garden alley party menu

The homestead is adjacent to one of the most beautiful community gardens in Loisaida. We recently marked a celebration with a little party in the alleyway that abuts the garden. We call it the alley, but it is really a long courtyard that is below the surface of the garden. There is a wind tunnel there, so even on the most blistering New York summer day, breezes will stir. We have garden furniture there and a communal grill.

It was a late supper party so most of the food was prepared beforehand and we just grilled burgers. When I was a kid, all my friends raved about the burgers my mother made. It was because they were seasoned. They were Cuban hamburgers.

Garden alley party menu:

Crostini with tomato & basil
Chipotle deviled eggs – this is my recipe from a previous post

Cuban Hamburgers recipe
2lbs ground beef
1 med onion super finely chopped
4 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano – I use dried oregano from the Dominican Republic, but that is hard to find. Rancho Gordo has comparable oregano. Or use fresh.
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and shape into patties. Do not pack tightly into patties or they will grill up dry. Grill or broil. Serves six.

Beet Salad with Feta Cheese and capers
French Potato Salad
Califlower Gratin

Chocolate Pound Cake – your family and friends will love this cake and beg you to make it again. The recipe is from chef Douglas Rodriguez’s book Latin Flavors on the Grill. One of my favorite cookbooks.

yuca con mojo criollo

The best part of our Christmas Eve dinner is the yuca con mojo criollo. Yuca, (pronouced YooKah) also known as cassava was consumed in Latin America long before the arrival of the conquistadors. It was brought to Africa through the slave trade in the 17th century. It is an important food security crop for millions of people because it grows in poor soil and can withstand drought.

You can find yuca in grocery stores that have Latin American foods. It is a long tuber with a dark woody skin that is coated with a clear wax to preserve freshness. The bark-like skin is thick and it has to be sliced off, almost like whittling a piece of wood. Once peeled and cut into pieces about five inches long, boil the yuca in salted water. Do not cut into smaller pieces as small chunks will turn into mush. This vegetable is very bland and the mojo criollo sauce that is poured over it is for garlic lovers only.

I've been hoarding this garlic from Heather Ridge Farm for my winter cooking

Seville oranges are the second ingredient. They are harder to find and so you can make a similar juice by mixing 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed sweet orange juice and 1/8 cup of combined lime and lemon juice.

naranja agria

Here is the recipe:

yuca – about three 10 inch long tubers peeled and boiled till soft
8 very fat, very good quality garlic cloves
1 tsp salt
1 medium onion sliced super thin
1/2 cup Seville orange juice or the substitute concoction mentioned above
1/2 cup good quality olive oil

Smash the garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle (or food processor) until it forms a thick paste. Put the garlic, onion and orange juice in a bowl and let it sit for an hour. Heat the olive oil until it is very hot and then add the garlic and juice mixture for just a couple of minutes (do not let the garlic brown and be careful because it will splatter). Pour over the drained yuca, toss and serve.

yuca con mojo criollo

A perfect compliment to roast pork with black beans, the yuca is biting and tangy with the sour orange and heady with garlic. It is even better the next day with leftovers, and then the day after that topped with a fried egg for breakfast.

olga’s cuban black beans

This is my mother’s black bean recipe. She let me tinker with it a little when I grew up and we would cook Christmas Eve dinner together. She used to use Goya beans and one day I brought organic beans and after that she never wanted to see another Goya bean again. She used to put in a splash of wine for the acidity and one day I asked if we could try balsamic vinegar and she liked it much better. Beans do not photograph well, so there are photos of the cook instead.

Always use organic beans. Not only do they taste better, they also cook up faster. Since beans take hours to cook, I always cook 2lbs at one time and freeze half in smaller containers to defrost later for easy weekday meals. These beans are very healthy as they are vegetarian and have almost no fat (only a bit of olive oil which is good for you).

Olga and her dog Belinda

Olga before she knew how to cook black beans

1st step – make sofrito, which is a tomatoey base used in Latin American cooking that is inherited from Spain. There are different versions of sofrito by country. What I outline here is the Cuban version. I cook up a batch and then freeze in small containers holding about 3 or 4 tablespoons each or wrap in plastic and put the little bundles in a freezer bag to pull out one by one as needed for future bean cooking. It is truly a base for many dishes. You can add the sofrito to chicken, meat, fish, or starchy veggies such as potatoes or eggplant, or as a topping to polenta to add flavor.

Splash of olive oil in a sauté pan
1 med to large yellow onion
1 med green pepper
1 med red pepper
2 to 5 crushed garlic cloves
1 large can crushed tomatoes – try to get the ones from Italy
Fresh or very good quality dried oregano (I use the Dominican oregano found in Latin American groceries)
Salt and black pepper

Sauté the garlic, onions, peppers until soft. Add the crushed tomato and spice. Stir and cook till tomato thickens and is no longer soupy. It should be very fragrant and turn from a red color to an orangey red color. Cool then freeze in 3 – 4 tbs portions.

2 lbs organic black (turtle) beans
Balsamic vinegar (2 tbs)
Sugar (2 tbs)
Olive oil to taste
Salt and pepper
3 tbs sofrito

Soak the beans overnight if you want to save cooking time but organic beans cook up pretty fast. Cover the beans with 2 inches of water (do not add salt till they are fully cooked). Boil the beans medium heat till soft – about 2 hours. Stir periodically to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Add more water if needed.

When the beans are fully cooked add the sofrito, sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. You can add a little splash of red wine for flavor too and if you wish, a bit more olive oil. Simmer for at least 2 hours stirring every once in a while to make sure they don’t stick. When the broth is thickened and no longer soupy and thin, they are done. You can speed up the thickening by spooning out about a half cup of beans and mashing them with a fork and putting them back in. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning.