The Latin Flavors of My Childhood

The Menu Junkie's blog about Latin cooking.

When I was just a little Menu Junkie, I lived in a two-family house in Woodbridge. Ours was the quintessential New Jersey neighborhood. On any given Saturday, dads with long sideburns could be found tugging competitively on lawnmower strings. The smell of freshly cut grass permeated the air. You could hear the sound of garden hoses spraying water against olive green Buicks and burgundy Chevrolets.

While my parents, brothers, baby sister, and I lived downstairs, my grandmother lived upstairs. Every Sunday I awoke to the glorious smells of my grandmother cooking traditional Puerto Rican food. She would start preparing early in the morning, so the flavors had time to develop slowly.

She loved to cook, and when I was old enough she taught me about spices and technique and inspiration. I cherish those times my grandmother and I spent together, standing in the Goya aisle in ShopRite and PathMark. I watched as she worked her magic planning the menu for our Sunday meal. Then at home, after we’d unpack the bags and put the groceries away, we would sit at her kitchen table and talk - - coffee for her and a coconut soda for me.

Today, when I prepare traditional Puerto Rican meals for my family, I sometimes hear my grandmother speaking to me. I smile as I listen to her Spanish accent telling me to add more saffron to the rice, and reminding me to stir the beans.

I didn’t understand it back then when I was a child, but those Sunday meals were a family ritual. Our customs are part of the joy of life. Important rituals include celebrating, cooking and feasting. Memories hold close to the heart, when what you are cooking feeds your soul. Traditional foods remind us of who we are, what we like, and those we love. Whether Italian, Greek, Hungarian, or Irish, feasting on our traditional foods is magical - take pleasure, delight and revel in it.

Below are some of my favorite Latin recipes. Enjoy!

Fried Yuca and Mojo Sauce


1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tbsp. lemon juice

GOYA® Adobo All-Purpose Seasoning with Pepper, to taste

1 pkg. (24 oz.) Frozen GOYA® Yuca , cut into 3" x 1" pieces

Vegetable Oil, for frying


Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more. Stir in lemon juice, season with Adobo; set aside.

Fry yuca according to package instructions. Season fried yuca with Adobo.

To serve, transfer fried yuca to platter. Serve with mojo sauce.

Serves 6


Steak & Onions


1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. black pepper or to taste

1/2 tsp. GOYA® Adobo Light with Pepper

A pinch of oregano

1 cup vinegar

½ cup water

1 lb. cube steak (1/4 inch thick slices)

1 tbsp. corn oil

2 large onions, sliced very thin


Mix garlic, black pepper, Adobo, oregano, and ½ cup vinegar. Marinate steak in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Heat oil in a skillet on low and cook onions until barely done (keep crisp).

In the same pan brown the steak on both sides. Add ½ cup water and ½ cup vinegar. Cover pan and simmer for 2 hours. Serve with Red Kidney Beans & Rice.

Serves 4


Red Kidney Beans & Rice


2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. GOYA® Sofrito

1 packet Sazón GOYA® without Annatto

½ packet GOYA® Powdered Chicken Bouillon

A pinch of oregano

½ cup green olives

½ cup tomato sauce

1 can (15.5 oz.) GOYA® Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed

GOYA® Adobo with Pepper, to taste

2 cups Carolina® Extra Long Grain Rice, cooked according to package directions


Heat oil in 4-qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sofrito, sazón, bouillon and oregano. Cook until vegetable mixture becomes soft and fragrant, 1 – 2 minutes. Add ½ cup water, beans, green olives, and tomato sauce to vegetable mixture. Bring water to a boil; reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors come together and bean mixture becomes thick, about 15 minutes. Season beans with Adobo.

Serve seasoned beans on top or alongside rice.

Serves 4


Guava Mojito


12 fresh mint leaves

1½ tsp. sugar

1 can (7.1 oz) GOYA® Guava Nectar

3 tbsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. club soda

3 oz. white rum (optional)


In cocktail shaker, or in tall glass, add mint leaves and sugar. Using a wooden pestle, muddle mint with sugar until mint is bruised.

Add nectar, lemon juice, club soda and rum, if desired. Shake until combined.

Evenly divide guava mojito into two tall glasses with ice. Serve immediately.


Sweet Plantain Sundae with Coconut Caramel Sauce


¾ cup GOYA® Dulce de Leche

½ cups GOYA® Coconut Milk

1 box (11 oz.) frozen GOYA® Plantains, thawed

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

Vanilla Ice Cream, for serving

Toasted chopped walnuts (optional)


To small saucepot over medium-high heat, add dulce de leche and coconut milk. Bring mixture to boil, stirring to incorporate coconut milk; keep warm.

Heat greased grill, grill pan or medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle plantains with cinnamon. Cook, flipping once, until golden brown and heated through, 3-5 minutes. Slice plantains into ¼”- thick rounds.

Mix plantains into dulce de leche mixture until coated in sauce. Serve over ice cream. Sprinkle with walnuts, if desired.

Serves 4

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jayson Cougar May 09, 2012 at 12:40 AM
The Steak and onions was my favorite. Nice article, kind of reminds me of my own family ;). Jayson Cougar Fords, NJ
LisaMarie Berger May 09, 2012 at 04:24 PM
Thank you, Jayson. The star ingredient of the Steak and Onions dish is the vinegar. The long, slow cooking of the steak with vinegar gives the onions a delicious, sweet, concentrated caramel consistency. Enjoy!
Ryan May 09, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Use fresh lemons in the Mojito and muddle after you're done with the mint for a fresher taste.
LisaMarie Berger May 09, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Great tip! Thanks, Ryan!


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