Latin Cuisine: Tips and Recipes (cont.)

Another spice mixture is sofrito, which helps color and flavor rice, soup, and stew dishes with a yellow mixture of annatto seeds, onions, garlic, coriander, and peppers browned in olive oil.

"Many Puerto Rican dishes also use a saute of onion, tomato, and green bell pepper along with the sofrito," adds Mendez.

Beans and rice are popular. So are chicken with rice, meat pies, fried plantains, rice, and pigeon peas seasoned with smoked ham or bacon, meat or cheese turnovers called empanadillas, and all sorts of soups -- including chicken and rice soup, which often contains chunks of pumpkin, says Mendez.

Most parts of the pig are used in Puerto Rican cooking, and pork is the main event at most holiday tables and celebrations, be it barbecued pig, pork blood sausages, ham and pineapple, or smoked cutlets.

Puddings, including rice pudding, bread pudding, and coconut pudding, are a favorite treat. Flan (a type of firm custard) is also popular, along with cakes (rum cake, guava cake, banana cupcakes, sweet-potato cake), cookies, and tarts. Tropical fruits, including coconut, guava, papayas, and mangoes, abound on the island.

And let us not forget, Puerto Rico is the world's leading rum producer. So plenty of rum is used in recipes, too!

Cuban and Puerto Rican Recipes

Here are some recipes to get you cooking, Cuban and Puerto Rican-style.

Cuban-Style Black Beans

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1/2 cup "starchy foods and legumes with 1 tsp fat maximum"

The authentic Cuban dish would not use canned beans, of course, but this is the easier way to go.

2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup diced green bell pepper
3/4 cup chopped sweet or mild onion (if available)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano flakes
2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup beef broth (chicken or vegetable broth can be substituted)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

  • Heat olive oil in medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add bell pepper, onion, garlic, oregano and saute mixture for about 5 minutes.
  • Add 2/3 cup of the beans to the pan. Using a potato masher, mash the beans briefly. Stir in the remaining beans, oregano, broth, and vinegar. Cover saucepan and simmer until the mixture thickens and the flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste if desired.

Yield: 6 side servings

Per serving: 148 calories, 7 g protein, 19 g carbohydrate, 5.5 g fat, 0.6 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber, 400 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 32%.

Latin Pork With Lime Marinade

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal one meat serving as 1 serving "lean meat and moderate fat meat with sauce or fried."

2 1/2-pound to 3-pound center-cut pork loin roast, trimmed of visible fat

Spice Rub:
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground coriander)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Lime Marinade:
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno chilies, seeded (optional)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/3 cup lime juice (fresh or bottled)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, packed
1 tablespoon fruit flavored vinegar or wine vinegar

  • Add cumin, peppercorns, and coriander or coriander seeds to a small nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Stir and cook until the spices are toasted and very fragrant (a few minutes). Let cook for 5 minutes more, then add to blender, spice grinder, coffee grinder, or small food processor. Add to a small bowl and stir in sugar and salt. Rub the spice mixture all over the outside of the pork roast and place it in a gallon-size resealable plastic bag.
  • Add marinade ingredients to 4-cup measure and stir to blend well.
  • Pour marinade into the plastic bag, remove any excess air, and place bag with roast into a medium bowl. Chill in refrigerator overnight.
  • Start grill, or preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove pork roast from marinade and, if using the oven, place it on a rack in a small roasting pan. Roast 25 minutes. Reduce temperature to 300 degrees and continue to bake for about 40 minutes more (if using a meat thermometer, it should read around 155 degrees when inserted in the center of pork roast). If grilling, use indirect heat and remove when meat thermometer registers around 155-158 degrees.
  • Set pork roast on a serving platter and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut roast into slices in the thickness you prefer.

Yield: 8 servings

Per serving (with a third of the marinade being absorbed): 246 calories, 34 g protein, 2 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 93 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber, 201 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 41%.

Pollo en Escabeche (Puerto Rican Chicken Appetizer)

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal one meat serving (does not include crackers) as 1 serving "lean meat and moderate fat meat with 1 tsp fat maximum."

You can cook the whole chicken yourself, but it is so much easier to buy the rotisserie or roasted chicken from the supermarket (or rotisserie). It will take just a few minutes to shred the chicken. Serve this chicken dish with crackers or sliced baguette bread.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
2 medium-sized sweet or regular onions (cut off ends, remove outer skin, then cut in half
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
12 whole peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1 roasted whole chicken (buy at a grocery store or rotisserie)
Pepper to taste
Salt to taste (optional)

  • Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a large nonstick skillet and begin to heat over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until onions are soft (3-4 minutes).
  • Add in remaining ingredients (remaining olive oil, vinegar, peppercorns, salt, bay leaves), cover skillet, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 50 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, shred the chicken meat from the roasted chicken removing any skin and bones (it should equal at about 3 cups firmly packed shredded chicken).
  • Stir in shredded chicken and continue to simmer until chicken is warm (about 2 minutes). Serve with wheat crackers!