Cooks Corner

Quinoa con pollo is one way to lighten a Latin classic

Quinoa con Pollo: A healthier version of the rice dish.
Quinoa con Pollo: A healthier version of the rice dish. Christina Holmes

Long ago, when I moved across the state from St. Petersburg to Miami, I had to rethink some of my Cuban recipes.

I remember the first time I put out vinegar and sherry cruets with my black beans on yellow rice, with a chop of raw onions and parsley on top. My dinner guests were too kind to tell me it was an American mish-mash, but let me know it was different from what was traditional. What I’d learned to make at a Cuban cooking class in Ybor City had obviously suffered from the proverbial melting pot.

But sometimes stirring tradition makes sense. I’ve found some smart ways with Latin food in two recent cookbooks: Healthy Latin Eating: Our Favorite Family Recipes Remixed by Angie Martinez and Angelo Sosa (Kyle Books, $22.95) and Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet by Manuel Villacorta (hcibooks, $18.95).

Martinez, an iHeartRadio host and “Extra” TV correspondent, Sosa, a celebrity restaurateur, gathered recipes from family and friends and looked to reduce the carbs, sugar and fat without losing the flavors of their Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican backgrounds.

The quinoa con pollo recipe here, for example, takes everyone’s favorite chicken with rice dish and sheds lots of the fat and carbs while boosting the protein. As Martinez says, “This dish is not traditional, but it’s close enough to make everyone in my house happy when I serve it.” I also loved the low-calorie orange and cilantro chicken and of course the “no-guilt” mojitos made with agave syrup.

Villacorta, a registered dietician, found when he moved to the United States from Lima 16 years ago he started gaining weight from eating too many empty calories. He called his mom, who sent him recipes for the comfort foods of home, and he soon realized that “the foods that I ate growing up are some of the cleanest, most immune-boosting and most detoxifying foods on the planet.” Back then the term “superfoods” had not been coined, and quinoa was not readily available here.

I’m not qualified to judge the merits of Villacorta’s diet recommendations, but the 135 recipes using Incan superfoods like quinoa, avocados, yuca, papaya, purple potatoes and more are easy to follow and make sense, like the baked yuca recipe here, full of healthy fiber and so much healthier than the traditional deep-fried version

Reader Question

Q. Have you ever seen a recipe for Snowball Cookies or Mexican Wedding Cakes (the kind you usually see around Christmas)? They come by a lot of different names. The one I'm looking for has oatmeal in it instead of nuts. I would appreciate it if you could find it. Thank you.

Tanya Kochendorfer, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

A. I simply tried substituting oatmeal for the chopped pecans in my favorite recipe for pastelitos de boda and was absolutely pleased with the results. While I do love my Mexican wedding cookies (also known as Russian tea cakes) made with pecans, the oats yield a satisfying crunch. Of course you still have all that glorious butter and vanilla, so what’s not to love? These are a grand substitute for those with nut allergies — plus you spend about $.50 on the oats while the same measurement in pecans would cost $5.

Quick Take

This stuffed potato recipe was so delicious and easy I just had to pass it on. I found it while looking for a way to use leftover homemade pesto but you could easily pick some up at the deli for a fast meatless meal. Throw on some extra parmesan if you like a golden crust on top.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Pesto Double-Stuffed Potatoes

4 large Idaho potatoes, baked

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1/3 cup prepared pesto

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cut 1/2 inch from long side of each potato into bowl; scoop inside of potato, leaving a 1/4-inch-thick shell. With fork or potato masher, mash cooked potato in bowl. Stir in ricotta, pesto, salt and pepper until well blended. Spoon potato mixture into potato shells, divided evenly, heaping on top if necessary.

Lightly spray cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray; place stuffed potatoes on cookie sheet. Bake until golden brown and heated through, about 10-15 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 290 calories (38 percent from fat), 12.4 g fat (1.5 g saturated, 0.7 g monounsaturated), 18 mg cholesterol, 11.3 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 4.0 g fiber, 258 mg sodium.

Source: Idaho Potato Commission.

Radishes with Sour Cream and Chives

2 cups radishes, scrubbed

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped chives

Cook radishes, covered, in a small amount of salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes.

In a separate pan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Add 1/3 cup of the radish cooking water and the sour cream. Cook, stirring, until thick. Add the radishes, lemon juice and salt and pepper and cook just long enough for the radishes to heat through. Sprinkle with the chives. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 122 calories (77 percent from fat), 10.6 g fat (6.4 g saturated, 2.7 g monounsaturated), 27 mg cholesterol, 1.4 g protein, 5.9 g carbohydrates, 1.1 g fiber, 80 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from a circa 1972 recipe in The New York Times.

Nut-Free Mexican Wedding Cookies

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened

2/3 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups old fashioned (not instant) oats

3 cups all-purpose flour

Additional powdered sugar (about 1/2 cup) for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl beat butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, then salt and vanilla until very smooth. Beat in oats. Gradually beat in the flour; if your mixer can’t handle this, stir in the last cup by hand).

Use your hands to roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until cookies are just beginning to take on a pale golden brown. Place the additional confectioners’ sugar in a pie plate. While cookies are still warm roll in powdered sugar. Cool on wire rack. Store in airtight container up to a week, or may be frozen. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Per serving: 95 calories (56 percent from fat), 6.0 g fat (3.7 g saturated, 1.5 g monounsaturated), 15.2 mg cholesterol, 1.2 g protein, 9.1 g carbohydrates, 0.5 g fiber, 25 mg sodium.

Source: Linda Cicero for Cook’s Corner.

Healthy Yuca Fries

1 large yuca (about 1 1/2 pounds)

6 cups water

Salt to taste

Coconut oil spray

Peel and slice the yuca into wedges. Place in water with salt in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes until tender throughout. Drain and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cooled yuca on a large baking sheet and spray with coconut oil to coat. Season with salt. Bake 40 to 50 minutes, flipping once halfway through the baking process, until golden. Serves 6.

Per serving: 144 calories (5 percent from fat), 0.7 g fat (0 g saturated, 0 g monounsaturated), 0 mg cholesterol, 1.1 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 1.2 g fiber, 10 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from “Whole Body Reboot.”

Quinoa con Pollo

5 tablespoons olive oil

4 boneless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch cubes

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon Spanish paprika

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 cup chopped Spanish onion

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon chopped ginger

2 cups dry red quinoa

1 1/4 cups chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus sprigs for garnish

1/4 cup pitted green olives

In a large bowl combine 1 tablespoon of the olive oil with the chicken, 1/2 teaspoon salt, the paprika, the cumin and the turmeric. Toss well and let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and sweat until aromatic, about 6 minutes. Add the quinoa and stir to combine. Add 2 1/2 cups water and bring to a simmer. Stir in the tomatoes, oregano and cilantro, then cover. Remove from the heat and let steam undisturbed for 20 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add the marinated chicken and cook until golden on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes. To serve, fluff the quinoa with a fork. Season with salt. Transfer to a large platter, top with the chicken and garnish with the olives and cilantro. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 586 calories (38 percent from fat), 26.7 g fat (4.3 g saturated, 12.8 g monounsaturated), 88 mg cholesterol, 33.8 g protein, 62.6 g carbohydrates, 7.9 g fiber, 425 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from “Healthy Latin Cooking.”