The power of puré y potaje
When my daughter was born, I found it odd there were so many books and blogs about making homemade baby food.
My Cuban grandmother made potajes and purés in her whirring Osterizer — fully pureed meals of beef and chicken, beans and yuca and malanga, other root vegetables and tropical fruits — all without written recipes.
She didn’t google “homemade baby food,” she just threw in what she had.
I know this because I ate potajes (potage, in English) and purés well into elementary school. My grandmother enjoyed stuffing me like a Christmas goose with the vitamin-enriched foods she whirred for “estas muy flaca!” me. Our people have, for sure, long known the power of homemade blended and pureed baby food — what we Latinos call potaje, puré, compota, papilla.
It is culture and love and healthy wisdom a la cucharada.
And look at us now! Fuerte!
Sofia Inguanzo-Perez, a Miami public school science teacher, knows this goodness and she is working to make the power and flavor of homemade Latin baby food available to more families.
When her son, AJ, pictured above, started eating solid foods, Sofia did what came naturally, and culturally: She blended his potaje from organic meat and vegetables in the same flavors she had as a Cuban kid growing up in Miami. And a business idea was born: Miami Bebe Foods, an about-to-launch delivery service of homemade, fresh baby foods con sabor Latino.
Sofia, who just won the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, is sharing a delicious recipe for chicken and vegetable potaje with the Tiki Tiki, but first, she takes us down a little bit of a memory lane, explaining just what Latin homemade baby food is:
What exactly is potaje and what sorts of ingredients go in them?
Sofia: A potaje is a type of meat and/or bean stew (whether it’s chicken or ham, or lentils or split peas for example) blended smoothly with lots of Latin viandas (vegetables) such as yuca, malanga, boniato — the works — cooked for many hours on the stove and full of vitamins, needed for babies brain development and growth.
Why potaje for the babies?
Sofia:It’s a complete one-dish meal. It has all of the protein and vegetables needed for a balanced meal according to the USDA nutrition guidelines based on the revised food pyramid for infants to toddlers, ages 6-months to 2-years and up.
What are the traditional Latin flavor combinations in potajes and purees?
Sofia: Traditional flavor combinations are: puree de chicharo (split pea with ham), lentejas (lentils), Potaje de pollo (chicken and vegetables such as yuca, malanga, green plantain, boniato stew), and puree de mango, calabaza, malanga, guayaba and many more.
Is it a common thing in Miami, in Latin culture to make fresh potaje for babies?
Sofia: YES! Especially in the Cuban culture! Even before the baby is born, other moms and abuelas ask you if you’re going to make your own food-they say “Mi hijita, tu sabes el llerro que tiene el chicharo-levanta un muerto!” LOL
In the past, it was made with a lot of meats that have a lot of fat. My approach is using cage-free chickens and grass-fed beef for leaner cuts and organic fruits and vegetables for better nutritional value-same great flavors that bring us back to our childhood.
Did your family give it to you when you were little?
Sofia: I was born and raised on potaje (I still eat my mom’s today-riquisimo!). Weird but true: My abuela used to have a special wooden spoon that she wrote my name on so she would only cook my food with that spoon. Cuban abuelas are too much! (I still have it).
Who taught you to make potaje for your son? And is this person the inspiration for your recipes?
Sofia: My abuela, who is not with us anymore, and my mom, who is doing great, were my inspiration for this food venture and my son, of course. My mom gave me the foundation for cooking since I was a little girl. She always had a full-time job, went to school to get her Bachelor’s and her MBA and she still cooked every night! I would always help her in the kitchen and I would always ask millions of questions. She says I would drive her crazy but she loved my enthusiasm. After AJ was born, I became interested in making my own food and asked Mami how she made potajes for my sister and I and the idea was born.
Lo Que Pica El Pollo Potaje
recipe adapted for the Tiki Tiki by Miami Bebe Foods
- Caldo de Pollo (Chicken Stock)
- 1 whole chicken (with skin on, cleaned thoroughly, preferably cage-free)
- 1 head of garlic without peel (cabeza de ajo)
- 1 whole yellow onion without the peel, quartered (cebolla de cocinar)
- 8-10 cups of filtered water (depending on the size of the chicken)-agua suficiente para tapar el pollo
- Poco de sal Buena (Kosher salt) and pepper
Viandas para el Potaje (Latin vegetables for the potaje)
- 1 boniato Cubano, peeled and diced (sweet potato)
- 1 plantain, peeled and diced(1 platano super verde)
- 1 malanga blanca, peeled and diced
- 1 yuca, peeled and diced
- ½ pound of dry red beans (frijoles colorados)
*The night before:
Soak the red beans in a bowl on your counter top, with enough filtered water to cover them, overnight (at least 8 hours). When you are ready to place them in the potaje, they will be soft and ready to cook.
To make the caldo de pollo, place the entire chicken, garlic, onion and the filtered water in a large soup pot with some salt and pepper to boil. When it begins to bubble, turn down to medium heat and simmer for 1-1 ½ hours.
When the chicken is completely cooked, remove the stock from the chicken and vegetables and refrigerate the stock overnight to remove any excess fat from the stock.
Cut the whole chicken up into bite-size pieces (it will be easier to blend later) and place it into the same container with the cooked garlic and onion from the caldo/stock and refrigerate to place in the potaje the next day.
Skim the fat off the top of the chicken stock made the day before y botalo (throw it out). Reserve one-third of the caldo for the potaje and the rest can be frozen for up to 3 months for fricases and such at a later date.
Place the one-third of the caldo, chicken, garlic, onion, y todas las viandas in a large soup pot with enough filtered water to cover the chicken and all of the vegetables you added.
Cover the pot and let the potaje come to a rapid boil. When it boils, bajalo a medium heat and simmer the potaje for minimum of 2 hours. Watch some “Que Pasa U.S.A.?” reruns to pass the time.
When time is up, let the potaje cool for at least 1 hour on the countertop.
You can eat the potaje as it is (chunky & delicious), or for bebes or the ones that love to have potaje like abuela used to make, puree it in the blender until smooth.
Enjoy a little taste of Cuba!
Additional resources and recipes
How to Make Your Own Baby Food, by Baby Center, with tips on equipment, preparing and serving.
Baby Food Recipes by Annabel Karmel on Baby Center.
Avocado and Black Bean Spread for baby on Homemade Baby Food Recipes.
Guava puree for baby by Eco-Inspired Organics, where you also will find a mango puree recipe
Cuban black beans and plantains (scroll down the page)
Potaje Rapido at Todo Papás (for children over 12 months)
Did you grow up eating potajes? Have you made it for your child?