Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 6)

PUERTO RICO ON THE BRINK

If you want to understand what’s going on in Puerto Rico right now regarding the mass protests related to the corrupt Puerto Rican government, read my new book In the Time of the Americans (Indigo River Publishing).  It can all be traced back to the Puerto Rican diaspora, which began with the invasion of the island by the American government in 1898, and continues through to this moment in time, reinforced and intensified by Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.

It’s no secret that the island government is one of the most corrupt in the Caribbean.  Every time I visited my parents in their hometown of Ponce,  widespread resignation to this situation was evident.  My family and their friends took it for granted, “Oh well…what can we do, that’s the way it is.”  Whether Republican or Democrat, those in power shared a tacit agreement that once elected, they were entitled to line their pockets and the pockets of their cronies.  It was a gentleman’s agreement,  understood by all, and it came to a head with hurricane Maria.

The ineptitude and incompetence of the Trump administration was surpassed only by the continued exploitation of the Island.  The diverting of needed food and funds from the populace to those in power was so blatant that it broke through the resignation.  It was no longer hiding underneath a collective forbearance and submission.   Everybody saw it and felt it, whether on the Island or the Mainland.  While supplies rotted on the San Docks, or were siphoned off by those with connections, the people of Ponce, Aguadilla, Salinas, Rio Piedras, and especially those in the hills of Aibonito and similar environs, felt the true horror of what transpired.  Thousands died, not just a few hundred as touted by  IL Duce’s administration.   A lot of folks went without medication, food, and basic hygiene and as the suffering intensified, it galvanized the trenchant resentment that has been building for generations.   Again, if you want to understand the 80+ years of history that has shaped the American presence in Puerto Rico, read my novel.   It is based on the stories my family told around the dinner table year after year, decade after decade, about the gradual Americanization of the Island.

So now we’re at this impasse, with the resentment that has been building up through the decades finally bubbling over with the leaked tweets from the current Rosselló Administration.  The “honorable” governor and his buddies made derogatory comments about women, about those who suffered after hurricane Maria, and about the LBGT community.   Yes, Puerto Rico has been a homophobic society.  That cannot be denied.  It’s no accident that the Governor cast a slur upon Ricky Martin, the pop star.   When I visited my parents in Ponce I witnessed the castigation of lesbians and homosexuals that was so prevalent in most households, and while some may say that there has been change of heart and mind, especially among the younger generations, the stigma persists.

So not only do we have IL Duce’s  administration demonstrating a total disregard for human beings different than they are, but now we also have the Rossello administration demonstrating a total disregard for human beings that are the same as them.  This goes beyond homophobia.  This is about the basic dignity of all Puerto Ricans, no matter whether they are living on the Island or the Mainland.    Right now there are more Puerto Ricans living on the mainland than on the Island, and they are all U.S. citizens.  Following the traumatic aftershocks of Maria, the exodus was astounding, and it hasn’t abated, but it may not matter at all where we choose to live.  There does not seem to be any respect for us in either place.

I have Anglo friends who constantly ask, What do you Puerto Ricans want?  A reasonable question. We want what every American wants: a good job, a safe and clean environment, a chance to improve our lot and that of our children. It is what every American yearns for, indeed what every human being yearns for.  The problem lies with the current U.S.-Puerto Rico partnership, if you can call in that.  Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth, which means that it can govern its localities, but the U.S. has the say on everything else.  Commonwealth status is an amorphous nether region.  We can hold primaries for the Presidency, but citizens on the Island cannot vote for president.   Only those Puerto Ricans living on the Mainland can vote.   Puerto Ricans receive all the federal benefits of those on the Mainland: Social Security, Food Stamps, etc.  However, as U.S. citizens living on the Island, they do not pay Federal income taxes.

That was one of the calling cards of the Commonwealth system: populations can receive benefits without having to pay for them, something that might be worthy of argument until you realize that it doesn’t really make a difference.  The succession of corrupt governments has stolen everything anyway.   In the last status election on the Island, which was controversial to say the least since the Independence party and others boycotted the election, the majority voted for statehood; that is, the majority of Puerto Ricans voted to give up their Commonwealth status and join the economic structure of the other 50 states.   As a Republican, the current governor supports statehood, but why would the U.S. decide to adopt a state riddled with layers and levels of dishonesty and decadence?  And why would Mr. Rossello jeopardize what he claims to support with such reckless and wanton behavior?   Mr. Rosselló, you’re ruining your chances here.

To his credit, Mr. Rosselló has admitted that he screwed up.   But when asked if he will resign, or clean up his administration, he gives vague, non-committal answers.  When 150,000 people on a Caribbean island march on your governmental residence, demanding that you step down, perhaps you should heed their call.   Based on the Island’s collective response, saying that you made a mistake could be considered quite an understatement.  IL Duce’s  response to Rossello is “I told you so.” This is yet another example of blaming the victim.  It’s business as usual, and the Puerto Rican people are caught in the cross hairs.

Shakshuka

Shakshuka which translates as “mixture” in Egyptian Arabic, is a dish very common in the Middle East. It’s simply a mess of eggs poached in tomatoes, greens, bell peppers and onions. What I like about this flavorsome dish is that it’s traditionally prepared in a cast-iron pan. Of course, you can use any adequate deep skillet if cast-iron is not your thing. In North Africa they use an earthenware pot. Either way, it’s a glorious mix which can also include spicy sausage (a Spanish innovation) or salty cheeses. In Israel, it’s a popular breakfast dish served with challah bread.

Another thing I like about shakshuka is that you can add or change anything to it. So it works for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Caribbean shakshuka would add oregano, garlic and parsley. French shakshuka could add a hollandaise sauce, Mexican shakshuka could add re-fried beans.You get the idea, It’s versatile, quick, and delicious. What more could you want?

SHAKSHUKA

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into strips
1 teaspoon brown sugar
I bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
4 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped, or 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon saffron thread (or can substitute turmeric)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch spinach, washed and sliced into ribbons
1 15-ounce can white kidney beans, drained
4 to 8 eggs, depending on how many servings
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese (can substitute goat cheese, Parmesan, Asiago, or Romano)

1. In a large cast-iron skillet, toast cumin seeds over high heat for approximately 2 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add oil and onion. Sauté until onion is soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add bell peppers, sugar, bay leaf, scallions, and thyme. Cook over high heat, stirring until peppers are browned (6-8 minutes).
2. Add tomatoes, saffron and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. If mixture becomes too dry, add a little water.
3. Remove bay leaf. Stir in spinach, reduce heat to low, and cook  for 4-5 minutes until spinach is wilted.
5. Stir in beans. Increase heat to medium, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. With the back of a large spoon, make evenly spaced shallow hollows for as many eggs as you are using. Carefully crack each egg into a hollow. Season each egg with salt and pepper, cover pan and cook gently until eggs are set (10-12 minutes).
6. Spread cheese over mixture. Allow heat to soften the cheese, and serve shakshuka with crusty bread.
    Servings: 4 or more.

Quick Shrimp Fixes

One thing you know about this blog is that I love shrimp. Just review the previous posts like Shrimp Aglio e Olio (1/9/15), Shrimp with Garlic (3/21/15), and Shrimp with Cream Sauce (1/2/16) and you get the idea. What I like about shrimp, apart from its texture and taste, is that it’s so easy to cook. Whether you broil it, steam it or stir-fry, the trick is quick cooking, 2-3 minutes over medium heat until its turns pink.

If there’s one drawback about it, is the preparation. That is, removing the shell and deveining. Here’s a secret. You don’t need to devein shrimp, unless you’re a purist (which I ain’t). In some cultures, they eat the shrimp whole, eyes and all. That vein down the back of the shrimp is part of the intestinal tract. Now, before you start thinking about eating intestines, you won’t fall ill from eating it. In Chinese restaurants, I’ve never seen anyone remove the vein. It’s all a matter of preference. Also, convenience. With small shrimp, no one even bothers. But even with large shrimp like prawns or jumbo, it could take hours to devein the thing. Fortunately, most suppliers these days offer shrimp that has already been shelled and deveined.

The recipes given can be done quickly and efficiently. The white bean ragout can be served over rice. With the shrimp and vodka, I prefer it over pasta, whatever type you like. But, if you want to serve it with a grain, go right ahead. In terms of cuisine, I discovered long ago, do what suits you best.

SHRIMP AND WHITE BEAN RAGOUT
(Note: I first had this dish in my young manhood, years ago, at one of my favorite watering holes, Ye Olde Tripple Inn at 54th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. When I saw it on the menu, I told Mike, the owner, “I’ll have the “RAG-OUT.” He corrected me: “Dummy, it’s called “RAGOO.” To which I replied, ‘Okay, I’ll have the ‘RAGU.'” The Tripple Inn is no longer with us, but memories are made of this.)       

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 1 pound large raw shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon each garlic powder and crumbled dried rosemary, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook 2 minutes. Add 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) rinsed Great Northern Beans (white beans) and cook 2 minutes until heated through. Serve over rice. 4 servings.

 SHRIMP WITH VODKA

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 small onion, chopped; and 2 cloves garlic, finely minced. Cook, stirring, about 4-5 minutes, until softened. Add 2 tablespoons tomato sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup heavy cream. Bring to a boil, add salt and pepper to taste, and let the sauce bubble until it starts to thicken slightly. Add 1 pound large raw shrimp to the sauce plus 2 tablespoons vodka. Cook, stirring, over medium heat  2-3 minutes more. Pour sauce over cooked pasta, either strand, tubular or other. Toss well and serve. 4-6 servings. 

New Book: The Centurion

NEW BOOK ! THE CENTURION by Oswald Rivera.

It’s available in Paperback at Amazon.com

Also: Available in Kindle Edition at Amazon.com

NEW BOOK: The Centurion by Oswald Rivera

“It is the first century of the Common Era. Imperial Rome is at the height of its power, with an empire stretching from the moors of Scotland to the sands of Arabia.

It is at this time that in Judea, a remote backwater of the empire. Marcus Valerianus of the tenth legion, is sent on a scouting mission seeking Jewish rebels. Instead, he encounters a young boy from nearby Nazareth, wandering in the desert.

The boy talks of a “Father” who rules over all, and how he is doing his “Father’s work.” Thus begins the Tale of The Centurion, and the startling secret that will change his life forever . . . . . . . ”

– – – –

Creole Burgers

Long before the advent of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King, hamburgers served in Puerto Rico came replete with onions, lettuce and tomatoes. And on plain rolls, not the usual hamburger buns. This transferred over with the first great migration to the mainland in the 1950s. This was the essence of what of what we call “Creole Hamburgers.”

Naturally, this all changed with the coming of the fast food joints. So that today on the island, just as in the mainland, wherever you go, it’s the trendy fast food abomination that rules. Thank the gods that in my tribe we still prefer burgers the old fashioned way—large and spicy. The archetypal  “hamburgesa criollo.”  And, yes, traditionally, we crush the spices in a mortar, a cooking instrument ubiquitous in our cuisine. For the newer foodies out there, a mortar and pestle, weather, stainless steel, aluminum, or wood, can be found in any Asian or Caribbean food market, or even in a good hardware store. 

CREOLE BURGERS

1 pound lean ground beef (can substitute ground chicken or turkey, if preferred)
10 whole black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1. Place meat in a bowl.
2. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt. Blend in one tablespoon of the olive oil and vinegar.
3. Add spices to the meat and mix thoroughly.
4. Shape into hamburger patties.
5. Heat remaining olive oil and butter in a heavy skillet. Add patties and cook over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes per side for rare and 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
6. Serve on plain or seeded roll, or toasted English muffin. Top with tomato slices and lettuce, and go at it. What we kids did (which use to drive my mother nuts) was splatter gobs of mayonnaise on the bun rather than use ketchup or mustard. To each his own.
Yield: 4 servings.

Picadillo

One of the most popular dish is our repertoire is picadillo (pee-kah-dee-yoh). It’s also common in Cuban cuisine. And it’s one of the easiest entreés to prepare. It’s basically a ground meat stew. But you can use ground chicken, turkey or lamb in lieu of beef, if desired. The Puerto Rican version differs from other types in that we add sofrito to the dish.

Sofrito is a base flavoring that is prevalent in our cooking. At it’s basic, it’s an aromatic mix of herbs and spices that is used in countless criollo dishes. This concept can be found in other cultures as well. One example is the India mix garam masala. Sofrito can be quickly whipped up in a blender or food processor. You can find processed sofrito by the jar in almost any supermarket or Caribbean store. Let me add this proviso: most suck. The home product is best. That being said, the only marketed one I can recommend is the sofrito made by Ricomida (myricomida.tumblr.com). It’s the only one that’s as good as the home made stuff. I’ve tried it and it’s the genuine article. If, for some reason, you don’t have the inclination to make your own, or can’t find the Ricomida brand, then mix a teaspoon of turmeric and one minced clove garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and use that as a substitute. It won’t be kosher, but it’ll come close.

Traditionally, sofrito is served over steamed white rice. This time around, I experimented and served it with quinoa, a grain from Peru (it was a staple of Inca cuisine) that has gained popularity in the last few years. Hell, want to be even more adventurous, you can serve the sofrito over pasta. 

In my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, the wine I recommend with the dish is Demestica, a lively red wine from Greece. But, since this is a Spanish dish, you can also serve it with a good Rioja. My favorite Rioja is Marquez de Riscal. If you can’t find it, then go for Marquez de Iberica. Both are good accompaniments to the picadillo.

      PICADILLO
(Ground Meat Stew)

4 tablespoons olive
1 pound ground beef (sirloin preferred)
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium green pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-nch cubes
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons sofrito
10-12 pimento stuffed olives

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet or kettle. Add beef and cook on high heat until meat loses its red color. Drain excess pan drippings.
2. Reduce heat to medium, add onion and bell pepper and sauté until onion is transparent and meat is browned (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a separate skillet or frying pan, heat remaining olive oil and stir-fry potato cubes until golden (about 5-7 minutes). Remove potatoes and drain on paper towels.
4. Return beef to stove and, over low heat, add tomato sauce, salt, pepper, sofrito, potatoes and olives. Stir to combine. Cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
    Yield: 4 servings

Braising Meat (and Poultry)

One of the easiest ways to prepare meat and is by braising. But some of my acquaintances complain that they can’t get it right. For the record, according to Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary (I love that name “Funk & Wagnalls”) denotes braising as: “To cook (meat) by searing till brown and then simmering in a covered pan.” That’s it. The only caveat I would add is that you can also cook poultry the same way. It’s fairly quick and easy. And, if done right, will render a juicy cut of meat.

The other thing to remember about braising is that the cooking time varies with regard to size and shape of meat, its quality, it’s lean or fat composition, and the extent the meat has been marinated, if any. Lastly, it goes without saying that frozen meat or poultry should be thawed before cooking. That being said, follow the steps given below and you shouldn’t have any problems.

In the recipe given I use pork chops. But it can apply to steaks, lamb chops, fish steaks, spareribs, ham, chicken cutlets, turkey sections, duck pieces—whatever your heart desires. Also, I prepared the meat Nuyorican style. That is, I employ a mortar and pestle to grind fresh the ingredients, and then rub the seasoning into the chops.Finally, we dredge the meat in flour before cooking. If you want, you can skip the flour, season the meat with salt and pepper and cook in olive oil and/or butter. Your choice.

BRAISED PORK CHOPS

8 lean pork chops, 1/2-thick (about 1 1/2 pounds)
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour (I prefer barley flour)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chicken broth

1. Rinse chops under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt.
3. Place chops between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound lightly with a mallet.
4. Rub seasoning into pork chops.
5. Place flour in a plate, and dredge chops with flour on both sides.
6. Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan and cook over medium heat until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes per side).
7. Add chicken broth. Cover pan tightly and cook until vapor begins to escape. Reduce heat to low  and simmer, covered, until meat is tender (about 5 minutes). Remove meat and drain on absorbent paper towels. If desired, you can make a gravy by whisking in more flour to the pan, and stirring over medium heat until browned. Gradually stir in milk (making sure no lumps form). Continue cooking until thickened. If gravy becomes too thick you can thin it with a little more milk.
   Yield: 4 or more servings.

Roasted Turnips

We Puerto Ricans love root plants, or what some would call root vegetables. We’ve got plantains,  yuka (cassava), yame, malanga, yams, you name it. When my family got to the mainland a couple of generations ago, we discovered winter root plants; and a whole new aspect to our cookery evolved. In the mainland you had such things as beets, rutabaga, artichokes, parsnips, radishes. We learned that you could cook these vegetables the same way as our forebears had done forever in the Caribbean. Boiled, fried, with a little olive oil over it . . . And we got recipes from our Anglo friends. This made us experiment even more.

The recipe given below follows in this vein. It’s roasted turnips. But you can substitute any good, firm,  winter root vegetable. I’ve discovered that one of the best methods to enhance these tubers is to caramelize them using honey, sugar or, my favorite, maple syrup. The recipe is easy, but the result is a toothsome, tender veggie that makes a welcomed side dish to you next roast, chicken dinner, or juicy steak.

ROASTED TURNIPS

4 large turnips (about 2 pounds), peeled and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons maple syrup (can substitute brown sugar, honey, or molasses)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a bowl, toss the turnips with the olive oil, salt, pepper, sage and thyme.
3. Drizzle with the maple syrup.
4. Place in a baking pan or dish (I prefer cast-iron). Bake for 45 minutes or until tender.
    Yield: 4 servings or more.  

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes

Summer is the season when ripe, fresh tomatoes are in bloom. In the middle of winter when all you can get are those mealy cellophane wrapped imitations, one despairs. But now they are in their glory. You can make a great, hearty tomato based sauce over that pasta. And I’ve discovered you don’t need to spend hours over the stove cooking a marinara sauce. You can use fresh tomatoes as a summer treat. The simplest of all concoctions: tomatoes, garlic, olives and whatever else you want to add; and you have the perfect pasta meal for summer. Add a crusty loaf of bread, and a light red wine, or white if you want. This is not a meal where you stand on formality. A simple, joyous dish for this season.

In the dish given, I use linguine. Yet you can use whatever form of pasta you like, be it tubular like a penne or rigatoni,  circular like a radiatore, or strands like spaghetti or fettuccine. Whatever you have in the cupboard will do.

PASTA WITH FRESH TOMATOES

1 pound fresh or dried linguine
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 8.5-ounce can artichoke hearts, cut into fourths
6 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
1 6-ounce can pitted black olives, drained and sliced in half
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated Romano or Pecorino cheese

1. Cook linguine  in a pot of boiling water according to package directions. Drain, and place in a large serving bowl.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the olive oil and vinegar with the artichoke hearts.
3. Add tomatoes, olives, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.  Stir to mix, and add to the pasta. Combine thoroughly.
4. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings. 

 

The Easter Ham

Here we are again, the Easter holidays. This year, as has happened before, Easter and Passover are in close conjunction. This year, Passover begins on Saturday. Good Friday is the day before. Most Christians do not know (or conveniently forget) that the Last Supper was a Passover dinner wherein the Good Lord  hosted his disciples before his crucible in Golgotha (according to the gospel of Matthew). The gospel of Luke calls it Calvary. Be it as it may, Easter dinner was a big deal in our family back in East Harlem. And it was always lamb. Sometimes my mother would make lamb and a roast pork shoulder (pernil) for those who didn’t like lamb. But lamb was the mainstay. 

It wasn’t until I traveled down South that I discovered that ham was the biggie. And by that I mean a big, juicy Smithfield ham. This ham is a specific type of ham that comes from Virginia. It is usually a country ham that been naturally cured in salt and brown sugar. The other type is a smoked ham, which is cured in a brine consisting of sugar, salt and spices, and are fully cooked. You get them bone-in (with the bone) or boneless for easy slicing. Of course, if all fails or you can’t get these items, then there is canned ham, like Spam, but larger. This is the last option, short of death. There is also what is know as “Virginia ham.” This is similar to the Smithfield, but it does not come from Smithfield Virginia proper.

Now that I’ve got you properly confused, let me say that I used a smoked ham for the following recipe. It’s the only type I could get at the time. And it wasn’t too bad. In fact, it was pretty good since I cooked it in maple syrup ( a suggestion from my wife—who loves maple syrup, especially from Vermont). The recipe is amazingly easy, and the result are fabulous. Not the Nuyorican pernil, but a good substitute.

BAKED HAM

1 smoked ham (3-4 pounds)
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Prick ham all over with the tines of a fork; and rub with ground cloves. 
3. In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the maple syrup and combine.
4. Rub ham with maple-butter mixture, using a brush or, of you don’t have a brush, using your hands.
5. Place in a baking pan and bake 15 minutes per pound or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  
6. Place in serving dish or platter and slice thinly.
    Yield: 4 servings.

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