Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Category: soups (page 1 of 2)


This is one of the premier entries in my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America: Nuyorican and Bodega Recipes ( Running Press). Sopa de Lentejas, or lentil soup, is an old family favorite. Back on the block, our preference was for red lentils. But green lentil can be just as good. Your choice. When preparing this soup, the mind boggles with what you can mix in. Celery, carrots and mushrooms are among the most common vegetables added to the pot. Smoked ham or ham hocks  are other ingredients popular in this stew. In some recipes rice is mixed in with the broth. Depending on amount of liquid and cooking time, you can make it as thin  or as thick as you like. Whichever way you make it, with some crusty bread and a hearty red wine, this dish can’t be beat.

Our version is quite simple: lentils, chorizo and potatoes. We include tomato sauce for added flavor and color. Some cooks prefer to adjust their seasoning with salt and pepper added after the soup is done. It’s a matter of personal taste. However you season it, the soup should be served piping hot, with or without croutons, Back in the apartment in Harlem, we never added croutons.

Also note that you can double the quantity of ingredients to make 6-8 servings.


1 cup red lentils (or green)
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium  green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
3 cups chicken broth
3 small potatoes (or 2 medium), washed and quartered
2 chorizo sausages, casings removed and sliced into ½-inch rounds
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
½ can tomato sauce
Salt and ground black pepper to taste


  1.  Rinse lentils  under cold running water (best using a fine strainer). Set aside.
  2.  Heat oil in a kettle or Dutch oven.  Add onion, bell pepper and garlic. Stir-fry until tender but not browned.
  3.  Stir in lentils. Add broth and remaining ingredients. Mix well and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat until tender but not mushy (about ½ hour).
  4.  Remove and discard bay leaf. Serve immediately.
    Yield: 4 servings.





Due to the Covid-19 virus we have stocked up on beans. By that, I mean the dried variety. The are cheap, still plentiful and a healthy food source. Thus we’re always on the lookout for a creative way to use legumes (fancy name for beans). In this effort, beans and sausage are incorporated into a stew. For the dish I used white Northern beans. But you can also try it with red beans, black beans, chickpeas (garbanzos), black eye peas, and lentils. It s a multi-task recipe. Add a good crusty loaf of bread and some dry red or white wine to wash it down, and you have an unforgettable meal.

For a Nuyorican meal one would use the spicy chorizo sausage so beloved in our culture. But you’re not limited. You can use whatever sausage you prefer, be it sweet Italian sausage, French Andoille, kielbasa, even turkey or  chicken sausage. Holly and I came across a wild mushroom sausage with Italian herbs. It peaked our interest.  And you know what? It came out scrumptious. So if you come across something unique, don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s what cooking’s all about.

Let me add that you can use canned beans, if that’s what you want. The recipe won’t take as long but, honestly, it won’t taste the same; and it’ll be a whole different recipe. If you’re using the carrots, you may have to parboil them before adding them to the cooked sausage, along with  the canned beans (and their liquid). And you may have to add more liquid for the soup content. Lots of luck.

(Bean and Sausage Stew)


2 table spoons olive oil
1 pound sausage, sliced ¾-inch thick
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 medium carrots, diced
1 onion, peeled and sliced into rings
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound dried Great Northern  beans, rinsed and picked through
Salt taste
3 sprigs fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried
2 large rosemary sprigs or ½ teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper or more to taste


1. Heat oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sausage and brown until cooked through, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate, and set aside.
2. Add the tomato paste and cumin to the pot. Cook, stirring, until dark golden, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables had softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the beans, 8 cups water, salt, thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Stir in the vinegar and pepper. Ladle into warm serving bowls and served drizzle with additional vinegar and olive oil, if desired.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.




Pappa al Pomodoro

Spring is upon us and that means that soon we’ll enjoy fresh, lush tomatoes denied to us in winter—unless you want to take a chance on those tasteless cellophane-wrapped things found in supermarkets. In fact, they taste like the cellophane they’re wrapped in. In winter, I mainly rely on Italian canned tomatoes, the only thing comparable to the summer stuff.

One of my favorite dishes at this time is a thick Tuscan tomato soup, papa al pomodoro. Now, here translations get tricky. “Papa” in Italian, is a phrase for “father.” Then we have Il Papa , which is the Pope. So could this soup translate as the “Pope’s soup?” My Italian friends tell me there is no reference to this dish having anything to do with the Pope. They say the closest thing one can refer to this soup is as a mash or “mush of tomatoes.” Whatever.  The soup can be prepared with any spices on hand. But everyone agrees it usually contains garlic, olive oil, and basil. But the prime ingredient, apart from tomatoes, is bread, preferably stale or day-old bread. I’ve cooked this soup with fresh and stale bread and I’ve noticed no difference whatsoever in taste or texture. Wanna be traditional, use stale bread. Don’t have it, use fresh bread. Your call. Either way, it’s the perfect summertime dish served at room temperature.

Let me add that I like this soup thick, so I don’t use that much chicken broth (¾ cup is enough). If you prefer it soupier, you can add more broth as desired.




4 clove garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

1-2 pounds ripe tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes), coarsely chopped

½ loaf of large baguette or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch chunks

¾ cup chicken broth or stock

2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil leaves or 1 teaspoon dried

Ground black pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese

  1. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan or skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic and pepper flakes, and cook for about 30 seconds (do not let garlic get brown).
  2. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in bread, chicken broth, and basil. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour or more. Serve at room temperature, topped with additional olive oil, black pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 4 servings.











Puerto Rican Beef Stew

This weather is tailor made for Carne Guisada, or beef stew Puerto Rican style. Carne guisada is prominent in what we call criollo cooking. That is, traditional Puerto Rican cooking derived from native Caribbean influences. As such, we Nuyoricans (New York Puerto Ricans, whether born or raised in New York City) love the dish; although it has countless variants. I’ve seen recipes where raisins and sweet peas, carrots and even squash are added. My cousin Yvonne used to boil the meat first then add the remaining ingredients. Some cooks add beef bones to the stew. Others cook the potatoes separately. Whatever method is used, the results are uniformly good.

This dish is not the standard beef stew found in the U.S. mainland and other parts of the world. It has more seasoning than the usual salt and pepper. It also includes achiote, that is, annatto seeds cooked in a little olive oil. The oil then acquires a deep red color that is added to the dish. If you don’t have the patience to prepare achiote, you get get a store bought variety in any Asian or Caribbean market (or, for that matter, most supermarkets these days). Or you can substitute sazón accent (Goya products makes a good version). Carne guisada is usually served with rice and tostones (deep fried plantains). Recipes for tostones and achiote can be found in my first cookbook,Puertio Rican Cuisine in America Perseus Books – Running Press).

     (Beef Stew)

2 pounds beef round steak, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup olive oil or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tomato sauce
1 tablespoon achiote
10-12 pimento stuffed olives
1 tablespoon capers
1 bay lead
1/2 cup water
1 pound Maine or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cubed 

1. Wash meat and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a Dutch oven or heavy kettle, heat the oil, add beef chunks, onion, bell pepper, oregano, garlic and stir-fry over moderate heat until meat is brown.
3. Add salt, tomato sauce, achiote, olives, capers and bay leaf. Mix and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add water, bring to a rapid boil, cover and simmer over low hear for 30 minutes.
5. Add potatoes, stir to combine, and bring to a rapid boil. Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes.
6. Serve over steamed white or yellow rice.
    Yield: 5 servings.

Photo: courtesy of YELP – José Enrique: Photos

What is Cock-a-Leekie?

No, its not what you think. Cock-a-Leekie, believe it or not, is a soup of Scottish origin made with leeks and chicken. It is referred to as Scotland’s “national soup.” Think of asopao in Puerto Rican cooking, udon in Japanese cuisine, or good old chicken soup in America. According to the New York Times Food Encyclopedia, the dish most likely originated in France, where it was initially made with onions. By the 16th century it had reached Scotland, and the onions had been replaced with leeks. How the name “cock-a-leekie” came about? No one knows. But tell any Scotsman or woman about cock-a-leekie, and their eyes will sparkle.

Let me add that in some recipes, prunes are added to the soup. I’ve never added prunes. Also, I add onions to to my recipe, which I acquired years ago. I also add garlic since I’m a garlic freak. This soup goes great with a hearty ale (I prefer an IPA or India Pale Ale) and some good crusty bread.


1 three-pound chicken with giblets
8 cups water or more to cover
Salt to taste
10 whole peppercorns, crushed
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs parsley
1 carrot, trimmed, scraped and quartered
4 cups finely shredded leaks (before shredding, cut the leeks into 3-inch lengths)
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

3 tablespoons rice

1. Truss the chicken if you prefer. Add it to large pot or kettle, and add the neck, if used, and giblets. Add the water, salt, pepper, bay leaf, parsley and carrot. Bring to a boil and simmer, skimming the surface often to remove scum and foam, for 20 minutes.
2. Add the leeks, onion, garlic and rice, and continue simmering 20 minutes longer. Remove and discard the parsley and bay leaf.
3. Remove the chicken and giblets. Now, you can either serve the soup, without the chicken, as a first course; and serve the chicken later, carved as a main course. Or you can serve the cut-up chicken in bowls with the soup.
    Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Picture: courtesy of Farm Clipart Images


In Puerto Rican and Nuyorican cuisine, one of our aces is asopao. I think it’s a conjured up word from our culture. Spanish meas “soup.” An asopao is A-soup+; that is, a hearty, stick to the ribs stew that, though hailing from the Caribbean, is prefect for the kind of weather we are now enduring on the East Coast, or any Nordic climate. Nothing beats this hefty dish traditionally served with tostones (fried green plantains).

When the day gets cold, or you’re recovering from the flu, asopao is our version of Jewish penicillin: chicken noodle soup. The favorite Rivera family asopao is made with pigeon peas with rice soup. Now, here we come to the classic argument: whether to use fresh pigeon peas or canned peas instead. The cooking time will be cut by more than half if you use canned pre-cooked peas. Problem is, as my elders claim, it will not be kosher. You lose the soul of the dish when using canned peas. Some people really believe that. If you’re looking for quickie convenience, honestly, this is not he recipe to try. But if you put in the time and love required, you’re taste buds will be transported and you’ll be amply rewarded. If you don’t have tostones, this recipe goes great with good, warm, crusty bread. Add a light red wine such as a Bardolino or Gamey, and you’re in heaven.

The recipe given is from my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books: Thunders Mouth Press).


        (Pigeon Peas with Rice Soup)
1/2 pound fresh pigeon peas
2 quarts (8 cups) water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ounce lean cured ham, washed and diced
1/2 ounce salt pork, washed and diced
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and finely chopped
1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped
4 fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
6 pimento stuffed Spanish olives
3 aji dulce (sweet chili pepper), seeded and chopped
4 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 packet sazón accent (a flavoring with cilantro and annatto found in most ethnic stores and even most      
   supermarkets these days. Goya brand is a good one)

1. Rinse pigeon peas under cold running water, drain. Place in a large saucepan or pot with water and salt. Boil on moderate-high heat, covered, for 1 hour. Drain, reserve cooking liquid and set peas aside.
2. While peas are cooking, place rice and 1 cup water in a bowl and let soak.
3. Heat oil in a large kettle or Dutch oven. Add ham and salt pork and stir-fry over moderate-high heat until brown.
4. Add onion, bell pepper, tomato, cilantro, olives, capers, aji dulce and tomato sauce. Sauté over moderate heat for 10 minutes.
5. Add sazón accent and pigeon peas. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
6. Drain rice and add to kettle. Pour in reserve liquid. Stir to combine while gradually adding 2 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook on high heat, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
7. Lower heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
    Yield: 8 servings.

Note: photo courtesy of Puertoricanmarket.com

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Gazpacho con Ajo Blanco

Gazpacho is the perfect summer dish, especially when it’s just too hot to cook. This famed Spanish soup is of Moorish origins. Remember that the Moors (Muslims of Northern Africa ) occupied Spain for over seven centuries. Some etymologists suggest that the word, gazpacho, derives from the Arabic word for soaked bread. Others say that it may have come from the word caspa, which means residue or fragment—as in the residue or fragments of bread used in the original recipe.

Andalusia is renowned as the home of gazpacho, especially in the province of Malaga. It probably originated as a soup of soaked bread, olive oil, and garlic. Today the Spaniards would call this an ajo blanco, or garlic soup. And this was the most common gazpacho until the introduction of the tomato to the European continent, which resulted in the chilled tomato concoction of today.

Today, Andalusian gazpacho is made with ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, moistened bread, and ice water. But I’ve gone back to the original gazpacho as derived from its Moorish influence.


1 cup untrimmed fresh bread, cubed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Cold water
4 tablespoons chopped scallions

1. Soak the bread in water. Drain and squeeze to extract excess moisture.
2. In a mortar (preferably earthenware), pound the garlic until crushed.
3. In a wooden bowl, mix the garlic, bread, and salt, and stir in the olive oil.
4. Add cold water as desired, to get the smoothness of a soup. Recall this the original gazpacho, which is served at room temperature, garnished with chopped scallions. But, if you want, you can serve it chill after an hour or so in the fridge.
    Yield: 4 servings.

 Note: You can modify this recipe for Malaga-Style Gazpacho by adding 2/3 cup crushed peeled almonds and 1/2 teaspoonr red wine vinegar before adding the cold water.

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Cold Soups

Now that summer is here, cold soups are in order. That’s right, cold soups. Back in my youth, in Spanish Harlem, we never heard of cold soups, not even in summer. It was an alien concept to us. Soups were always hot and hardy, even on the warmest of days. Then in my early manhood I discovered Vichyssoise (pronounced “vish-ee-SWAHZ” or “vee-she-swahz), a rich and creamy potato-leak soup that’s served cold. Not being too well versed at the time, I assume that it was a French dish. Then I discovered that it was, in fact, American. It was conjured up by chef Louis Diat of the Ritz-Carlton in New York City in 1917. Still, we must give the French credit since the soup most likely evolved from the leek and potato soup very popular in France, potage bonne temme. In his book, Cooking a la Ritz, Mr. Diat himself sates that the name comes from Vichy, the French town near his childhood home. He called it Cream Vichyssoise Glacee.

Since discovering this gem I’ve become a fan of cold soups in general, especially when the humid, hot weather is upon us. Vichyssoise may incorporate its own ingredients but cold soups can be made with almost any vegetable. Or fruit, for that fact. Cold soups with vegetables just need cream and whatever herbs you prefer.  And all you need is a blender or food processor. Remember that you have to blend to a  nice smoothness. Now,  I like soups, hot or cold, on the thick side. Some prefer them a tad thinner. Just blend to the consistency you like. The important thing is the chilling—at least three hours in the fridge is essential. You can serve cold soups indoors or outdoors, even as a first course before grilling. If you want to be fancy about it, you can serve the soup in an iced tureen or chilled bowls. Or keep it cold in your thermos and chug it at work.

As for ingredients, the possibilities are endless: such greens as broccoli, spinach, zucchini, asparagus, etc.; or a white veggie such as cauliflower. Experiment—you won’t be disappointed. It’s the easiest thing to prepare.


1 bunch of greens, such as asparagus, spinach, broccoli, leeks, etc. Or other vegetable such as a head of  
   cauliflower. The vegetables should be rinsed, drained, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
2 cups chicken broth (if you want a thinner soup, make it 3 cups)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano or 1/4 teaspoon fresh
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and black ground pepper to taste.
1. Heat chicken broth in a pan, and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable, reduce heat, cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes depending upon thickness of veggie. They should be just tender.
2. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the garlic and oregano, and puree until just smooth.
3. Stir in the heavy cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. 
4. Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.
     Yield: 4 servings.  

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Now that the weather has gotten a mite chillier (finally), our thoughts turn to warm, hardy comfort foods. Sancocho is such a variety. It is the archetypal Puerto Rican stew. It’s hearty and stick to the ribs fare.Think of the French cassoulet where pork, beans, lamb and sausages are all mixed together in a casserole. In that vein there is Nabiaki Udom which calls for chicken or beef or anything else on hand thrown into one dish. Also the Chinese Congee would come to mind. You get the idea, put everything together in one pot and let it simmer until it’s rich and thick. Sancocho follows along the same lines with an assortment to vegetables which are added to a broth. The vegetables include root plants such as yuca, also known as cassava; yautia (ya-oo-teah), also called tanier or dasheen; and name (nyah-meh), a starchy root.

In Puerto Rican slang, sancochar means to boil ot stew. Thus the sancocho moniker since it is a platter containing pork, chicken and what have you. Sancocho takes time and patience to cook. But it’s worth the effort. The result is an ultimately superior meal in itself.

The recipe below is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books-Thunder’s Mouth Press). The root plants (or bianda) can be found in any Asian or Caribbean market. Cassava is a common product these days, no problem there. If you can’t find yautia, then substitute turnips, and for name, you can use yams.


1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crush
3 aji dulce (sweet chili pepper), seeded and chopped
6 fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
1 pound boneless chuck beef, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium stewing chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds) washed and cut into serving pieces
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 ears fresh corn, shucked and quartered
1/2 pound yuca, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound yautia, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound name, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 green plantains, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat oil in a large kettle or Dutch oven and add bell pepper, onion, garlic, aji dulce and cilantro. Saute over moderate heat until tender (4-5 minutes).
2. Add beef, pork, chicken, pepper, and oregano. Cook until meat is browned (8-10 minutes).
3. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken parts from pot and set aside.
4. Add corn, yuca, yautia, name, pumpkin and plantains to meat.
5. Add water to cover contents in pot, also add tomato sauce and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
6. Add chicken and continue to cook on low heat until meat is tender (about 2-2 1/2 hours).
7. Uncover pot and remove plantains. Place in a bowl and mash with a potato masher or big spoon. Let cool for a few minutes. Form into small balls with palms of hand. Return to kettle and boil for 1-2 minutes.
8. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.
    Yield: 12 servings.

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A Mess of Pottage

The first biblical account of a dish of food affecting human behavior occurs in Genesis 24:29-34, the first book of Moses, where Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a  “mess of pottage.” What we are talking about here is lentils, that Old World legume that is beloved in the Rivera family. Lentils are akin to liver. You either hate them or love them. And it’s interesting that this is the first food given a biblical reference.This is a big deal by all accounts. Esau was a “cunning hunter; a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man dwelling in tents.” Except that Jacob was the cunning one since he got his older brother to renounce his heritage for a plate of red lentils. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the patriarch of three of the world’s greatest religions. And it was Jacob who gave his people, the Israelites, a national conscience. It could have been Esau—had it not been for those pesky lentils, and the fact that he was starving. So one shrewd brother flimflams the other, and history is changed.

And what was so great about this freakin’ recipe? Actually, not much. No ingredient list is given in the Bible. Esau had come in from the fields and he was famished, simple as that. The story fascinates me and I’ve tried to emulate the recipe as Jacob, or his wife, would have prepared it. Onions, garlic and tomatoes were a staple in Ur, the important city in Mesopotamia (read modern day Iraq) during the fourth and third millenia B.C.E. Genesis 11:31 says that Abraham, originally Abram, migrated from “Ur of the Chaldeans” to the land of Canaan. In Ur they also had spices such as salt and pepper. I’m sure all these provisions were taken on the trek to the land God promised to the Israelites.

The recipe given is quite simple, just enhanced by natural ingredients. It comes from my second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (which was also published in England under the title Feasting with the Ancestors).

When I make lentils, I use it in conjunction with rice. Gives the old rice and beans combo a new twist. Lentils, like other dried beans, are quick and easy to prepare.  They may be sold hold or split into halves, and are good for you, providing a healthy source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Which means they are good in preventing heart disease. They are also contain B-vitamins and protein, and virtually no fat. A whole cup of cooked lentils provides just 230 calories. Can’t go wrong with these suckers.


1 cup dried lentils
4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced from the stem down into 1/2-inch thick moons
2 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced into half-moons

1. Wash lentils under cold running water.
2. In a large pot or casserole (a Dutch oven is good for this), cover the lentils with water. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the onions and garlic. Saute for about 3 minutes or until the onions brown at the edges.
4. Add the onions and garlic to the lentils, plus the salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes until the lentils are tender adding, more water if the mixture becomes too thick.
5. Serve garnished with tomatoes.
    Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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