ADVICE: Memories of my mother’s kitchen


My grandsons think it’s funny when I tell them that I didn’t grow up eating pizza.

My Cuban parents did not recognize pizza as a meal. Pizza and hamburgers were something my brother and I ate when we were older and with our friends.

We grew up eating Cuban and Spanish food. The recipes that my mother cooked were the recipes she learned from her parents who were of Spanish descent.

When my mom would make a new recipe, it was infused with a Cuban sofrito.

Sofrito is the base in all-Cuban food, consisting of chopped onions, green peppers, garlic, oregano, pepper and olive oil.

Our salads were also not the usual plate filled with a variety of leafy greens drizzled with salad dressing. When lettuces was used it was placed on the bottom of a flat serving dish more like decoration, and a variety of vegetables would be placed on top.

Sometimes it was slices of tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus or avocado (preferably the large slimcado choquette variety found in Miami and popular in the Caribbean), with Spanish olives and drizzled in olive oil.

We didn’t grow up eating broccoli, cauliflower or baked potatoes; we ate malanga, yucca, boniato and fried plantains.

When we were growing up, our pantry did not have boxes of cereal or chips. I don’t remember eating cereal for breakfast until we were older and would pour the cereal in our café con leche.

Café con leche is a strong coffee preferably expresso mixed with milk that Cuban and Spanish children drink on a daily basis.

Breakfast for us consisted of slices of bread slathered in butter that we would dunk in the café con leche. The traditional Cuban bread is similar to a French baguette and was not easy to find in 1960s McAllen.

White rice accompanied every meal unless we had arroz con maiz or arroz con salchichas (rice with corn or rice with sausages) the rice was then sprinkled with bijol to give it color.

Bijol is a spice that was founded in 1922 in Cuba. A mix of corn flour, annatto, ground cumin and color, it is used to give Caribbean dishes a light yellow color.

One of my favorite rice dishes is congri, white rice cooked with a few cups of beans made with the water used to soften the black beans.

A weekly staple in our home was black bean soup, red bean soup or garbanzos that were accompanied with rice and chicken, beef or pork.

The chicken and beef was marinated in lemon, salt and pepper with lots of fresh garlic. If it was a pork roast, it was marinated with sour oranges, as well as oregano and cumin.

Since I married a Cuban, my children grew up eating the same dishes I grew up with accept like most Americans we incorporated, Mexican, Italian and Chinese food into our menu.

However, I must admit that — like my Cuban mother — whenever I am in the kitchen trying out a new recipe I have to make an effort not to add the Cuban sofrito to make it taste just right.

Maria Luisa Salcines is a freelance writer and certified parent educator with The International Network for Children and Families in Redirecting Children’s Behavior and Redirecting for a Cooperative Classroom. Follow her on Twitter @PowerOfFamily or on Instagram @mlsalcines. You can also contact her on her blog,