Good News, Updates and Red Beans & Rice



So much has happened in the past few months and today I am finally getting the chance to sit down and blog about it. I don’t even know where to start. First and foremost, I am so grateful to God, my family and all of my mentors who have supported me and pushed me to excel. I followed my passion and my passion followed me. When I look back, I think my love for food began at my parents house. Growing up, our house was the place to stay and eat for any artist, intellectual, political activist or anyone eccentric. Our house was always full of people. I remember Uncle Guido from Grenada who could cure anything with nutmeg and some herbs, Aunt Fannie who was always in and out of Cuba and smelled of gardenias, Uncle Mobe from Germany who loved to come into town and build things in our house and so many more who played chess, cooked their native food and slept on our couch. This is where my passion was born with the many flavors of my family and extended family.

Sorry, everything is coming full scale like a movie and I am having flashbacks to where it all began. Sometimes you don’t realize where you have been until that moment happens when everything falls into place and you step back and say damn…..now it all makes sense. So to get to the good news. Suzanne Pferfele, author and filmmaker of Vietnamese Cuisine in New Orleans found me on twitter and asked me to co-produce a PBS documentary for WYES New Orleans called Latin American Cuisine in New Orleans along with videographer and co-producer Lenny Delbert. I was thrilled at the opportunity and honored by the invitation. For the past few months we have filmed, interviewed, ate until we passed out, traveled all around the city and sat down to film some of the most inspiring stories that we believe will capture the history and passion of Latin American Cuisine in New Orleans. Our documentary is scheduled to air in November 2014. We are more than thrilled!!!

Next exciting news, I have been invited to participate in the Latin Food Festival in San Diego, California this September. 7,000 will be in attendance and I am to prepare food for 2,000 people. Yikes!!! Thank God my sisters are flying in to help me. Chef Adolfo Garcia, my mentor thinks I’m nuts but hey it’s a good networking opportunity. Then in November, I am scheduled to participate at the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge and a book signing at the local Barnes & Noble. There will be at least 10,000 people in attendance. I am going to be a busy busy bee.

My final exciting news……drumroll…….I am saving that one for my next post….but ohhhh my babbbyyyy in my New Orleans accent. It’s huge! All I have to say is Ray Charles blessed me from his grave and I will make you and my mama proud!

Red Beans & Ricely Yours


(I included some images of behind the scenes photos of our PBS Documentary and some recipes that Kid Chef Eliana came up with for the film)

Zella’s Red Beans & Rice Recipe

– 1lb of New Orleans Camellia Dry Red Kidney Beans

– 3 chopped links of andouille sausage

– 2 chopped links of smoked sausage

– 1 finely chopped Spanish large yellow onion

– 2 celery stalks chopped finely

– 1 green bell pepper finely chopped

– 1 clove of garlic

– 3 cups of water

– 1 half stick of salted butter

– 1 tbs. of Paul Prudhomme Seasoning Salt and Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning

– 1 tbs. of Zatarain’s dried parsley flakes

– 2 bay leaves

– 3 cups of cooked long grain rice


Finely chop your onion, bell pepper and celery stalks. Set aside. Chop your sausages into bite size pieces. In a saute pan on medium low heat, saute your chopped onion, bell pepper and celery in butter. Season with Creole seasoning. Saute until the onions are translucent. Add your sausages and saute until the sausages are caramelized. Reduce your heat if need be. Cook for about 5 minutes and turn off the heat.

In a large stock pot. Add your dry red kidney beans and cover with water. Add your bay leaves and bring the beans to a boil at medium heat. Add your sausage and onion mixture. Cover your beans and let them boil for at least 40 minutes. Checking periodically and stirring to make sure the beans don’t stick to the pan. Re-season the beans as need be. Chop 1 clove of garlic and add to the pot. When the red beans are completely soft take a large wooden spoon and begin to press the red beans in the pot. This will give the red beans it’s thick and creamy consistency. I would press the wooden spoon on the beans maybe six times. Continue to boil for another hour on medium-low heat. I cook my red beans for at least 2 1/2 hours at a low-medium heat. When I don’t eat all of my red beans, I freeze them for another day. I could eat red beans and rice everyday. The velvety, buttery, smoked flavor makes me so happy 🙂 Serve your red beans with cooked long grain white rice or your favorite rice.

Le Bon Temps Rouler!








It’s Lenten Season in New Orleans and here are some Latin recipes for Meatless Friday!


My sister lives in Brooklyn and has been a vegetarian for years. I spend every Thanksgiving at her house and I really enjoy eating at some of the local New York vegetarian restaurants and eating some of her food. She is an awesome cook and never compromises flavor for her dietary beliefs. I was amazed by some of the meatless food I tried that taste just like chicken and beef while in New York. I remember eating meatless substitutes in the past that taste like cardboard. And if you live in New Orleans, it’s all about the flavor and we won’t compromise flavor for anyone! So I was amazed to taste meatless meat that I actually liked with my sister.

So like Thanksgiving in New York, I appreciate Lenten Season in New Orleans where I can cut back on all of the rich foods we eat. Recently, a friend of mine introduced me to Beyond Meat’s beef free crumble, a plant protein that taste like meat. I know there are so many meatless meats, however, I really like Beyond Meat.  So here are a few Latin recipes from my kitchen for Meatless Fridays and for any vegetarians out there. Buen Provecho!

Fully Loaded Avocado

(Use Florida ripe avocados. Available in any Latin grocery store. They are much larger but if you don’t have a Latin grocery store near you just buy the largest regular ripe avocado you can find. See image below)


–     1 Florida ripe avocado

–       ½ cup of cooked meatless beef (Beyond meat preferably)

–       1/3 cup of minced Spanish yellow onion

–       1/3 cup of black beans

–       Goya Sazón Achiote packet (Now sold in the Latin section of most every grocery store in the U.S. if not available use a little Spanish paprika)

–       Sea salt and fresh black ground pepper

–       1 dollop of light sour cream or tofutti sour cream

–       Grated packaged Mexican cheese or alternative shredded cheese

–       1 sprig of chopped cilantro



Mince the onion. Saute the onion with the meat on low medium heat. Add the Sazón Goya packet for color and flavoring. Season with sea salt and fresh black ground pepper to taste. Add 1/3 cup of rinsed organic canned black beans. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Cut ripe Florida avocado in half and remove the pit. Scoop the bean and meat mixture on top of the avocado. Garnish with sour cream, cheese and chopped cilantro.


Sweet Plantain Canoes/ Canoas de Platanos Maduros




–       3 ripe almost black plantains

–       1/3 cup of cooked meatless beef

–       1 minced small garlic clove

–       1/3 cup of Mexican shredded cheese or alternative shredded cheese

–        1 finely minced Roma tomato

–       1 sprig of chopped cilantro

–       Olive oil

–       Goya Sazón Achiote packet

–       Sea salt and fresh black ground pepper




Preheat oven to 400 F. Peel the ripe plantains and place them on a baking sheet and rub them with olive oil. Bake the plantains for 20 minutes and turn them and cook for another 15 minutes. The plantains should be golden brown. While the plantains are cooking, mince the garlic clove, tomato and cilantro. Sauté the garlic clove with the meat on low medium heat in a little bit of olive oil. Season with sea salt and fresh black ground pepper to taste. Remove the plantains from the oven and stuff with them with the meat mixture and cheese. Bake the stuffed plantains for 3-5 more minutes until the cheese is melted. Garnish with chopped tomato and cilantro. Serve while the plantains are still hot.






Garbanzos Fritos con Langostina

Check out Hungry Sofia’s review of my cookbook!

hungry sofia

IMG_0006 Last year I took what felt like a slightly selfish trip to New Orleans.  My excuse was book research, so I decided beforehand not to post or take too many pictures.  It felt like if I stopped to post or take a picture every time I saw something beautifully strange or strangely familiar in New Orleans, I’d do little else.  Strange because it’s a city so completely itself that it makes you come all the way there to experience it and familiar because I’d always heard stories from my family about New Orleans when it was a short jump from Havana.  There were so many parallels that it wasn’t surprising that so many of my relatives settled there when they left Cuba in the 1960s.

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Cajun Food, Louisiana History, and a Little Lagniappe

Mardi Gras Indian Mardi Gras is a week away! One of the not-so-secret secret Mardi Gras traditions to be found in New Orleans is that of the Mardi Gras Indians. And no one captures the Mardi Gras Indian culture better than Oliphant Images . Dressed in brilliant, extravagant Indian regalia, the Mardi Gras Indians parade through the predominantly African American neighborhoods on Mardi Gras day, putting on an elaborate routine, especially when coming in contact with another tribe.

Mardi Gras Indians are African-American Carnival revelers in New Orleans, Louisiana, who dress up for Mardi Gras in suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel. Collectively, their organizations are called “gangs” or “tribes”. There are about 38 tribes. They range in size from a half dozen to several dozen members. Mardi Gras Indians have been parading in New Orleans at least since the mid-19th century, possibly before. African Americans and Native Americans have a long history…

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Oliphant Images Captures Mardi Gras Indian Culture


Sweet Plantain Lasagna/Pastelon de Platano Maduro


I remember watching an episode of one of my favorite shows on the Food Network, Chopped and one of the contestants was completely clueless on what to do with one of the mystery ingredients-plantains. I remember him saying, “What can you do with a plantain? It is nothing but starch!” I chuckled as I’m sure anyone who grew up eating plantains would. Plantains are so versatile! You just have to know the three types of plantains and it will help you decide what recipe to make. Plantains range from starch to sugar. The less ripe they are you can fry like a potato and the riper they are, the sweeter. There is the green plantain and that is used to make fried crispy tostones, then the yellow plantain that is semi-ripe that is used in soups, mashed plantains (mofongo) and other dishes and then the ripe sweet blackjack plantain that is used as a side with most meat and rice dishes or for deserts. There is so much you can do with plantains! You just have to be creative and not be afraid to experiment.

I’m sure when the potato came to the New World most people were unsure on how to prepare the potato but eventually they found 1,000 or more ways to create delicious dishes using the potato. Just like in New Orleans, the famous dish Bananas Foster was created because New Orleans was a major port for bananas from Honduras. Tons of bananas were flowing into New Orleans ports daily and one day in 1951, Chef Paul Blange at Brennan’s restaurant in the famous French Quarter created the mouth watering desert and the rest is history. Now of course, Latin Americans were making sweet banana and plantain dishes and deserts for years but Chef Paul Blange helped to make Bananas Foster a favorite in the history of American cuisine. It just goes to show you that Chefs and cooks who have an imagination can take a staple ingredient and give it some amor and creativity and voila! A dish that is passed down forever.

Sweet Plantain Lasagna or Pastelon de Platano Maduro is a contemporary dish. I assume the dish was made when Italians and Latin Americans crossed paths at some point. Perhaps in New York where Puerto Ricans and Italians would mingle. I’m curious to find out the history on the pastelon. Nevertheless, Pastelon de Platano Maduro is typically made in Puerto Rican or Dominican households. The sweetness of the plantain and the savory meat plus the melted cheese makes this dish a favorite in any household. My secret ingredient is sour cream. The sour cream makes the pastelon creamier.


6 yellow plantains (buy 2 extra plantains)

1 cinnamon stick

3 cracked eggs

2 cups of grated cheese

¼ cup of butter

½ cup of sour cream

1 tsp of sea salt

1 lb. of ground beef

3 8oz. cans of Spanish Style Tomato Sauce (Goya)

2 sprigs of chopped cilantro

1 small red onion

1 minced garlic clove

1 squeezed lime

1 tsp. of cumin powder

1 tsp. of Adobo seasoning

2-inch tall baking dish



  1. Season ground beef with salt, pepper, Adobo seasoning and cumin powder in a mixing bowl.
  2. Finely chop the onion, mince 1 garlic clove and chop cilantro. Set aside.
  3. In a shallow pan cook meat with onions until the meat is cooked.
  4. Drain the meat mixture. Add the meat mixture back to the pan and add the tomato sauce, minced garlic, 1 cup of water and chopped cilantro
  5. Re-season if necessary. Squeeze a lime over the meat mixture and simmer for ten more minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat and reserve.


  1. Peel the plantains and cut in large chunks about a ¼ diameter. The plantains should not be too mushy. If they are too mushy your pastelon will be watery which is why you should buy extra plantains. Take your thumb and press against the peeled plantain. If it is too ripe and you can sink your thumb into the plantain easily you will need to replace it with another one.
  2.  Boil in water for ten minutes with 1 tsp. of salt and 1 cinnamon stick. Make sure that the plantains are tender.
  3. Drain, discard the cinnamon stick and set the plantains aside in a bowl to cool for ten minutes. After the plantains have cooled add butter and 3 eggs. Mash with a fork or potato masher.


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

  1. With a large spoon or spatula spread a light layer of the plantain mixture at the bottom of the baking dish.

2.   Add the next layer with meat.

3.   Take a spoonful of sour cream and spread it over the meat  mixture lightly.

4.   Add a layer of grated cheese.

5.   Repeat layers steps and cover the rest with cheese.

6.   Bake until golden brown and let the pastelon cool for at least ten  minutes.







A Comer Pasteles

hungry sofia

IMG_9042For years, I’ve heard about the Puerto Rican families gathering in the kitchen during their endless Christmas season to make pasteles and felt a little jealous.  Researching and writing about them for Devour felt like a lonely way to go about making what should be a communal recipe.  To fill the kitchen, I consulted my cousins and aunt for the traditions surrounding Puerto Rican Christmas, my friend Carmen Rivera whose husband insisted raisins should only be optional, and my market friend Arelys Ocasio who suggested I throw in plantains to the usual blend of guineos and yautia.  Jump to Devour to read more.

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New Orleans Living Magazine Social Editor Margarita Bergen

I am still on cloud nine y’all! Yesterday was so fabulous! It was such an honor to be Margarita Bergen’s guest speaker. 250 people for her annual round table! My book flew off of the tables! I interviewed 13 Latino New Orleanians for my cookbook and Margarita was one of them. Her story is a riot! She has a champagne alter, a cute dog named Duchess and a hat collection to die for! She is originally from the Dominican Republic but grew up in New York. She came to New Orleans after a broken heart and has truly become a New Orleans socialite. To know her is to love her and everyone is addressed as ‘Darling’. To read more about Margarita get a copy of my book New Orleans con Sabor Latino: The History and Passion of Latino Cooking. I can’t wait for her Christmas party this Sunday in the French Quarter! Stay tuned for pics! Le Bon Temps Rouler Darlings! And please if you buy a copy of my book send me a pic of you with the book and recipe and email me at houseofzella@gmail.com I will post your pic on my blog! You are helping spread the word to the world about the rich Latino culinary history in New Orleans!