The richness of Puerto Rican cuisine is evident during the Holiday Season. The fusion of ingredients grown locally using modern elaboration techniques has earned the island a privileged reputation within international gastronomic circles.

By Robert Colberg Orengo

The so-called “fusion cuisine” integrates different ingredients and various processing techniques for a creative, tasty, and memorable end result. In that sense, our guest chefs are true masters, as Puerto Rico’s traditional holiday dishes take on a different dimension in their hands.

Chef José Santaella

For this renowned national gastronomy expert, the Puerto Rican delicacies he would recommend during the Holiday Season include the well-known pasteles, accompanied with rice with pigeon peas and lechón. An exquisite classic that can also be had year-round!

In fact, this would be part of the menu created by the owner of Santaella restaurant if he caters a banquet for a group of visitors. The complements would be morcillas, fresh-picked green bananas, tembleque for dessert and coquito as a beverage. An ode to Puerto Rican cuisine!

Codfish Fritters

• 1/2 pound cod fillet
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2 cloves garlic, crushed
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
• 2 cups water
• Vegetable oil for frying

1. Boil cod in water for two minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and immerse immediately in cold water to stop the cooking process. Once it is cold, crumble cod.
2. In a separate bowl, place cod and add flour, salt, pepper, baking powder, garlic, cilantro, two cups of water, and mix well. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.
3. Heat oil in a deep, heavy frying pan. Use a ladle to pour the dough into the boiling oil and fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove fritters from the frying pan and place in a dish covered with a paper towel to absorb excess oil. Serve immediately.


Chef Luis R. Piñeiro

chef-luis-r-pineiroThe owner of Piñeiro’s Latin Cuisine & Seafood bets on the gastronomic choices in Puerto Rico’s western region when treating a tourist to dinner. “I would definitely take them to the Porta del Sol region, specifically to Cabo Rojo. There I would offer them the best of the local catch of the day, a mofongo stuffed with seafood or a fried fish with caramelized onions and tostones,” he said. As a highlight for this season, he presented a roasted leg of suckling pig, mamposteado rice with pigeon peas and chorizo with pickled green bananas, apple puree, and cilantro oil.

From the local cuisine available all year long, he would recommend “rice with pigeon peas, ribs, and chorizo.” The best side dishes, in his opinion, would be lechón (spit-roasted pork) marinated with local spices, pork morcillas (blood sausages), and grilled yucca empanada (longer and thinner than a pastel, it is wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked over an open fire).

¡Qué Pasa! (QP): Suppose a visitor hires you to cook a delectable dinner to ring in the New Year. What would it include?

Luis R. Piñeiro (LRP): “As a starter, I would offer some almojábanas (rice flour fritters) with butter and local cheese along with some celeriac fritters. The main course would be rice with fresh pigeon peas and pork ribs cooked over firewood, lechón with crunchy golden skin, and green banana pasteles. To drink, we would have sesame horchata (a milky drink made from ground nuts), and chocolate pitorro (strong artisanal liqueur). For dessert, coconut and cinnamon tembleque.”

Spit-roasted Leg of Piglet

• 8 ounces of suckling pig’s leg
• 2 cloves garlic
• Salt to taste
• Pepper to taste
• 1 teaspoon oregano
• 3 ounces olive oil

Season the suckling pig and refrigerate for 12 hours. If you do not have a grill or barbecue, you can cook it in the oven. To do this, heat oven to 350° F and cook for four hours or until the meat is juicy.

Pigeon Pea Mamposteao Rice

• 4 ounces stewed fresh pigeon peas
• 8 ounces white rice, previously made
• 1 teaspoon chopped onion
• 1 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro
• 1 ounce chorizo
• 1 teaspoon grated green banana

In a pan over medium heat, combine rice, stewed pigeon peas, along with the rest of the ingredients. Remove from heat when all are mixed and the onion has become transparent.

Pickled Green Bananas

• 3 boiled green bananas
• 1 ounce chopped onion
• 1 ounce chopped green peppers
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 clove garlic
• 2 ounces olive oil
• 2 ounces vinegar
• Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the bananas and boil them. When soft, remove from heat. Let them cool and cut into slices about one-half inch thick. Pour into a bowl and combine with remaining ingredients. Let stand at least one day for all flavors to combine.


Chef Wilo Benet

chef-wilo-benetPasteles (tamale-like boiled delicacies) are the beloved Puerto Rican holiday dish that the owner of Pikayo restaurant would recommend tourists sample. Therefore he chose this tasty dish to represent him. Pasteles’ usual rectangular shape has been reinterpreted in a cylindrical form—that’s quite an unexpected twist! Benet’s pasteles are made with yucca (cassava), green bananas, and pumpkin and are stuffed with pork confit. An emulsion of sweet peppers and local tomatoes serves as a complement.

¡Qué Pasa! (QP): Where would you take a tourist who has never tasted any Puerto Rican delicacy?

Wilo Benet (WB): “I would take them to El Cuñao restaurant in Cayey or to the Don Candy fish market in Fajardo.”

QP: If you had to design a typical Puerto Rican menu for a New Year’s Eve event, what would it include?

WB: “I would do it but with a different twist: pigeon pea soup with green banana balls and chicharrón (pork cracklings); pasteles made with yucca, green bananas, and pumpkin with pork confit; an emulsion of sweet peppers and local tomatoes; organic local watercress salad. As a beverage, I would serve DonQ white rum with passion fruit. To complete the experience, my dessert would be a terrine of tembleque (coconut milk-based chilled custard) with grated sesame and chocolate sauce.”


• 1 pound pork loin
• teaspoon adobo (island seasoning)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 small onion cut into small cubes
• 4 cloves garlic, ground
• 1/2 cubanelle pepper cut into small cubes, without seeds or the inner white bark
• 2 tablespoons of sofrito (tomato and herb based sauce)
• 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
• 1/4 cup tomato sauce
• 1/2 cup green olives stuffed with peppers
• 1/2 cup canned chickpeas, drained
• 1/2 cup raisins
• 1 cup of water
• 8 banana leaves cut into 12” x 12”
• 5 cups of taro root dough (To prepare the dough: “After peeling, grind them in the food processor or grater.”)

1. Clean meat; cut and discard excess fat from pork loin. Cut pork loin into cubes, season with adobo, and set aside.
2. Heat olive oil in a frying pan. Add pork cubes and sauté for about three minutes, stirring sporadically. Stir in the onion, garlic, cubanelle pepper, sofrito, and cilantro. Mix well and cook for an additional two minutes until onion is translucent and has lost its raw flavor.
3. Add and stir in tomato sauce, olives, chickpeas, raisins, and then a cup of water. Lower heat to medium and, stirring sporadically, continue cooking for 30 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed, flavors are concentrated, and the meat is very tender. Remove from heat and set aside until it reaches room temperature.
4. Meanwhile, loosen banana leaves and remove any hard stalks left from the edges. Using kitchen tongs, hold leaves over a gas flame or an electric burner for about 20 seconds on each side. Be sure to move them continuously while over the heat source to avoid burning the leaves. This operation makes them more flexible and promotes the release of their natural oils, which imbue pasteles with flavor.
5. Form the pasteles. In a bowl, combine the taro root dough with the pork preparation and mix well. Place the banana leaf on a flat surface. Pour a cup of the pork mixture over the center of the leaf, leaving at least two inches on each side. Fold the bottom edge over the mixture and fold it over itself twice, as if it were a package. Using your hand, push the filling of the open side inward to compact the “package,” and fold over the open parts of the leaf. Set aside and repeat the process with the remaining banana leaves and filling.
6. Steam the pasteles on a bamboo steamer for 20 minutes, to the point the dough retains its shape and is well-cookedl. To serve, remove each pastel from its wrapper. To experience as the locals, if desired, pack the wrapped pasteles with butcher’s thread and freeze them. To prepare them, just place them in a pot, cover with water, and boil for 45 minutes.


Chef Mercedes Grubb

chef-mercedes-grubb“Of the many holiday dishes made in Puerto Rico, one is essential: pasteles. The technique, the elaboration, and the taste show the affection we have for this seasonal gift,” said the chef of Gallo Negro restaurant when we asked her what delicacy is an integral part of the Puerto Rican culinary tradition.

The Piñones beach sector, located between Isla Verde and Loíza, would be the area selected if she were to take a visitor to become acquainted with our local cuisine. “By going there, you cover all bases: alcapurrias (meat or seafoodfilled fritters), bacalaítos (cod fritters), pinchos (kebabs), fresh fish, and mofongo (fried, mashed plantain)—which is mandatory—accompanied with cold coconut water with Ron del Barrilito rum,” our interviewee said.

QP: What do you believe is the perfect menu for the Holiday Season?

Mercedes Grubb (MB): “It would include tostones (fried green plantain slices) stuffed with rabbit fricassee as an appetizer. The main course would be a pigeon peas risotto with pernil (roasted pork leg) confit, onions, and avocado mousse. For dessert, I would consider a pudding made with mallorca (sweet and airy bakery specialty) bread and coquito (coconut-based eggnog) made with Ron del Barrilito with Chantilly crème and nuts, which is what I present here.”

Mallorca bread pudding á la Ron del Barrilito

• 2 eggs
• 2 tablespoons melted butter
• 2 vanilla beans (scrape the pulp with a spoon)
• 2 cups coconut milk
• 1/2 cup Barrilito Rum
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 4 cups mallorca bread, diced into cubes
• 1/2 cup nuts of your choice

1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Beat eggs along with butter, vanilla, coconut milk, Barrilito Rum, sugar, and salt.
2. In a pan covered with butter, add the bread to form a layer. Pour the liquid mixture over the bread and add nuts. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the bread pudding is golden.

saborea-pr-logoThe Top Gastronomic Festival of the Island

Delight your palate and prepare to live a delicious and fun experience! From the 6th to the 9th of April, Saborea Puerto Rico shows you the best of local, Caribbean and international cuisine. Visit and book what we assure you will be the best gastronomic experience of your life.

Photos: Supplied

If you decide to spend the Holidays in Puerto Rico or if your visit coincides with our long festive season, prepare to taste Puerto Rican cuisine’s most delicious dishes—a great fusion of flavors and colors from all the cultures that have had an influence on our island.

Our local cuisine is a blend of customs and traditions that has earned Puerto Rico a top echelon among renowned dining destinations. Our island is a destination where you’ll find excellent food—and if it happens to be Holiday fare then you are in for a real treat!

Although traditional dishes are available year-round, they are the rage during the Holiday season so local families as well as restaurants devote special attention to their preparation. Island residents expect these delicacies at all their Holiday events and tourists just can’t get enough of them!p90-cred-bonderenko

Rice with pigeon peas is a must in our Holiday menu, preferably served with our tasty pasteles. Puerto Rican pasteles bear some resemblance to Mexican or Cuban tamales and other foods wrapped in leaves. This gastronomic treat— made with plantain or yucca “dough” wrapped over pieces of pork or chicken and lots of criollo (local) seasonings and then wrapped in a banana leaf—is boiled and served piping hot.

Rice with pigeon peas and pasteles are served with local cuisine’s crown jewel: the incomparable spit-roasted pig. The traditional Puerto Rican cooking method uses two Y-shaped hooks on which a rod holding a whole pig is placed and then cooked for hours over a bed of burning wood, turning the rod at intervals for even roasting.

The pig is seasoned with garlic, salt, oregano, a hint of pepper, and a couple of additional ingredients depending on the family cook’s or restaurant chef’s particular preference. Other seasonal treats include the savory morcillas (fried blood sausage), some of which have a delightful hint of hotness; guineítos en escabeche (pickled green bananas); yucca with local mojo sauce; asopao de gandules (hearty pigeon pea soup); and fritters like meat-filled alcapurrias, codfish-based bacalaítos, and rice flour almojábanas.

Holiday desserts include marzipan and arroz con dulce, which is made with rice, coconut milk, and raisins. Coconut is the main ingredient in other delightful desserts like tembleque and majarete, as well as in our beloved coquito, an eggnog like beverage that is made with coconut milk or cream, condensed and evaporated milks, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and white rum to taste.

p-90-cred-bonderenkoWhat dishes do tourists prefer? “The mofongo [fried green plantain, mashed, and often filled with meat, poultry or seafood], closely followed by all our local fritters,” said Luis Castillo, executive chef at Hotel El Convento, who prepared the mouth-watering dishes showcased in this story. “When it comes to drinks, there’s no denying it… coquito is hugely popular during the Holidays,” he admits, also pointing out that Puerto Rican cuisine is unrivaled because it is well-seasoned but not spicy or hot, which makes it suitable for everyone’s palate.

“Even though many local specialties are associated with the Holiday season our guests always ask for them. Therefore, I combine them with unexpected products at my chef tasting tables. I can prepare a skirt steak with pasteles and an oxtail stew, some cod raviolis with avocado or perhaps pork tenderloin medallions instead of pit-roasted pig,” Castillo adds.

A new generation of chefs is reinterpreting our local dishes, which is precisely what is featured during a weekend-long food festival called Saborea Puerto Rico—to be held on April 7-10 at El Escambrón Beach in San Juan. For more information, go to If you can’t wait then don’t miss Old San Juan’s “SOFO” Culinary Fest (787-723-7080) on December 3-6, when eateries on Fortaleza St. offer special prices on their dishes.