Mis Abuelos and the No Dilemma December: Frituras de Malanga (Malanga Fritters)

Malanga Fritters.TheCubanReuben.comMost of the Jewish kids I knew growing up partook in a handful of familiar traditions during the holiday season. They would light their menorahs, eat latkes and jelly doughnuts, and squeal in delight at the gelt they’d win from a few festive rounds of dreidel before bedtime. In my house, the traditions were very similar, except we sometimes swapped Cuban-style malanga fritters for potato pancakes. Despite the fact that my extended family represents many different religions, my parents made it clear from the start that in our Jewish home, we celebrate Hanukkah.

Conversely, my abuelos, or grandparents, native Cubans and devout Catholics, hosted an annual Christmas party, and as it was the one time in the year where every single member of my large extended family would be in attendance, my parents felt strongly that we accept the invitation, as well. These parties boasted beautiful decorations ornamenting the entire house, piles of colorful gifts for the grandkids under the tree, and echoes of laughter and warmth from family members reuniting. Of course, these elements were certainly a big draw, but the main event was always the food. Oh, the food! My abuela, the original culinary matriarch of the family, made sure nobody left hungry, and always had enough food for everyone to take home leftovers of the scrumptious Cuban feast she’d make. Her Christmas parties offered the all-star dishes from her culinary arsenal: succulent roasts, creamy black beans spooned over white rice, a variety of seasonal vegetables, and just like our Hanukkah dinners, Abuela’s Christmas parties would not be complete without malanga fritters.

As featured on Jewish&, a collaboration between Be’Chol Lashon and MyJewishLearning.com

My Hanukkah malanga fritters, sitting in front of the "famous" family cookbook my mother gifted me.

My Hanukkah malanga fritters, sitting in front of the “famous” family cookbook my mother gifted me.

As dinner ended, my abuela found immense joy in passing out the Christmas gifts, and she went to great lengths to make sure that her Jewish grandchildren were not overlooked. She always had a little something for my brother and me under her tree, and unlike the gifts for my cousins, ours were always wrapped in Hanukkah paper. This small gesture not only made my brother and me feel extra special, but it was an expression of the support she showed my mother about her decision to convert to Judaism.

Through the years, I’ve attended countless family Christmas parties, baptisms, first communions, and so on, just as my family has shown their support at my traditionally Jewish life-cycle events. I’ve always loved learning about my family’s different religions, and fondly remember many a time when I stayed up late with my cousins, explaining the significance of some of the Jewish traditions I practiced. I took great pride in being the authority on all things Jewish, and made sure my explanations were always as authentic as possible. As an adult, I have a deep-rooted fascination with the world’s major religions, mentally noting the similarities and differences between them and my native Judaism every chance I get. This fascination, coupled with my early exposure to other religions, has only helped to foster my strong identity as a Jew.

I recognize that I am incredibly lucky to have been born into such a supportive and engaged, albeit religiously diverse, family. This spring, as my husband and I welcome the newest member of the tribe to our family, I hope to teach our child not only of our Jewish traditions, but to encourage respect and admiration for others’ traditions, as well.

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Frituras de Malanga (Malanga Fritters)
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Cuban
Serves: 35 fritters
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Take an international bite this Hanukkah with Cuban-style malanga fritters.
  • 1 lb. malanga, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ lb. yuca, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp chopped Italian parsley
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
  1. Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.
  2. In a food processor, grind together the malanga, yuca, and garlic. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. Add lemon juice, baking powder, eggs, parsley, salt and pepper to the mixture, and stir until well combined.
  4. Test the oil with a tiny drop of the mixture. If oil bubbles, it is ready to fry.
  5. Using two kitchen spoons, drop one spoonful of the mixture into the hot oil, and fry for two minutes or until the bottom side starts to brown. Turn the fritter over, and continue to fry until golden brown throughout.
  6. Taste fritter to determine if it has enough salt and pepper for your liking. Adjust batter accordingly, and continue frying. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan.
  7. Remove the cooked fritters from the oil, and drain on a platter lined with paper towel.
  8. Serve immediately.


Breakfast for Dinner Pizza Party: Blueberry Muffin Pizza

BlueberryMuffinPizza.TheCubanReuben.comRemember that time I went to the Saly Cortile Cucina for a pizza party? Well, I’ve now become a regular at these gatherings, and this past weekend, I experienced my favorite one yet! In the past, all of the guests have shown great creativity when it comes to pizza toppings, but this was the first time that we had an official theme: Breakfast for Dinner. Anyone who knows me knows that I could eat breakfast any time of day. It’s my all-time favorite meal, and I feel strongly that most (not all, but most) foods are only made better by adding an egg on top. I’m pretty sure the hashtag #PutAnEggOnIt was created with me in mind. Needless to say, I was very excited when I got the invitation, and the wheels in my brain started turning  with recipe ideas right away..

Matt, David, and Jessie prep the tasty pizzas.

Matt, David, and Jessie prep the tasty pizzas.

First, I thought about traditional pizza toppings that are also regulars on the breakfast table, and breakfast meats came to mind. Sausage, ham, bacon… Although I don’t ordinarily follow the laws of kashrut, these toppings were not appealing to me at the time. Then I thought about my favorite breakfast items outside the confines of pizza toppings: omelets, pancakes, cereal. I was stumped, when all of a sudden, I had a moment of great clarity.

Some of the amazing pizzas featured (clockwise from top left: Bagel and lox pizza, cheese blintz pizza, asparagus and cheese omelette with brown butter pizza, chocolate croissant pizza).

Some of the amazing pizzas featured (clockwise from top left: Bagel and lox pizza, cheese blintz pizza, asparagus and cheese omelet with brown butter pizza, chocolate croissant pizza).

I love blueberry muffins, especially when they come with a crumb topping! Plus, I’d never heard of a blueberry muffin pizza before, but I was excited to try it. Fortunately, it turned out to be a big hit for the night! I was dubious, since I hadn’t practiced the recipe beforehand, but I thought,  “how bad could mascarpone, blueberries and crumb topping really be?” I’m so glad I took the gamble, because it could not have turned out any better. The blueberries withstood the heat marvelously, and plumped up right away. The crumb topping melted into the layers below, coating them with a kiss of sweetness. All together, this creation made one darn tasty bite!

Dana, surrounded by her former campers, Alisha, Jessie, and me.

Dana, surrounded by her former campers, Alisha, Jessie, and me.

There was so much happening that night that I was worried the party guests may not get the chance to really indulge in my new creation. We had cereal as a “snacketizer,” the bloody marys and spiked hot cocoas were flowing, countless ridiculously delicious pizzas were firing up in the oven, and we all had a blast catching up with old friends. But as soon as Matt pulled my blueberry muffin pizza out the oven, the crowd gathered for a slice.

Even the kids were in on the action. These two gave the chocolate croissant pizza two thumbs up!

Even the kids were in on the action. These two gave the chocolate croissant pizza two thumbs up!

I don’t know which I liked better, the food or the company, but all in all, it was another unforgettable experience, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait for a pizza party to make a blueberry muffin pizza. I imagine that this would make a perfect stand in for traditional coffee cake any day of the week.  In fact, it’s on my personal menu for tomorrow morning, when I entertain some out-of-towners before the big turkey feast… and my mouth is already watering!

Blueberry Muffin Pizza
Recipe type: Breakfast
Serves: 4-6
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Dazzle your guests with this unique spin on an old favorite
  • 1 store-bought uncooked pizza dough (I like Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup cold butter
  • ⅓ cup mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 12 oz fresh blueberries
  1. Let dough sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  3. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour and cinnamon. Cut in cold butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
  4. Roll out dough on floured surface, and transfer to a parchment-lined baking pan.
  5. Spread mascarpone cheese over the dough, and sprinkle with lemon zest.
  6. Top the mascarpone cheese with the blueberries, and gently press them into the dough.
  7. Add desired amount of crumb mixture on top of the blueberries (*Note: You do not have to use all of it), and bake for 10-15 minutes or until pizza bubbles and crumb topping browns slightly.
  8. Let rest 3-5 minutes before slicing.