Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Tag: Tomato sauce (page 1 of 2)

Pollo Guisado (Stewed Chicken)

My father called this dish the poor person’s banquet. It is similar to that popular Italian entrée, chicken cacciatore, but with a Puerto Rican boricua slant. What I like about this recipe is that the ingredients can be added or changed to suit the circumstances or the pocket book. If desired, roasted red peppers can be substituted for green bell peppers (pimento). You can add peas. mushrooms or almost any other vegetable you have on hand. Or keep it simple. Some folks prefer to remove the skin from the chicken before cooking. Others like to retain the skin since it renders a richer flavor. It’s all a matter of individual taste.

In the island of Puerto Rico, for this dish, the accompaniment is rice and beans. Back in Spanish Harlem, when I was growing up, in our family we paired this dish with macaroni. For some reason, my father loved it with tubular pasta like macaroni or rigatoni. It was our thing. Actually, you can serve this recipe with whatever you want—be it potatoes, pasta, quinoa, couscous, or kasha. It’s that versatile. 

The dish calls for sofrito, that popular base condiment used in our cooking. My prior post (Biftec Estofado – 03/04/17) has a quickie way to prepare sofrito. Refer to that and you won’t have any problems whipping it up. And, as noted in that post, under no circumstance get the store-bought variety—it’s chemicalized crap.

  (Stewed Chicken)

1 medium stewing chicken, about 2 1/2 pounds, cut into serving pieces
2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 whole peppercorns
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh parsley
2 medium Idaho or Maine potatoes, halved and quartered
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sofrito
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
8 pitted black olives, rinsed in cold water and halved
1/2 medium green bell pepper, cut into strips

1. Rinse chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Put the garlic, peppercorns, salt and oregano into a mortar and pound until crushed. Rub this seasoning thoroughly into the chicken pieces.
3. In a large pot or casserole (a Dutch oven is great for this), place the chicken pieces along with the bay leaf and parsley sprigs. Add water to cover chicken pieces. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium. Cover and simmer until chicken pieces are tender (about 20 minutes).
4. Add potatoes, onion slices, sofrito, tomato sauce and olives. Stir and combine.
5. Cook, covered, until potatoes are tender and sauce has thickened somewhat (about 1/2 hour). Garnish with bell peppers.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Lamb Shanks Caribbean Style

This recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Hachete Books). It could be considered the Puerto Rican version of Osso Buco. Only difference is that Osso Buco is braised lamb shanks. We use regular lamb shanks; then the shanks are browned and simmered. The usual first step in Osso Buco is to dust the shanks with flour and then brown. The final step is the same: slow cooking until done. Now, no one says you can’t braise the lamb in flour, as in the Italian version. My mother would cook them both ways. Just that it’s easier in the Caribbean version.

The dish is normally served with yellow rice and pigeon peas (arroz con gandules – see post of 12/01/14 for a pretty good recipe). This time around I served it with the old standby, mashed potatoes.

   (Lamb Shanks Caribbean Style)

4 lamb shanks (about 3 1/2 pounds)
Juice of 1 whole lemon
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
2 bay leaves

1, Rinse lamb shanks and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper
3. Heat olive oil in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven. Add lamb shanks and brown evenly over moderate-low heat.
4. Add tomatoes sauce, onion, garlic, oregano, cilantro, and bay leaves.
5. Cover and simmer on low heat until tender (1 hour). Remove bay leaves and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings. 

Papas Rellenas – Stuffed Potato Balls

Papas rellenas, or stuffed potato balls, makes a great appetizer or side dish for the Thanksgiving table. Yes, that venerable holiday is upon us again. So how about giving that potato dish a unique take. Tired of the old potato salad? Then papas rellenas is it. You family and friends will say, Wow! C’mon, liven up that Thanksgiving turkey. Make papa rellenas a part of your tradition. You won’t be disappointed.

This recipe calls for sofrito, the Puerto Rican  seasoning that is ubiquitous in our cooking. A recipe is readily available in my posting of November 8th 2015. If that’s not good enough for you, you catch my video of July 10th 2014 on how to make sofrito, step-by-step. Otherwise, you can get it store bought in almost any supermarket—but it won’t the same as the genuine product.   

By the way, this recipe, among many others, is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, which is now in its third printing (Running Press, Avalon Books) 

(Stuffed Potato Balls)

1 pound Idaho or Maine potatoes, peeled
2 quarts (8 cups) water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound lean ground beef (can substitute ground pork, chicken or turkey, if desired)
2 tablespoons sofrito
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Rinse potatoes under cold running water and pat dry.
2. Place in a pot or medium saucepan. Add water and boil on moderate heat, covered, until tender (about 30 minutes).
3. Meanwhile, for filling, heat oil in a skillet or fry pan. Add meat and stir-fry over medium heat until meat losses its color. Add sofrito, tomato sauce, oregano and salt. Mix and sauté 3-4 minutes.
4. Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Drain potatoes, place in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher.
6. Add butter, egg and one teaspoon cornstarch. Mix well and let cool.
7. Spread some of the potato dough mix in the palm of your hand (keep palms wet while doing this). With fingers makes small nest in the center of palm, and stuff with a spoonful of the filling. Cover the filling with more dough mix and shape into a ball. Brush lightly with cornstarch. repeat until filling and mix are used up.
8. Deep fry in hot oil until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.
    Yield: 6 to 8 stuffed potato balls, depending on size.

Stewed Potatoes – Papas Guisadas

Back in the old neighborhood, during our lean times, we had certain meals that would tie us over until the next paycheck came in. Examples of these renderings would such standbys as spaghetti with ketchup (yes, ketchup), or with blue cheese; or a stir-fry of franks and onions. But, invariably, our favorite was papas quisadas, or stewed potatoes. This, believe it or not, was served as a main entrée.

Now you’re asking yourself, Potatoes as a main dish? Crazy. No, not really. In our family this became such a popular dish that sometimes my mother would cook it as a treat. And it was to my father and I. We could never get enough of it. Steak, and chicken, and fish was good in times of plenty—but papas guisadas were good anytime.

Stewed potatoes is an easy enough dish to prepare: all you need is potatoes, garlic, tomato sauce and cilantro, that’s it. And served over plain steamed or yellow rice, it’s heavenly, whether on lean days or not.

 (Stewed Potatoes)

1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 pounds Maine or Idaho potatoes, cut into cubes. Note: if organic, unpeeled (if you prefer).
   If non-organic, peeled.
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano, or 1/4 teaspoon dried.
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a nonstick skillet or frying pan. Add garlic and sauté until garlic is slightly browned.
2. Add potatoes and stir-fry for 5 minutes.
3. Add tomato sauce and remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat until potatoes are tender.
4. Serve piping hot.
    Yield: 4 servings.  

Empanadillas – Stuffed Meat Pies

Empanadillas are a delicacy popular in Nuyorican cooking. Basically, it’s a stuffed meat pie. Cubans have their own version of it, and they call it empanadas. We also have empanadas. But our version differs from the empanadillas in that the ingredients are traditionally wrapped in plantain leaves and then the stuffed empanada is baked in a medium oven. The most famous use of plantain leaves in our culture is in the preparation of pasteles (for a step-by-step recipe, see my video of 12/4/10). For pasteles, if plantain leaves are not available, we wrap them in waxed paper. With empanadas, you can use aluminum foil which works just as well.

Empanadillas need no plantain leaves or waxed paper. It’s a very straight forward recipe, and depending on the filling, empanadillas can be made large, medium, or small size. It’s just a matter of preference. The following recipe will make about 10 empanadillas, depending on size.

The recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books, Running Press) which has gone into its 3rd printing.

(Stuffed Meat Pies)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
4 cups flour
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup water mixed with 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan. Add beef, bell pepper, onion, garlic, salt and ground pepper. Sauté over high heat, stirring constantly, until meat loses its red color.
2. Reduce heat  to low, stir in tomato sauce and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 3 cups flour, 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, baking soda, sugar and salted water. Sift through the hands until the flour is moistened and a soft dough is formed.
4. Roll dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently.
5. Break off a small piece of dough and flatten into a patty. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough into a circle 6-7 inches in diameter. Fill center with a tablespoon of beef filling, and fold circle in half. Using a small plate as a guide, trim off excess dough to get a perfect half moon shape. Seal edges by pressing all the way round with the tines of a fork. Repeat until ingredients are used up, dusting the surface and empanadillas with flour, as needed, to prevent sticking.
6. Deep-fry in hot oil until golden (about 3-4 minutes). Remove and drain on absorbent paper towels.

Black Rice and Sausage

We Puerto Ricans are inveterate rice eaters. It has been with us since anyone can remember. Mainly because rice was (and is still) relatively inexpensive; easy to cook; and we prepare it in infinite ways: rice with beans, rice with fish, rice with chicken, rice with squid, yellow rice, pilaf rice, ext. My Father, of late memory, ate rice everyday. It made no difference what the entrée was, a bowl or rice had to be there. In our culture it was, and still is, mainly white rice. In recent years some of us have become more health conscious, and some homes may serve brown rice. But, from what I’ve seen, this is more the exception  than the rule.

Since my journey from the block, I’ve discovered that there are multiple varieties of rice out there. There is Jasmine rice, and Indian Basmati, Japanese Nishiki rice, aromatic Bengali Kalizira rice, red rice, wild rice, Italian Arborio rice, and the list goes on. According to the UK Rice Association, there are over 40,000 different varieties of rice. Go figure that one out.

Glutinous black rice is the unpolished whole grain of regular sticky white rice. It’s not actually black in color, it’s more of a dark purple. And it’s very healthy for you. It contains no fat, and a 1-cup serving has only one gram of sugar. It’s rich in protein, a good source of iron (which your body needs to make blood cells);  and it contains no sugar or cholesterol. It’s a very popular and common dish in Southeast Asia, India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

In the recipe given below, I’ve combine glutinous black rice with sausages, specifically chorizo, the spicy Spanish sausage so unique to our cuisine. The nutty, chewy flavor of the black rice goes great with the chorizo. A criollo dish by way of Asia.


2 cups milled glutinous black rice
4 1/2 cups water or broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
3 tablespoons sofrito (or 2 cloves minced garlic mixed with 2 teaspoons turmeric and 2 tablespoons
   fresh chopped parsley)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 chorizo sausages, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Wash rice and drain.
2. Heat oil in a heavy kettle or pot. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent. Add sofrito and tomato sauce. Sauté for about 3 minutes.
3. Add chorizo and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the rice. Add water or broth, salt and pepper.
5. Bring to a boil. Cover tightly and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
    Yield: 6 servings.

Pork Chops Supreme

I got this recipe out of a cookbook which I acquired years ago. It was an old cookbook from 1968: Quick and Easy Dishes – Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers. Remember “Home Economics?” Is it taught in the schools anymore? Anyway, this recipe caught my eye. It was simple enough: pork chops, salt, pepper, onion and tomato. I modified it in that I added cheese, olive oil, oregano garlic, and parsley. You could say I’ve made them Nuyorican Supreme Pork Chops.


4 pork chops, about 1 inch thick
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely mince
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 slices tomato
4 slices cheese, preferably a goat cheese like Manchego (but you can substitute Pecorino, Romano, Parmesan, 
   or other)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Wash chops under cold running water, and pat dry with paper towels.
3. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.
4. Rub the seasoning into the meat.
5. Place chops in a baking pan or dish. Top with a tomato slice. Add enough water to cover bottom of pan. Place in oven and bake for one hour. 
6. Top each chop with slice of cheese. Transfer to broiler part of oven and broil 1-2 minutes until cheese melts.
7. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Pimientos Rellenos (Stuffed Peppers)

In the Jewish Calendar, this week commemorates the beginning of the holiday known as Sukkot. This is the harvest festival that follows the solemn holiday of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Among the traditional foods served on this occasion are stuffed vegetables. It is noted that stuffed foods represent a bountiful harvest. Think of a cornucopia of veggies and fruit. Thus, in celebration, I’m putting out my pimientos rellenos recipe from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books Group—Running Press). So, my Jewish friends and colleagues, liven up the occasion with stuffed peppers Puerto Rican style. And for those of you who are not Jewish, it’s still a great dish to enjoy anytime.

Let me add that the recipe calls for shredded cheddar cheese on top. You can either omit or add it to the mix.

     (Stuffed Peppers)

4 medium green or red bell peppers
6 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 medium tomatoes, cored and diced
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Slice the top off the peppers. Remove and discard the seeds and white veins.
3. Drop peppers into boiling water to cover and boil for 3 minutes. Remove, drain and set aside.
4. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt. Blend in olive oil and vinegar.
5. In a bowl, combine meat with seasoning.
6. Brown meat in a very hot skillet (no extra oil is necessary).
7. Add onion, bread crumbs, tomatoes and tomato sauce. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.
8. Stuff the peppers with beef-tomato filling and place in a shallow baking dish. Top with shredded cheese, if desired, and bake 20-25 minutes.
    Yield: 4 servings.

photo: courtesy of Andicakes

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Eggplant Parmesan/Provencal

Back in Spanish Harlem, in our family’s repertoire, one of the standby dishes was Eggplant Parmesan. Although we didn’t call it that. We are vociferous eggplant eaters, and the dish was just another version which we knew as eggplant Italian style because we added grated cheese. To us, back then,  any dish that had Parmesan cheese in it was considered Italian; just like any dish that had soy sauce was considered Chinese. It was the innocence of the meat and potato days of yore.

What made our version delectable is that it contained crispy friend eggplant, which we loved. Add a little tomato sauce, grated Parmesan, some good crusty bread and you has a great meal. Later in life, I discovered the French Eggplant Provencal, which was the same damn thing minus the cheese. You just add some capers to it and baked the eggplant instead of frying. Also, to the French, Eggplant Provencal is normally served as an appetizer. Whichever method you use, if you’re an eggplant lover, you’ll savor the meal. And, even if you don’t like eggplant, you just might change your mind.


1 medium-sized eggplant (about 1-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil (or more for frying)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce, heated

1. Blend flour, salt, pepper  and oregano on a plate or piece of wax paper and coat each eggplant slice well with mixture.
2. Heat half of the olive oil in a heavy skillet, and fry as many slices of eggplant as can be accommodated without crowding until crisp and brown on both sides. Transfer slices to a shallow heat-proof platter or pie plate, and keep warm.
3. Add remaining oil to skillet and brown rest of eggplant slices. Sprinkle half of browned eggplant in platter with a tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese. Add remaining slices and second tablespoon of cheese.
4. Pour hot sauce over and around eggplant. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, place under a hot broiler from 3 to 4 minutes, and broil briefly until cheese melts and is slightly brown.


1 medium-sized eggplant (about 1-1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground  black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup capers

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
2. Dip eggplant slices in olive oil, and arrange on a flat baking pan or dish (I prefer cast-iron). Bake 10-15 minutes or until tender.
 3. Crush garlic and brown lightly in a little olive oil in a small saucepan. Add tomato sauce and cook until hot. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper and oregano.
4. Pour sauce over eggplant, sprinkle with capers and serve hot or cold.

For both recipes the yield is about 4 servings.

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The Color of Rice

My friends marvel when I serve them rice pilaf or yellow rice dishes. Invariably they ask: what colors the rice? It’s a complex question, depending upon the dish. Fragrant colored rice has been in my culture since the beginning. It was the Spaniards who got the method from the Moors, when the Arabs introduced saffron as a flavoring and coloring agent in Southern Spain. Saffron is still the best thing around—but it’s expensive. If you can afford it, more power to you. All you do is add a few strands of the stuff to the rice while it’s boiling to get that great arroz amarillo (yellow rice) hue.

My parents came from the Greatest Generation (as it is called by some). So, during the Great Depression, they and their fellows developed equitable shortcuts to using safron (which they couldn’t get and, even if they could, they couldn’t afford it). Below are easy, ready to use alternatives that give rice whatever color you want; and also add to its flavor. I’ve used these alternatives, at one time or another, depending upon my financial condition, and it’s given me a marvelous rice dish every time.

Achiote – This is simply annatto seeds cooked in vegetable oil or olive oil. It’s our favorite product for coloring food. You can find it in most supermarkets in 8-ounce jars. Annatto is the pulp of the tropical tree Bixa orellana; and annato dye is used in coloring some cheeses. To prepare: just cook 1 tablespoon annatto seeds in 1/2 cup olive oil, on low heat, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. During cooking, the oil will turn a bright orange-red. The longer the seeds steep in oil, the deeper the hue. Remove from heat, let cool, and strain into a glass jar or container. You can keep it in the fridge indefinitely. Use as you wish, from 1 to 3 tablespoons when cooking rice, depending on the color you want to attain.

Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste – This will do when you don’t have annatto seeds. But, depending on how much you use, it will render a more reddish color to the rice. Now, experts in my family contend that tomato sauce will give a better color, while tomato paste will give a better flavor. It’s all a matter of personal preference. To prepare: cook 1/3 or more cup tomato sauce, or 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste, in 3 tablespoons olive oil. If you want to enhance the flavor, you can add 1 small chopped onion and/or 1-2 cloves finely diced garlic. When you reached desired consistency, add a couple of cups of rice. Stir to mix, add water, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and cook the rice as you normally would.

Tumeric – This spice is known as Indian saffron, since it’s widely used as an alternative for the more expensive saffron. You get it in the supermarket in the form of a dry root powder. It not only adds a custard-like yellow color to rice but it also impart a distinct flavor. Tumeric is extremely strong, and it gets stronger as it cooks. A little goes a long way. Be judicious in its use. As noted, it’s a powerful yellow dye, so try not to stain your apron or clothes with it while cooking. To use: just add 1 teaspoon (or more, but be careful) to two cups of rice when it comes to a boil. Cover and simmer as you normally would.

Dry mustard – That’s right, dry yellow mustard in the powdered form. I know. You’re thinking about mustard on hot dogs, burgers, etc.; but mustard, in its own right, adds great flavor and color to foods. Like tumeric, it tends to be strong. Figure it this way, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of dry yellow mustard for 1 teaspoon tumeric. Just add to rice when it comes a boil, cover, and cook as instructed.

Parsley – For green rice. Yes, it’s hard being green. But in rice it’s okay. Adds another dimension and flavor to the dish. Simple: take 1 bunch of parsley (I prefer the curly Italian type parsley), wash and chop finely (by hand, or in a food processor). Saute it in 2-3 tablespoons olive oil with a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves thrown in. To enhance the flavor you can even add a chicken bouillon cube, and (if you want) 3 tablespoons light cream. Add rice, water, and cook as you normally wood. It will give you deliciously green-hued rice.

Black Rice (Arroz con Calamares) – This is rice cooked with squid or cuttlefish. The color comes from the dark color imparted to the grains as they cook with the squid in its ink. It’s a favorite in my crowd. The trick here is that the rice will come out darker if canned squid is used. 4-ounce cans of squid in their ink can be found in most supermarkets or Asian and Caribbean stores. To prepare: saute, in 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 green bell pepper (cored seeded and chopped), 1 small onion (chopped), and 1 clove garlic (finely minced). Add 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and 1 chicken bouillon cube. Stir in 3 cans squid in this ink plus 6 pimento stuffed Spanish olives. Stir in 2 cups rice, water to cover by about 1/4-inch, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is absorbed (about 20-25 minutes).

There you have it, friends, different and varied ways to add delicious color to your rice dish. Experiment, see which one you like best—and enjoy!

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