Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Tag: United States (page 1 of 4)


What to do with cucumbers? A time honored question. Cukes are more than just for salads or burgers on a Sunday outing. They also make a great sauce, as envisioned in the recipe given: a very simple medley of cucumbers, herbs, lemon juice and sour cream. Just pour the sauce over white fish fillets such as cod, turbot, tilefish, halibut, flounder, grouper, etc. You get the idea. Just coat the fish with the sauce and broil. And, it goes without saying, the sauce is also great over chicken.

This dish is good with potatoes, a vegetable or any grain. This time around we served it with couscous.



4 fish fillets (about 1/2 pound each)
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon finely minced chives
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup sour cream


  1. Rinse fillets under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. In a bowl, combine oil, vinegar, chives, lemon rind, salt and pepper. Place fish in a baking dish. Spread seasoning mixture over both sides of fish. Let stand at least 45 minutes.
  3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Sauté the shallot over medium heat until golden. Reduce heat to medium-low.
  4. Broil fish fillets, about 4 minutes per side.
  5. Meanwhile, add cucumber and thyme to shallots. Cook 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and sour cream. Cook for 5 minutes over low heat. Do not allow to boil. Spoon over fish and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings.



This dish is so easy to make, and its so good, taste-wise. It’s pork chops seasoned with typical Boricua ingredients and then slathered with maple syrup. That’s right, maple syrup. Burt you can substitute honey, if that’s your preference. Also, in the Rivera family, we love to serve these pork chops over steamed rice with roasted vegetables or a side salad.



4 (1-inch) boneless tenderloin pork chops
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon oregano
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup maple syrup



  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash pork chops under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
  3.  Place peppercorns, garlic, oregano, and salt in a mortar and pound until crush. Blend in olive oil, and vinegar.
  4. Rub pork chops thoroughly with the seasoning.
  5. Heat an oven-proof frying pan or skillet (we prefer cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Sear the pork chops until browned, 2-3 minutes per side.
  6. Add onion to maple syrup. Pour over the pork chops.
  7. Place in oven and bake uncovered for 10-15 minutes for thick (1-inch thick) chops, 5-10 minutes for thin (½-inch thick) chops or until the interior temperature reaches 145 degrees Fahrenheit.  Once you remove from the oven, let chops rest in the pan for 5 minutes before serving.
    Yield: 4 servings.

    Note: If desired, you can also cook the chops atop the stove. In this case,  heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or fry pan. Add chops and cook over medium-high heat 4-5 minutes on each side till cooked through. In a small bowl, whisked together crushed peppercorn, garlic, oregano, salt, red wine vinegar, chopped onion and maple syrup. Add to skillet and cook another 3-5 minutes, spooning sauce over the pork chops and turning to coat. Serve hot.          

Biftec Estofado

This is a simple, no frills way to prepare beefsteak; and it comes from my cookbook Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books). The recipe calls for traditional spices and onions and not much else. However, it’s ingredients include sofrito and aji dulce, or sweet chili peppers. Sweet chili peppers can be found in any Caribbean or Asian market. Sofrito is a base seasoning used for countless dishes in our cooking. A good recipe for sofrito can be found in my post of 11/08/10. Or you can also access the video version (11/23/15) which gives you a step by step method of making the condiment. If for some reason you don’t have the time or inclination to research the thing, a quick method is thus—in a blender or food processor, puree until smooth: 1/4 cup chopped cilantro; 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped; 2 clove garlic, crushed; 1/4 pound sweet chili peppers; and 1/4 cup parsley. That’s it. You can store any leftovers in the fridge for 3-4 days or indefinitely in the freezer compartment. One last caveat: under no circumstances buy the processed, bottled sofrito you find in the supermarket. It’s chemicalized crap.

The dish is called ‘smothered steak” because, traditionally, the beef is topped, or smothered, with onions. It also calls for steaming the meat as it cooks in the pot. A good cut of beef is called for this preparation (we user sirloin or top round). We would not recommend boneless chuck. The usual accompaniment to the beef chunks is rice or boiled potatoes.

  (Smothered Steak)

2 pounds beef sirloin or round steak, trimmed of all fat and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded, cored and chopped
2 aji dulce (sweet chili peppers), chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
Dash of sage
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sofrito
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

1. Wash meat and pat dry with paper towels. Place meat in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, add bell pepper, sweet chili, garlic and sage. Mix well and sprinkle with lemon juice. Cover and marinate for 15-20 minutes.
2. Heat oil on medium flame in a large skillet or heavy frying pan and sear meat on both sides. Add marinade ingredients, water, sofrito, and onion slices. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 30 minutes or until meat is tender.
Note: If desired, the onion slices can be stir-fried in a little oil and arranged over the beef when it’s done. It works either way,
    Yield: 4 servings.

Caribbean Grilled Steak

Grilling steaks can be the easiest or the most difficult thing depending upon how you go at it. The result can be a charred-burnt out piece of leather, or a raw, bleeding mess. The trick is to watch it carefully as it grills. The recipe given below is the Boricua way of grilling meat. That is, it uses all the herbs associated with Caribbean cuisine. Of course, you can add other spices as you desire. It’s all in the taste buds.

The recipe can be termed a peppercorn steak, or as they say in fancy-dan argot, “au poivre.” This consists of steak, normally filet mignon, cooked with cracked pepper, usually green peppercorns. In our cooking its black whole peppercorns.

Here we go again: in traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, we crush the spices in a mortar and pestle, to give it that extra zing. In you don’t own or have a mortar, then substitute ground pepper and salt to taste along with 1 tablespoon oregano, add 1 teaspoon garlic powder—and you’re set to go.

In terms of what meat to use, if you can afford filet mignon, go right ahead, and more power to you. Those of us who are less well-heeled can use other variety meats like strip steaks, cut about 1 1/2-inch thick. I use porterhouse steaks—believe it or not, I got them on sale.


4 porterhouse steaks,  1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds
3/4 cup whole peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
Salt to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teasppoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 cups beef broth
1 (3 1/2-ounce) jar capers, rinsed

1. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano, and salt. Mix in olive oil and vinegar. Brush steaks on both sides with this mixture.
2. Place steaks on grill, cover with lid, and cook on each side 4-5 minutes or until desired doneness.
3. Melt butter in a skillet or fry pan. Add scallions and sauté about 1 minute. Add broth and capers, and cook until liquid is reduced by half, about 10-15 minutes. Serve over grilled steaks.
   Yield: 4 servings. 

Shrimp with Thyme-Flavored Cream Sauce

Something to start the coming year, a devilishly scrumptious entrée. It harks back to  haute cuisine. So, if you’re one of those skinny model types or a compulsive dieter, this ain’t for—-unless you crave something sinfully delicious. And, let’s be honest about it, we all need to indulge once in a while. What’s that famous line from the play Auntie Mame? “Life is a banquet and most suckers are starving to death.” So let’s break out the flour, milk, butter and wine. Add to it fresh raw shrimp, and all ladled over wholewheat linguini (my one crumb to the health conscious). And that’s it, let’s party! Oh, yes, for the wine I would suggest a good, classic white like a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc—-or champagne! Make it that special dinner. What a better way to start the new year?  


5 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped shallots (can use onion, if desired)
1 pound saw shrimp, shelled and deveigned
1/2 cup dry, white wine
4 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons fresh thyme (or 3/4 teaspoon dried)

1. 1 pound wholewheat linguini In a sauce pan or skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add shallots, shrimp and wine, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.
2. In a separate saucepan, melt the remaining butter, add the flour and stir with a wire whisk until blended.
3. Heat the milk to a boil and add it to the  butter-flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk until the sauce is smooth and thickened.
4. Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions (some prefer it al dente. I prefer it tender—you’re choice).
5. Add the sauce and the thyme to the shrimp mixture and cook slowly 5 minutes longer. Pour over the pasta, and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Avocado-Crabmeat Salad

Summer is upon us, and it’s salad time again. In our family, the favorite salad ingredient (apart from lettuce and tomatoes) is the avocado. A good, ripe avocado to us is a measure of heaven. And we prefer the big smooth ones rather than the small, pitted pear shape kinds. Think of Haas avocados. Nothing wrong with them, but being Nuyorican, we prefer the Caribbean variety.

In the old days, before we all became more knowledgeable of things culinary, the basic Puerto Rican salad was lettuce, tomato and avocado slices drizzled with olive oil and vinegar. Or we would have the avocado separately as a side dish in itself. Party salads and such were the province of San Juan debutante society. Today, in our household, we have a salad repertoire that is vast and various, ranging from from hot and cold to pasta and buffet salads. But we still hark back to the avocado as a mainstay. The recipe given below exemplifies that ideal. It’s Ensalada de Aguacate y Juevjes or avocado-crabmeat salad. It can be served as a meal in itself with a crusty loaf of  bread, or as a salad course. Take you pick. By the way, if you’re interested in more ingenious avocado offerings, you can always pick up my cookbook Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Running Press, Perseus Books). It’s chock-full of avocado inspired salads.


1 pound fresh lump crabmeat or 4 6-ounce cans crabmeat, drained
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 lemon, cut in half
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 clove garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 fully ripened avocados
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into slender wedges
Extra salt for sprinkling
Parsley sprigs for garnish

1. If fresh, pick over crabmeat to remove any shell or cartilage.
2. In a bowl, combine crabmeat, mayonnaise, juice of 1/2 lemon, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix lightly.
3. Cut each avocado in half, peel and remove the pit. Cut each half into 6 or 8 wedges. Squeeze remaining lemon half over the avocado to prevent discoloration.
4. Place crabmeat in the center of a serving platter. Arrange avocado and tomato wedges alternately around the crabmeat. Sprinkle wedges lightly with salt.
5. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve.
    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.

The Joy of Eels

‘Catching the legendary eel at Tangahoe’

Mention eels to most anyone, and the first response is “Yuck.” But this seafood is prized in other parts of the world. In Asia and Europe ells are considered a delicacy, smoked eels in particular. Okay, so you say, “Convince me.” Well, let’s start with the fish itself. Eels come in two varieties: freshwater and marine. Freshwater versions such as the European eel and the American eel are eaten in the U.S. and Europe. Marine eels, such as conger and anago are popular in Japanese and Chinese cuisine. And they ain’t cheap. In Hong Kong, prices for select eel dishes range from $129 to $645 per kilogram (2.2 pounds). So, its a royal dish. Not to be out done, there’s even an American alternative rock band called the “Eels.”

We are more fortunate in that we can find eels at reasonable prices at the local fish store, Asian or Caribbean market. All I’m saying is give it a chance. You’ll discover how delicious and versatile they are. Yes, they look like snakes, and they’re slimy. But don’t let that deter you. Cook the suckers and you’re in for a treat. I recall that in the movie version of German author Guntar Grass’ book The Tim Drum, the main character, Oskar (who’s a dwarf, by the way), goes on an outing at the beach with his parents. On the shore they come across a horse’s head (yes, a decapitated horse’s head) that is swarming with eels crawling out of its snout, eyes and ears. The mother immediately gets sickened by the sight.  The father, being more practical, takes the eels home, cleans them up and prepares a marvelous dinner. A smart man.

Given below are two simple recipes for cooking eels. Like Oskar’s family, you won’t be disappointed.


The eel:
     1 1/4-to-1 1/2 pound skinned eel (cleaned weight)
     2 tablespoons butter
     Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
The mustard butter:
      4 tablespoons butter at room temperature
      3 teaspoons mustard, preferably Dijon or Dusseldorf
      3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
      1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
      Tabasco sauce to taste
      Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat broiler to its highest setting.
2. Using a sharp knife, score the eel flesh top and bottom. To do this, make shallow 1/8-inch parallel incisions at 1/2-inch intervals. Cut the eels into 6-inch lengths.
3. In a baking dish, gently melt the butter and add eel pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and turn the eel pieces in the butter until coated all over.
4. Place the dish of eel about 4 to 5 inches from the source of heat and broil about 1 and a 1/2 minutes. Turn the pieces and cook about 2 to 3 minutes longer. Pour off all the fat that has accumulated in the pan. Serve immediately with the mustard butter. 
5. To make the mustard butter, combine all the ingredients for the butter and beat rapidly with a whisk or wooden spoon until well blended. Spoon equal amounts of the unmelted butter over the fish sections and serve immediately.
    Yield: 6 servings.


My favorite eel recipe: cut about 1 1/2 pounds of eel or eels into chunks, season with salt and pepper and fry briskly in olive oil for a short time, just enough to stiffen the fish. Remove from the pan and in the same oil, brown 2 tablespoons of chopped onion. When the onion is nearly done, add a tablespoon of chopped shallots, and a 1/4-pound mushrooms, diced small. Put the eel back in the pan, add 1/3 cup white wine and 3/4 cup of tomato sauce. Simmer, with the lid on, for 1/2 hour. Place in a shallow platter, sprinkle with chopped parsley and tarragon, and serve.

Caption: courtesy of The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: Te hopu tuna – eeling

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Fish Bilbaina Style

This recipe is a contribution from my late Uncle Phillip, von vivant, raconteur and ladies’ man extraordinair. Phillip was the black sheep of our family, mainly because of his lust for life. You could describe him as a lovable rogue; and he was a fabulous cook. According to him, the origin of this recipe is Bilbao, Spain, in the Basque country. Whether they prepare it this way in Bilbao, I do not know. But Uncle Phillip always stated they did.

Like most of his generation, Uncle Phillip had this thing about Spain and its culture. To a lot of older folk on the island of Puerto Rico, Spain is still regarded as the “mother country.” In fact, La Borinqueña,” the unofficial island anthem, has a phrase in it about the “Spanish motherland.” To us New York bred Puerto Ricans, or Nuyoricans, these sentiments are rather quaint. I have never been to Bilboa. Im sure I’d feel more at home in Lancaster, PA than in Bilboa any day. But I doubt I could find a genuine recipe for Bilbaina style fish in Lancaster, PA, or most parts of the U.S. for that matter.

Let me add that the recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books – Running Press). There are more like it in that tome. Enjoy.

 (Fish Bilbaina Style)

1 2-1/2 to 3 pound striped bass, cleaned and scale but with head and tail still attached (can substitute
   any other firm fleshed fish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
Salt and black ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 370 degrees F.
2. Wash fish, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
3. With a sharp knife, make 3 to 4 vertical slits on both sides of fish.
4. Heat olive oil in a frying pan or skillet and lightly brown fish over moderate heat on both sides.
5. Remove fish to a baking dish large enough to hold it comfortably. Top fish with onions. Then layer with tomatoes, and finally with the green pepper strips.
6. Pour tomato sauce over the fish, and sprinkle with minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Bake uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Caption: courtesy of ian brodie

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Indian Pudding

 I didn’t know anything about Indian Pudding until I began research for my second cookbook The Pharaoh’s Feast (Published in the UK under the title Feasting with the Ancestors). This book traced cooking through the ages, from prehistory to the present. I discovered that in 1796, a Miss Amelia Simmons published the first genuine American cookbook, American Cookery. Prior to this time, the few American housewives who had access to cookbooks would have used European books published under an American Imprint. This book featured some unique American recipes. Among them, recipes for slapjacks, pumpkin pudding and spruce beer (alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage flavored with the buds and needles of spruce trees).  For the first time such words as cookie and slaw appeared in print.

Amelia Simmons was a self-described “American orphan.” She worked as a domestic during the colonial period, and this gave her hands-on experience in preparing a good meal. She lays out simple guidelines that are as applicable today as they were in her time. For example, use only the freshest ingredients; and to determine freshness of fish, poultry or meat, go by their smell.

American cuisine owes a lot to Miss Simmons. One of the recipes in her book was a colonial favorite, Indian Pudding. Amelia Simmons gives three recipes for “A Nice Indian Pudding.” Two recipes call for baking the Indian pudding, and one advises to boil the ingredients for twelve hours in a “brass or bell metal vessel, stone or earthen pot.” I’ll stick to the baking. Today Indian Pudding is usually served with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


4 cups milk
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/3 cup dark molasses
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Ina double boiler or heavy saucepan, bring the milk to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the cornmeal, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often for another minute. The cornmeal should be softened but slightly sticky.
3. Add the molasses and mix well. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients.
4. Butter or grease an 8-to-9-inch baking dish. Pour the pudding mixture into the dish and bake for about 2 hours. The pudding should be brown on top with a dark crust in the center. The pudding can be served hot, warm, or at room temperature.
    Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

photo: courtesy of Yankee Magazine

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