Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Cochinita Pibil (Slow-Roasted Yucatecan Pork)

Diana Kennedy, whose mission for the last 46 years has been the documentation and preservation of regional Mexican cuisine, observes, “It gets to the point where, once you’ve tasted it, you can’t do without Mexican food.  You hunger for it.”  I agree.

I had the good fortune of studying with her at Peter Kump’s Cooking School in NYC, now the Institute for Culinary Education.  At 88 years of age, she is still living in a remote area of Mexico, hauling dried corn in her rattling truck across the miles to grind into her own savory tortillas.  Her most comprehensive book Oaxaca al Gusto was published in September, 2010.

Cochinita Pibil refers to the famous little pig cooked in a pib, the traditional oven of Yucatan, a pit lined with stones.  Fortunately, a vibrant version can be made in your own oven.  Cochinita Pibil can be served hot with salsa (recipe below) and tortillas, as a taco filling, in sandwiches, panuchos and any preparation calling for flavorful shredded pork.  You need to start this recipe a day in advance, but it is well worth the effort.


1 T annatto seeds

¼ t oregano

12 peppercorns

3 whole allspice

1/4 t toasted cumin seeds

1/8 t hot paprika

3 cloves garlic, peeled

¼ cup Seville orange juice*

¼ cup quality tequila, such as Patron

1 T salt

3 ½ to 4 ½ lb. pork loin roast

2 large pieces of banana leaf**


Grind the first 6 ingredients in a coffee grinder (used only for spices) to as fine a powder as possible.  Puree in a blender or food processor the garlic, orange juice, tequila and salt.  Add the powdered mixture and blend to a smooth paste.  Score the meat all over and rub the paste over the meat.

Render the banana leaves more flexible either by passing them over a bare flame or placing them briefly in hot water.  Pat dry.  Wrap the meat in them and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Place a rack in the bottom of a Dutch oven and set the wrapped pork on it.  Add ½ cup water and cover the pot with a tight fitting lid.  Cook in a 350 degree oven for 2 ½ hours.  Baste the meat with juices from the bottom of the pot. Continue cooking for another 2 ½ hours until meat is falling apart.

Shred the meat and pour the juices from the pot over it.

*Seville oranges or bitter oranges are not easy to find but can be mail ordered.  A near match for ½ cup is a blend of 1 t finely grated grapefruit rind, 3 T orange juice, 3 T grapefruit juice and 2 T lemon juice. Rice wine vinegar is a good choice for a substitute.

**Fresh banana leaves can be found in the Latin American markets of many cities.  They can also be found frozen. They lend a mildly aromatic flavor to the pork.


½ cup finely chopped onion

3 chiles cayenne (or 3 chiles habaneros, seeds and ribs removed, if you can take the heat), finely minced

½ t salt

2/3 cup Seville orange juice*

Mix ingredients together and serve separately to sprinkle on shredded pork.

Inspired by Diana Kennedy and Roberto Rodriguez, Cooking classes

The Mexican You Thought You Knew

by Victor Ribaudo

Mexican food always tasted the same to me.  I was bored with it.  Then I visited Mexico several times and was introduced to authentic Mexican cuisine – a far cry from the fare offered at stateside burrito and taco establishments. I fell in love with it.  But vacations do end and once again I’d be faced with Americanized versions of a cuisine that I eventually gave up on.  That is until I stepped into Jalapeño restaurant in New York City.  That was an aha moment for me.  A rediscovery of the taste traditions of a Mexico I had explored several years ago and with which I became so enamored.  What a joy!

What I love about Jalapeño is the total attention to detail.  Oh, not just the service and the plating, which are exquisite.  I’m talking about the authenticity of the food.  Each and every dish is based on the chef’s family recipes – her grandmother’s to be precise.  And you can taste it in such diverse classics as Pulpo a la Plancha, a sautéed octopus and house-made chorizo appetizer in a delicate wine sauce.  Or Camerones de Mojo de Ajo, a generous entrée of jumbo shrimp in a gorgeous garlic sauce that’s served with white rice and a grilled plantain.  Delectable, I tell you!  Or if you’re really feeling adventurous, you can pre-order a marinated suckling pig roasted to sheer perfection.  Very impressive.  They even elevate the Chile Relleno, one of my favorites, to a new level of culinary art.  Imagine a plump, grilled poblano pepper filled with fresh Mexican cheese, calabacita ragu, mushrooms and pumpkin seeds and placed over a savory tomato sauce.  Not what you’re used to, right?

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  “Why are you tempting me?  I can’t visit Jalapeño because I don’t live in New York.”  Well, true Mexican cuisine is not a mystery to prepare at home.  You can do it easily.  It all starts with an authentic recipe.  I asked Phyllis Kirigin and of course she was more than happy to oblige.  Check out her Cochinita Pibil – or slow roasted Yucatecan Pork – and you’ll see what genuine Mexican cuisine is all about.  I like her succulent pork in a sandwich, but you’ll find lots of ways to enjoy this unforgettable dish.

Like so many successful culinary endeavors, it’s all in the ingredients.  Start out with the freshest and your recipes are half way there.  When it comes to Mexican, one is bombarded with shelf after shelf of jarred sauces and pre-made offerings in supermarkets.  Buyers beware!  They’re not always what I would call bona fide Mexican.  And as Phyllis has said to me countless times, “Why waste your money on that packaged stuff when you can easily prepare the real thing with fresh ingredients for less?”  She’s right.  The end result is always better.  You can find so many of the components that make Mexican what it should be in your supermarket or at local Latino markets.  Fresh chiles, avocados, tomatoes, plantains, cactus – it’s all there.  Dried goods such as beans, rice, pumpkin seeds, spices and unsweetened cocoa are also easy to locate.  Or you can always procure your ingredients online.

So the next time you’re thinking about a quick stop at a roadside joint for fast food Mexican, think again.  Get yourself a good Mexican recipe, pick up some fresh ingredients, and have a fiesta at home.  Or if you’re in New York, check out Jalapeño restaurant (www.jalapenonyc.com).  It’s located two blocks from my apartment.  Give me a day or two advanced notice, and I’ll meet you there.  Buen provecho!

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin, aka sweetpaprika
Food Stylist BrianPreston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the datingsymbol.com


For the Love of Puerto Rican Cuisine – Part 1

Here again is ace food writer Victor Ribaudo,  delighting us  with another of his passions–Puerto Rican cuisine. Bill Brady’s exquisite photos are featured.  The irresistable empanadillas are my contribution.  Just check out the following post.

I’m in love with a Puerto Rican. And although I’m a true romantic, I must admit that part of my affection stems from the fact that I simply adore Puerto Rican cuisine. My first trip to the Caribbean as a child, in fact, was to Puerto Rico. That began a love affair that till this day persists, both romantically and gastronomically.

Puerto Rico part 1 on SHI SYmbol Blog site - peppers_002144

True Puerto Rican cuisine is an art. There’s no doubt about that.And much of it begins with the sofrito. This is a mixture of lard or olive oil, achiote seeds (strained after they impart their red-yellow coloring to the fat), bell pepper, onion, garlic, cilantro, oregano and sometimes ham. The recipe actually varies from family to family – a coveted secret – and almost always serves as a base to many a boriqua (another way to say “Puerto Rican”) dish.

From Field to Table

While traveling the island – or any food market in NYC’s East Harlem district – one is immediately struck by the wide variety of fresh produce used in la cocina criolla, as the locals call it. For example, the platano, or plantain. In the banana family, it’s sold both green, or ripened to a pretty, black-spectacled yellow (these are referred to as amarillos). In its green state, it is quite starchy and used very much like a potato. The most popular examples of this are tostones. Green plantains are cubed, fried, flattened, and then refried to a crisp, golden color. They are served as appetizers or a side dish, and very often accompanied by a chopped garlic sauce called mojo. When used ripened, platanos impart a mild banana-like flavor and are often fried in cubes, and served with dishes such as arroz con pollo (chicken with rice).

puerto rico pt 1 on SHI Symbol Blog - rice

Other farmer specials include yucca, a starchy root; batata, a sweet potato of sorts; yautia (or taro root, as it is known in the Pacific Islands); green bananas, which are firmer and more veggie-like than the ripened treats we enjoy with our morning cereals; okra; calabaza, or pumpkin; sugar cane; mango; papaya…the list goes on an on. And you’ll find them everywhere…steamed, fried and in stews. Always a treat!

Rice and Beans a Must

As my in-laws have taught me, rice and beans must always accompany a meal. To me, they are often the highlight of the meal. Dried habichuelas rosadas or rojas (pink or red kidney beans, respectively) are stewed – beginning with the cook’s signature sofrito, of course – with bits of ham, and often diced pumpkin. They are then served with perfectly cooked white rice, usually on the side, so you’re free to ladle your bean stew on the rice as you see fit.

Speaking of rice, Puerto Ricans are simply fanatical about its preparation. Again, the cooking method varies from household to household. Cover off, until the water is evaporated, then stirred quickly, and covered for 5-10 minutes until the grains separate seems to be the most popular method. And there must always be the pegau, or crisp rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan. Any good Puerto Rican cook knows that. And family members often fight for the crunchy stuff. I have to admit, I like it too.

Next week I’ll talk more about some particularly delicious Puerto Rican specialties. For now, there’s a bowl of rice and beans with my name on it. I need to get to it before it gets cold. Someone I love made it especially for me.

Victor Ribaudo


Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

Puerto Rican “Hot Pockets”–Empanadillas

Empanadillas with Guacamole

Empanadillas are the Puerto Rican version of empanadas, a stuffed pastry popular in Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Philippines.  They are made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over filling creating the typical semicircular shape. Fillings might include beef, ham, chicken, fish, cheese or fruit.  They can be baked or fried.

The name empanada, comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. They are served as an appetizer/tapas, side dish or dessert.  In any form, they’re crisp and delicious.

(Liberally adapted from recipes by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli and Yasmin Hernandez)


Dough:  (Makes 12 empanadillas)

3 cups all purpose flour

½ t baking soda

½ t baking powder

1 t salt

¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil

1 cup warm water

½ t achiotina* (optional for color)


2 T olive oil

1 lb ground beef

½ medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ small jalapeno, minced

½ sweet pepper, diced

1/8 cup pimiento stuffed green olives, sliced

2 T sofrito**

1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 T tomato paste

1 pkg. Goya Sazon with annatto

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground black pepper

Cooking: 4 cups vegetable or peanut oil for deep frying

Procedure (for dough)

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with a metal blade. Pulse briefly.  Add vegetable oil and up to 1 cup water until the dough comes together. Remove dough and knead for 2-3 minutes. Let rest in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.  Divide into 12 pieces and then roll into 4-inch round disks.

Filling: Brown ground beef in olive oil.  Drain off excess fat. Add remainder of ingredients and cook for10 minutes over medium heat stirring from time to time.  Let cool. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in each round of dough, fold over and crimp with the tines of a fork to seal tightly.

Deep frying:  Heat vegetable oil in a deep skillet to 350 degrees.  Deep fry a few at a time until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on brown paper or paper towels.  Drain on both sides.  Be sure to bring temperature of oil back up to 350 degrees before adding another batch of empanadillas. Enjoy your special treat!

*achiotina is lard in which a few annatto seeds have been fried and then strained ou

**Basic Sofrito

1 t olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

¼ cup chopped tomato

¼ cup chopped onion

3-4 stem and leaves cilantro

1/8 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/8 cup chopped red bell pepper

Grind and pound ingredients in a pilon (mortar and pestle)

(Leftover sofrito can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator).

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

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