Denisse Oller is a New York culinary personality who took the long route to the kitchen. Before she took up her passion for cooking as a career, she was a distinguished reporter and broadcast anchor, working for Univision, Telemundo and CBS Telenoticias. Oller has tapped her media talent and culinary training to pursue her love of healthy cooking. Currently she is host of "A la mesa con Denisse,” a weekly cooking/interview segment on Telemundo/NY. The Puerto Rico native is also putting the finishing touches on her first book. A graduate of the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City, she also teaches recreational classes at ICE and writes for AARP's Spanish-language website.
HK: What do you think Hispanics can do to improve their diets?
DO: We can all improve our diets, particularly Hispanics in this country who suffer from a disproportionate rate of obesity and excess weight-related diseases such as diabetes. We must modify what we eat, how much we eat, and how we prepare it. We should focus more on fresh fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates and lean proteins. Of course, lowering our salt intake and portion control is a must-do! Steaming, sautéing, baking and grilling foods are all excellent options to frying, though I must admit that nothing beats crispy, fried tostones! Look, it’s not about denying ourselves, but rather finding a healthy balance.
HK: What would you serve someone who’s never had Puerto Rican food?
DO: For a real Puerto Rican experience, how about a sample appetizer dish with sorullitos, bacalaitos, conch empanadillas and mini piñones? Just for picoteo. I would serve next as first course mofongo con camarones (mashed plantains with shrimp), a small enough portion to leave room for more. Our arroz con gandules rice with pigeon peas) and lechon asado with aji-li-mojili salsa is a must. For dessert, nísperos de batata (sweet potato rounds) or casquitos de guayaba (guava “shells”) with queso blanco is the way to go…Warning! Consider this meal as a treat, instead of your daily diet!!!
HK: Do you think Latin food gets the U.S. media attention it deserves?
DO: It has been a long road, but we are gaining well-deserved prominence. The influence of Latin American food in mainstream U.S. is undeniable and its impact is felt at every level, from the popularity of street vendor food trucks to the expanded use of Latin ingredients in (even French) high-end restaurants, to the inclusion in the American pantry of such Latin American staples as black beans, chipotle, jalapeños, malanga (yautía), and delicious and versatile jicama, among others.
HK: Best thing you ever ate, and where?
DO: Difficult to say … but strangozzi di magro (homemade pasta with fresh herbs and tomatoes) and smoked trout at Taverna del Pescadore in Assisi, Italy, was sublime. I ate the best arros negre ever, in Els Pescadors, Cadaqués, Spain. … I still remember vividly the most succulent and tender cochinita pibil, eaten at a small family-owned place by the side of the road in Yucatán, and ceviches, the freshest one could ever taste, in any cevichería in Lima, Peru.
HK: What’s the weirdest thing you ever ate, and where?
DO: Oh Lord – crickets, iguana meat and cuy (guinea pigs). I happened to have guinea pigs as pets when I was a child, ouch!!!!!
HK: What’s your concept of healthy comfort food, and a dish that reflects it?
DO: Healthy comfort food has to be easy, good for you and it has to speak to your heart and soul. I love vegetable pisto with lightly grated cheese on top, brown rice summer salad (recipe included) or roasted veggie lasagna. Yummy!!!
HK: What do you like to snack on?
DO: Believe it or not, I love carrot sticks; they are sweet and crunchy and the chewing relieves my stress. I also snack on cashews, homemade protein bars, and Greek yogurt – love its creamy thickness.
HK: What’s one tip you have for the home cook?
DO: Keep it simple and healthy and varied; eat what’s in season, and above all, enjoy time at the table with your loved ones.
HK: What’s next on your culinary to-do list?
DO: More gastronomical travels; Peru, Mexico, France and Thailand are next on my “must visit” list. I am currently writing a book of my culinary adventures and in the coming and months I will be hosting more cooking webisodes for AARP/VIVA and for NYC-TV… Busy as a bee ...
HK: Who/what inspired you to become a chef?
DO: As a child, I loved watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin. They instilled in me the art of cooking. I wanted to master cooking as they did, because I have always been very discerning about food, even as a child. My travels opened a whole new universe of flavors, ingredients and preparations which encompass history, art, science, and let’s not forget sensuality. I had to become a chef!!!!
Can you share with us a favorite Latin recipe?
Certainly, my pleasure. (Recipe follows.)
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Chicken Chipotle Salad over Fried Plantain with Avocado Mist
4 Hass avocados
1 chicken breast
1 green onion
1 clove of garlic
1 red potato, cooked, peeled and diced (al dente)
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo
2 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red onion, finely chopped
¼ green apple, peeled and pitted, diced
juice of ½ lime
1 tsp bell pepper, finely diced
salt and pepper to taste
1 bag of plantain chips (low in sodium)
Cook the chicken breast simmering with water, salt, green onion, and garlic at low heat for 20 minutes. Take the chicken breast out of the pan and set aside for 10 minutes. Cool it in the refrigerator while making the dressing.
Mix the mayo and chipotle adobo. Pour the dressing over the diced potatoes, and add the remaining ingredients one at a time. Cut the chicken breast in cubes and add it to the mix. Adjust flavors. Let it rest for ½ hour in the refrigerator.
Just before serving, dice the avocado. Put 2 teaspoons of salad over a plantain chip. Add the avocado and serve immediately.
Find Denisse online at Denisse'sTable
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