Faking it….in the Hispanic Kitchen
Way back before I became a famous baker of Cuban flan, my caramelo el stunko.
It boiled and boiled, but never turned beautiful caramel. Or, it boiled and burned.
Salvation came when my Los Pollitos partner, Oscar, told me to put brown sugar in the pan and then pour custard mixture over it. As the custard cooks, the sugar melts, he explained.
Serious, he is genius in many ways, and thus began my faking it when making Cuban food — a necessity either because of lack of ingredients or lack of skill.
You don’t even want to hear the nightmare that was the first time I peeled a yuca. There was no YouTube to show me how. And oh, the happy dance I did when I discovered Publix in Nashville carried frozen yuca. My father also recently introduced us to canned yuca and in a pinch, muy bueno! Because, seriously, ain’t nothing mojo can’t fix.
OK, so how else do I fake? My consistent favorites:
- Black beans: Cans of low sodium black beans, olive oil, red cooking wine, garlic powder and cumin.
- Picadillo: ground soy Boca Burger…It looks just like ground beef, and it is good enough to fake out some die-hard meat eaters.
- Frozen yuca: No more slicing and peeling thick, waxy skin.
- Ripe platanos broiled to caramel goodness in the toaster oven instead of smelly fried on the stove.
- Marta’s guava pastelitos, made with puff pastry, are always a hit in Tennessee.
I no longer have to fake the caramelo, by the way.
So, after conversations on Facebook with Tiki Tiki friends, and with Marta’s My Big Fat Cuban Family fans, here we present a list of tips to best fake it — or take shortcuts — in the Hispanic kitchen. Plus, Marta’s awesome recipe for doctoring canned black beans, below. And her delicious cheater’s crockpot lechon asado.
So, here are our wonderful community of friends, and how they fake it, or don’t:
Aymee Velazquez Tulin: made from scratch! I can’t do cans. that’s a big sin!!
Roberto Castro: Frozen tostones.
Mailyn Salabarria: All. The. Time. :)
Esther Avila-Young: I definitely doctor up black beans in cans, even if they are the Kirby or Conchita brands, or the Cuban black beans from Trader Joes, and I’m planning to do the same today with garbanzo beans cans and make Cuban garbanzo bean soup, with yellow squash, potatoes, carrots, and of course the sofrito. My kitchen will smell wonderful!
Gloria Maria Smith: Frozen croquetas. I burn my hands from scratch LOL
Adriana M. Boveda-Lambie: I always use a can (water only) of Black
Beans as I have yet to master making it from scratch. I’ve used the
frozen tostones and different appetizers, and that’s about it.
Alina Delgado-Newman: I make a small sofrito (chopped garlic, onions & ajo) in the pot with a little bit of olive oil, mash 1/2 the beans from the cans in a processor to make it more pureed & richer; throw it all into the pot and add a small amount of dry sherry. No one knows the difference.
Georgina Govin: I also use Hunt’s Spaghetti sauce, to my mother’s dismay. I spruce it up with a sofrito and zucchini and it’s as good as
if you cooked it from scratch.
Nery Francisco: frozen “bacalao.”
Barbara Echemendia: Radiano frozen plaintains from Publix.
Maria Estevez: El Ebro B.beans doctored up with sofrito, vinegar,
comino and hoja de laurel. delicious.
Maggie Marin: Sopa de platano with Chifles and chicken broth “deliciosa.”
Lisel Muller Laslie: instant rice and instant spuds. an old guy taught me how to make instant spuds that taste like the real deal which you make with water, milk, butter and mayonaise……sounds gross but they are the real deal.
Christina Flores Gomez-Pina: Sazon Completa to a can of black beans. Real deal.
Melanie Edwards: Canned beans, frozen sofrito, frozen meatballs, ummm the rice cooker! ;) … I sometimes use frozen tostones instead of peeling & cutting the platanos myself. These are more shortcuts rather than faking it, no? Jeje I wish I could shortcut a pastelon!!
Monica Olivera Hazelton: Tsk, tsk! (Bush’s beans with un poquito de
oregano y cebolla).
Georgiana Platt: Frijoles negros de la lata. Everyone loves them. I add sofrito, some spices – increible.
Lisa Perez: I use canned beans and sometimes frozen Goya sofrito too.
Elizabeth Sanchez: I use Salsa El Pato for chilaquiles. So much easier!
Georgiana Platt: Ay, Tiki Tiki, I wish I could fake Lechon too!
And here is Marta’s Frijoles Negros a la Latina, as written by her daughter, Amy.
2 Tbsp. of olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 large can of black beans (1 lb. 13 oz.)
1/4 cup of red wine (white works too, but red gives them a better
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. of sugar (but I will sometimes add extra, because I like ‘em sweet!)
1/2 tsp. oregano
1 packet of Goya seasoning with azafran
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a medium-sized frying pan (or a pot – either will work), sauté the onion, bell pepper, and garlic until onions are soft and clear. (You know, your basic “sofrito.”)
2. Now add the beans and then all other ingredients.
3. Cook on high for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the beans are the consistency you like best. In technical terms, you are “reducing” the beans – your goal is to boil-off some of the excess liquid.
4. Simmer for approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Taste them. Aren’t they fabulous?
OK, gente…how to you fake it…in the kitchen?