I'm so excited to introduce the first regular feature on this blog, Cooking With Cuqui. My mother-in-law, Cuqui (pronounced Cookie), is originally from Puerto Rico, and has also lived in New York City, Carracas, Mexico City, and now in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. I'm anxious to learn to cook her native Puerto Rican food, which is my precious husband's childhood food, as well as some of the recipes she learned in the other places that she lived.
I'm so fortunate to have grown up in a family of great cooks. I was helping out in the kitchen from the time that I was old enough to stir a pot. With my mother and my grandparents, I learned to cook healthy, nutritious meals. My paternal grandparents were East Texas farming folks and my Papa (my paternal grandfather) also was a decorated soldier. In the time I spent with my paternal grandparents, I experienced a lot of good, old-fashioned southern "soul" food, the kind of food that is inexpensive to cook but so incredibly tasty. And when I say old-fashioned I'm not kidding. My Nanny Sue (my paternal grandmother) would have us prepare the food to feed the "menfolk" first, then the women and children were fed. That's just the way she grew up back in the day in a family of southern sharecroppers.
My maternal grandparents were well-educated city folk who decided to move to the country in search of a healthier lifestyle. They became gardeners and were interested in vitamins and nutrients long before it was trendy to care about such things. I spent a lot of fun times with them in their garden, harvesting fresh fruits and veggies. One of my biggest treats as a child was the weeks I got to spend with my grandparents in the summer, working in the garden, harvesting produce, and canning tomatoes.
At home we ate really well and really healthy. My mom is a great, nutritious, frugal cook. She's a very talented artist and she always taught us the concept that you eat with your eyes first. We learned that the food has to be pretty on the plate. You simply cannot serve a plate full of beige foods.
All this is to say that cooking is a family heritage that is important to preserve. A great part of the reason I began this blog is to collect all the recipes that my precious hubby, Gordon, and I cook, including our families' recipes, in a convenient way so our kids can access them now and when we're gone. My husband and I want to be sure that family recipes live on; therefore, it's very important to us to preserve the Puerto Rican cooking heritage of his family.
And now, without further ado, the first installment of Cooking With Cuqui: Bistec en Cebollado, Puerto Rican-Style Habichuelas, y Arroz Blanco (Steak with Onions, Puerto-Rican Beans, and White Rice)
One of the many reasons I love this type of cooking is that it's done very much by eye and by taste, my favorite way to cook. Please adjust measurements to your taste.
Bistec en Cebollado
3 lbs. cube steak
2 white onions, halved and sliced thin
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 tablespoon sea salt (or to taste)
Couple pinches coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
Olive oil for the frying pan
1 ripe avocado
Drizzle of olive oil for avocado
Sprinkle of sea salt for avocado
In a pilon (mortar and pestle) grind the garlic cloves with the sea salt, then add the black pepper, olive oil, vinegar, and juice from 1 lime. Rub this mixture gently into the cube steak and set aside to marinate for 1 to 2 hours.
Heat frying pan over medium heat and add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom, a couple of tablespoons. When olive oil is warm, add the onion and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onion begins to caramelize, around 20 minutes.
Remove onions to a bowl. Increase temperature of frying pan to medium-high or high, add a little more olive oil, and add some of the cube steaks. (Cook in batches; don't overcrowd the pan.) Cook 3-5 minutes, then turn steaks over. Steak will release easily from the pan when ready to turn. Cook about 3 minutes on the other side. You want these steaks to be just cooked through but not overdone.
When all steaks are cooked, combine them with the onions in the frying pan. Serve warm with beans, white rice, and slices of avocado dressed with olive oil and sea salt.
Puerto Rican-Style Habichuelas (Beans)
1/3 cup diced ham
1/3 cup diced Spanish-style chorizo (such as Goya)
1 finely diced white onion
1 finely diced bell pepper
1 diced tomato
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
pinch coarsely ground black pepper
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 large can of Goya red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup sliced green olives
2 tablespoons capers
1 can of chicken broth (use the bean can to measure)
1 packet Goya sazon
1 or 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 small green plaintain, shredded on a cheese grater
Heat Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add olive oil to coat generously. Add diced ham and chorizo and cook for several minutes. Add onion and bell pepper and cooked until softened. Add diced tomato. Mash garlic with salt in a pilon; add black pepper and enough olive oil to pilon to form a paste. Scrape garlic paste into Dutch oven, adding a little water to pilon if necessary to get all the garlic out. Cook for several minutes.
Add beans. Add tomato sauce, olives, and capers and cook for several minutes. Add chicken broth, sazon, and vinegar. Simmer over medium heat until flavors are well combined. Bring to a boil and then add shredded plaintain, which adds flavor and is also a great thickening agent. Cook at a low boil for several minutes, then you're ready to serve.
Cuqui's Puerto Rican White Rice
White rice sounds like the easiest thing in the world to cook; however, there's something special about Cuqui's white rice, It's like a siren song to the family, beckoning everyone to visit whenever she makes it.
3 cups short-grain white rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 3/4 cups boiling water
3 teaspoons salt
Heat olive oil over medium heat (preferably in a Latin style caldero). Add rice. Cook and stir for several minutes. Let the rice cook enough that it develops a little toasty flavor. Add boiling water. Simmer rice until you see "tunnels" through the rice and until the rice stops making a lot of sizzling/crackling sounds. Sorry that this step is a little hard to describe.