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Quick meal ideas from the Puerto Rican diaspora


We're going to hear now from the author of an exciting new cookbook.

ILLYANNA MAISONET: I just knew that I wanted to write about Puerto Rican food from my perspective.

FLORIDO: That's Illyanna Maisonet. She's a food columnist, and her perspective is of a Puerto Rican living off of the island. And so her new cookbook focuses on the cuisine of Puerto Ricans like her. It's called "Diasporican."

MAISONET: Diasporican food differs from the island because it's all - you have to use ingredients that are available to you. So it's out of geography. It's out of necessities.

FLORIDO: Puerto Rico's diaspora is large, diverse, and spread across the world, but its members share something - a desire to feel close to their island.

MAISONET: They still feel that connection enough to want to recreate the foods of their homeland with whatever they can access. I mean, that says a lot about people who have felt like they have lost their identity or maybe a disconnect, and sometimes the only connection that they could possibly find is through food.

FLORIDO: Maisonet's cookbook is full of recipes that convey the richness and complexity of Puerto Rican cuisine, but this is only a four-minute segment, so we asked her to walk us through a few simple ones. The first one - tostones.

MAISONET: Everything in this book is not necessarily a diasporican recipe. There are more traditional Puerto Rican recipes, and this is one of them.

FLORIDO: You start with a green plantain, not to be confused with its yellower, riper cousin. You peel it, slice it into pieces of whatever size you'd like, then throw them into some hot canola oil and fry for 1 to 3 minutes on each side. Once you've done that, it's time to smash them.

MAISONET: You can use, like, a plate or, like, a tostonera, which is, like, a tool that is specifically made for making tostones, which kind of looks like a tortilla press - which you can use tortilla presses, by the way. Just a little fun fact. And then you - then, from there, is where I think a lot of people differ. You can soak them in salt water, which is kind of traditional, actually, but I don't think that a lot of people do it anymore.

FLORIDO: That saltwater bath flavors the tostones and makes them soft and fluffy. Once they're soaked, it's back to the fryer. But the longer they cook...

MAISONET: Obviously the crunchier it gets, but it also has, like, the ability to, like, really dry out. So you have to be really careful with that.

FLORIDO: Once you've got them fried up, you make a sauce. On the island, mayo ketchup is the most common, but Maisonet likes to dip tostones in a sauce of garlic, lemon, olive oil and mustard. Another recipe Maisonet recommends is for guichis. They're like little stuffed potato fritters. You start with small potatoes and boil them till they're soft. Then cut them in half.

MAISONET: Then I take a piece of meat. It doesn't really matter. I've seen some people use salami. I've seen people use ham. I've seen people use a sausage. So just for the sake of this one, let's say you take a slice of ham - and not fancy ham. I'm talking, like, the deli, Oscar Meyer, chopped meat, water-processed deli ham - that kind of ham. You fold it in half, you take a slice of cheese...

FLORIDO: She says any type of cheese will do, too, but she likes cheddar. Sandwich your ham and cheese together and place them between the potatoes. Hold them together using a toothpick. Now it's time to make your batter.

MAISONET: Which is just flour, baking powder, any type of seasoning you want - I use adobo and sazon, the salt-free kind because I like to be able to control my own salt - water. And then you mix it until it's the consistency that you like. I aim for, like, a pancake batter-type of thing.

FLORIDO: And now you're ready to fry.

MAISONET: I dip the potatoes with the toothpicks in the batter. From the batter, they go directly into the hot oil. When they look like you want them to look, you take them out. You put them on the wire rack. You season them with whatever you want - salt, pepper, maybe some more adobo, maybe some more sazon - and then you serve them.

FLORIDO: That was Illyanna Maisonet. Her new cookbook, "Diasporican," is out now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.