball into an oval. While doing this, always remember to keep your hands lightly wet.. Some cooks prefer to shape the cornmeal balls by hand. Use whatever technique works best for you.
  6.  Deep fry in hot oil until golden.
    Yield: About 8 stuffed cornmeal balls.


Here’s a treat: a sauce that can accommodate both meat and fish. We have it in Shallot Butter Sauce. Also, it’s so simple and so refined, it will transform a lowly pork chop or lamb chop, not to mention a fist steak, into a glorious dish. All you need is three basic ingredients: shallots, butter and a bit of white wine. That’s it. You can serve the dish with whatever accompaniment you like, be it rice, pasta or potatoes. We, in the Rivera clan, like it with a good hearty loaf of bread to sop  up the sauce as you enjoy the lamb  or pork chops (or fish).

The other thing that needs discussion is the time factor in terms of the item used with this sauce, I like to cook pork chops at an oven temperature of 375 degrees F.  It take about  25 minutes to cook depending on thickness. Some cooks prefer a 400 degree oven because it cooks faster. But I find that at the lower temperature, pork chops remain  tender and juicy rather than drying out. The same for Lamb chops. They take about 35-40 minutes to cook at 375º and 8-10 minutes at 400º.  Note that the longer baking time will give you a well done product. In my family we like chops well done. If you want medium or rare, then the baking time will be less. For fish steaks, it’s another story. It’ll be 25-30 minutes at 375º and 15-20 minutes at 400º.  How long to cook or how tender you want the product will be up to you.



3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
½ stick butter (or more to taste)
3 tablespoons white wine, dry or sweet (your preference)


  1. In a saucepan or skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
  2.  Add shallots and cook, stirring until onion is soft, about 3-4 minutes.
  3.  Add wine and cook 3 minutes more.
  4.  Pour over 4 pork chops, lamb chops or fish steaks and bake in a preheated oven until tender (see above).
    Yield: 4 servings.

TERNERA A LA CRIOLLA (Veal Creole Style)

This recipe is probably the most common way we prepare veal in Nuyorican cuisine. Some variations have the onion sliced into rounds and the bell peppers cut into thin strips, then cooked with the veal and tomatoes. Some folks prefer to use tomato sauce instead of the tomatoes. I find that fresh tomatoes are best. Even, so in  our family, we have a preference for canned Italian plum tomatoes . Note that carrots and small potatoes can also be added to the recipe.

To us, when we cook something a la criolla (or al criollo) it means that we prepare it country style as we know it. It has nothing to do with Creole cooking as popularized in New Orleans. Following this reasoning, we grind the seasonings in a mortar with a pestle.  Today you can find this item in any kitchen shop or food market. You can omit this step and use regular prepared seasonings but, believe me, it will not taste the same or have the same verve.

The popular accompaniment to this dish is plain boiled rice. You can also complement it with such grains as rice, quinoa or couscous. We did it this time with farro, that whole grain with a nutty taste and very popular in Tuscan cooking. You can also serve it over pasta. This is a dish that enhances any meal, be it that special occasion or a mid-week dinner.

Note that this dinner calls for veal, stew but (depending on the wallet) you can substitute beef,  pork, turkey or chicken.

(Veal Creole Style)


2 pounds veal stew meat
12 whole peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme or ¼ teaspoon dried
Salt to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 16-ounce can plum tomatoes
2 bay leaves


  1. Rinse stew meat under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
  2.  Combine peppercorns, garlic, oregano, thyme and salt in a mortar and pound until crushed.
  3.  Rub the veal thoroughly with crushed seasoning.
  4.  Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan.  Add onion, bell bell pepper and cook for 2 minutes over moderate heat.  Add meat and and cook, stirring constantly, until  browned (about 5 minutes).
  5.  Stir in tomatoes and bay leaf, cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes or until tender.
    Yield: 4-6 servings.



Garbanzos, or chickpeas, are an integral part of Nuyorican cuisine. It goes back to the island of Puerto Rico where garbanzos were popular in such dishes as. Garbanzos Guisados (stewed chickpeas), Garbanzos con Chorizo (chickpeas with sausage) and Garbanzos con Arroz (chickpeas with rice). Curried garbanzos was  not something we did in Spanish Harlem; unlike in Jamaica, where curried dishes became popular due to their influx of Indian immigrants. This was not the norm in our repertoire. I myself began using curry in my early manhood long after I have migrated from 110th street in Manhattan. Since then I’ve become a fan of curry . Thus Garbanzos con Curry, or curried chickpeas.

This is a dish that goes well with any grain, be it rice, couscous or quinoa. You can even serve it over pasta, as we did here with orzo. You could say it’s our version of pasta fazool, the pasta and beans dish so popular in Italian cuisine—except that we add curry to this one.

For the curry sauce I use a basic white sauce to which I add curry powder. It’s quick and easy. Some curry sauces include such things as coconut milk or cream, tomatoes, ginger and yogurt. I keep it simple. Remember, this is a Nuyorican curry sauce.

Now comes the required caveat. For my bean dishes, I use dry beans you can find in any supermarket. Why? It renders a better texture and flavor than the canned product.  If you want to user canned beans, go right ahead. But I find the bother of preparing dry beans is well worth the effort. They come in a one pound package. All you do is rinse them in running water, place them in a pot or pan  with cool water to cover for at least 2 inches; let them soak overnight, drain the next day, place in a Dutch oven or heavy kettle with 8 cups water; cover and boil over moderate-low heat until the beans are almost tender (about 1 hour). Then proceed with recipe as given.  I can understand why, in today’s environment, most people would forego this procedure. And I won’t fault you for it. But if, like me, you’re a purist, then what can I say? Either way, you’ll still have a great dish.

Curried Garbanzos

2 cups dry beans soaked overnight or 2 (15.5 oz.) cans garbanzo beans (do not drain)
4 tablespoon butter
½ cup flour
3 tablespoons milk or cream
1 teaspoon curry powder (or more to taste)
1 small onion, peeled and slice thinly

  1. In a large saucepan or skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon in a circular motion for even cooking. It will begin to thicken and bubbler after 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add milk or cream, whisking until sauce is smooth. Note that you can add more or less liquid depending on how thick you want the sauce.
  3.  Stir in the curry powder. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Add onion and beans. Cook, mixing so that chickpeas are glazed with the sauce and heated through.
    Yield; 4 servings.




This meal came out of necessity. We had fish fillets on hand, and what do we do with them? I’ve cooked fish in every way possible, but this time I wanted something simple and quick. No fancy stuff. We wanted something tasty and economical. Thus, fillets with cheese and bread. What could be simpler than that? And if you look in your cupboard, I’m sure there’s some breadcrumbs in there. If not, just take any bread and grate it in a blender or food processor. As to the cheese, any cheese will do. We did it with blue cheese. But you can use cheddar,  parmesan, mozzarella, Romano, or even good ole American cheese.  Remember: this is an inexpensive, improvised meal—That will have guests and family clamoring for more.

This dish goes well with French fired and a simple salad or, better still, rice and pasta. Use your imagination, folks. Also, the fish fillets used can be any firm-fleshed fish fillets, be it cod, haddock, perch, whiting, bass, grouper, catfish, snapper, etc. The dish accommodates every taste and fancy.



4 medium-sized fish fillets
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and black  pepper to taste
½ cup butter
¼ cup flour
¼ cup milk
¾ cup light or heavy cream (your choice)
1½ cups grated cheese
2/3  cup grated cheese


  1. Wash fillets under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Rub all over with the oregano, salt and pepper.
  2. In a large skillet or frying pan, melt ¼  cup butter over moderate heat. When the foams subsides, add the fish and fry for 5 minutes on each side. Using a spatula, transfer the fish to a warmed flameproof serving dish (we prefer cast-iron).
  3.  In the original pan, melt the remaining butter over moderate heat. Remove the pan from heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour to form a smooth paste.  Gradually add the milk and cream, stirring constantly and being careful to avoid lumps. Return the pan to the heat and cook the sauce, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes until it is smooth and fairly thick and hot but not boiling. Remove pan from heat and pour the sauce over the fish.
  4.  Preheat the broiler to high. Sprinkle the cheese and bread crumbs over the fish. Place the fish under the broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbling. Remove the serving dish from the grill and serve immediately.
    Yield: 4 servings.


I was recently given some ground venison. I’ve discovered you can prepare ground venison in the same way you cook beef or pork. That is, you can make burgers, casseroles, chili, meatballs, meatloaf, tacos or stew.  It is quite versatile. Also, venison is one of the  leanest, heart -healthy foods. It is low in fat, high in protein, and a great source of iron. This time around I decided to do it stir-fried with mushrooms. It came out great. I also paired it with pappardelle noodles; which are a broad, flat pasta similar to fettuccini. But you can pair the dish with any ribbon pasta or a grain like rice, quinoa or couscous. Some would consider this dish a form or Nuyorican picadillo (by the way, pronounced ‘pee-kah-dee-yoh’).



8 oz. (or more) mushroom, washed and sliced
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 pound ground venison
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano or ½ teaspoon dried
Salt and black pepper to taste
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoons light or heavy cream (your choice)


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large frypan or skillet over moderate-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms have released their juices, about 3-4 minutes. Remove mushrooms to a plate and set aside.
  2.  In same pan or skillet, heat additional 2 tablespoons of oil. Add onion and cook until onions becomes translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.
  3.  Stir in venison. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Cook until venison is browned, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cream, stir to mix and cook about 2 minutes more. Serve immediately over pasta or favorite grain.
    Yield: 4 servings.
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