Cooks Corner

Caprese salad boasts Peruvian ingredients at La Mar in Miami

Italy meets Peru: Caprese salad with quinoa and aji amarillo from La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami.
Italy meets Peru: Caprese salad with quinoa and aji amarillo from La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami.

Such a great taste of fusion — Peruvian superfood quinoa and distinctive aji amarillo chiles transform the traditional Italian salad of tomatoes and mozzarella known as Caprese.

The recipe here is from La Mar at the Mandarin Oriental, 500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami, which specializes in Peruvian cooking. If you’ve never encountered aji amarillo, it is a bright-orange, thick-fleshed chile with a sweet, fruity tone and a medium-hot heat.

I had no luck buying it fresh but easily found it in jars, like a paste, at a Latin market. The recipe calls for burrata, which is a fresh Italian cheese similar to balls of fresh mozzarella, but the center is made from mozzarella and cream so it is much softer. You can find it in Italian markets and sometimes at Whole Foods, but in a pinch use fresh mozzarella.

Q. Since mango season is upon us, I wonder if you know of the recipe for Mango Chicken that the former Painted Bird restaurant in Coral Gables used to serve. Or, if not that one, perhaps a good mango chicken recipe you could share.

Sharon Dash

A. I remember the Painted Bird fondly, one of many ’80s restaurants that flared and disappeared in those heady Miami Vice days when diners’ attention spans flitted from one whimsically named restaurant to the next. (Whiffenpoof, Food Among the Flowers, Fun Fair, Neon Leon’s, Big Splash and Savannah Smiles are some that come to mind. Do you remember others?)

Alas, I do not have the recipe for the restaurant’s take on mango chicken. But perhaps you’ll enjoy this one, a contribution from an 80-year-old reader who had taught himself to cook and shared this a few years back.

It is practically foolproof, takes little prep and is a delicious way to use those backyard mangoes. I up the curry powder to about a tablespoon, add some ground chiles for heat, and finish the sauce with a douse of dark rum.

Q. I lost a recipe from that I think was called Magical Mystery Cake. You mixed up the batter and then you poured cold coffee over it, the stronger the better. It baked up kind of like a brownie, but with a hot sauce underneath. Does this sound familiar?

Bethann Mayo

A. This cake is known by a lot of names, and has been around for quite some time — I remember making it the first time in the ’70s. It is dark and chocolatey and yet not a true guilty pleasure because when made with skim milk it is nearly fat-free. (There is no egg and just a smidgen of butter.)

It will look a little messy before it bakes, but does indeed get a nice crusty top and a hot fudge sauce on the bottom.

Sleuth’s Corner

Q. While I lived in Fort Lauderdale, in the ’80s, I got a recipe from the Herald for mozzarella cheese appetizers. I have looked everywhere for this recipe and cannot find it. There are many similar ones, but I remember it being a lot of work and today’s recipes seem much simpler. I’m not complaining, but I promised my grandson that I would make him the best mozzarella snacks he has ever tasted, and now I cannot find the recipe.

It included sliced white bread with the crust cut off; topped with fresh whole mozzarella and cut into triangles. It was dipped into egg, flour and bread crumbs with parmesan cheese mixed in, and held together with toothpicks, and placed in hot oil and deep fried until golden brown.

If someone has this recipe I would be forever grateful. I would love to be my 13-year-old grandson’s favorite grandma, or at least the one who can cook!

Patty Thomas

A. Our digital archives go back to 1982, and this recipe is not among the dozen or so for fried mozzarella, so we’ll have to punt this one to our readers. Any help?

Tried and New

I’m enamored with a new flavor sake from Ty Ku, infused with fresh cucumber, so it makes grand summer sipping simply chilled or mixed with sparkling water and/or citrus juice.

It’s a truly different take on traditional sake, and perfect for brunch or poolside afternoons. Add in that it is made from just four natural ingredients, is low in calories (43 in 1 1/2 ounces), gluten and sulfite-free, has low acidity and contains 12 percent alcohol by volume. The suggested retail price for a 720-ml bottle is $14.99.

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

La Mar’s Quinoa Caprese Salad

Aji Amarillo Vinaigrette

1/2 cup white vinegar

1 garlic clove, mashed and minced

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt to taste

3 tablespoons aji amarillo paste


1/2 cup cooked red quinoa

1 to 2 thick slices heirloom tomato

1 teaspoon fresh basil, cut in chiffonade

1 ball burrata cheese, shredded

Additional basil, for garnish

Prepare the vinaigrette by pulsing ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Toss the quinoa with a teaspoon or two of the dressing, to taste.

Dice tomatoes and mix with 3 tablespoons dressing and 1/2 teaspoon basil chiffonade. Place tomatoes on a plate, then layer the quinoa and cheese on top. Drizzle with dressing and top with basil. Makes 1 serving.

Per serving: 574 calories (72 percent from fat), 46 g fat, (15.6 g saturated fat, 24.5 g monounsaturated fat) 49 mg cholesterol, 20.2 g protein, 21 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 375 mg sodium.

Source: Chef Diego Oka, La Mar by Gaston Acurio at Mandarin Oriental, Miami.

Mystery Mocha Cake

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 square unsweetened baking chocolate

2 tablespoons butter (stick margarine is OK)

1/2 cup milk (skim or soy work fine)

1 teaspoon vanilla


1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup cold espresso or dark coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square pan with vegetable oil spray.

Make the batter: Whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Melt chocolate and butter together in a microwave. Add to flour mixture and blend well. Combine milk and vanilla and add to batter. Mix well and pour into prepared pan.

Topping: Mix sugar, brown sugar and cocoa. Sprinkle over top of the batter. Then pour coffee on top. Bake 30 to 40 minutes in 350-degree oven. Serve warm or cool, with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 12 servings.

Per serving: 158 calories (19 percent from fat), 3.6 g fat, (2.2 g saturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat) 5.3 mg cholesterol, 2.1 g protein, 31.4 g carbohydrates, 1.3 g fiber, 108 mg sodium.

Source: Linda Cicero, Cook’s Corner.

Mel’s Mango Chicken

1 chicken, cut up, or 8 breasts, or whatever pieces you like

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon curry powder, or more to taste

2 large mangoes or 4 peaches, peeled and sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Cooked rice for 8 servings

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray. Put the chicken in a single layer in the pan. Mix the brown sugar with the curry powder with a fork. Sprinkle about half on top of the chicken. Place mango slices on top and sprinkle with the remaining sugar mix. Cover with foil. Bake, spooning pan drippings on top from time to time, until chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes for boneless breasts or 1 hour for bone-in mixed pieces. If you like browner chicken, remove foil halfway through cooking time.

Just after removing from oven, squirt lemon juice over all. Pour off the pan drippings and thicken with cornstarch dissolved in water, heating as needed until desired consistency. Serve sauce over rice. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving (using skinless, boneless chicken breast): 277 calories (6 percent from fat) 1.6 g fat, (.4 g saturated fat, .4 g monounsaturated fat), 68.4 mg cholesterol, 27.6 g protein, 38 carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 85.8 mg sodium.

Source: Cook’s Corner archives.