Book cover for COCONUTS AND COLLARDS: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South

COCONUTS AND COLLARDS: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South

Von Diaz

University Press of Florida
March 13, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0813056654

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Von Diaz is a writer and radio producer based in New York. Her work has been featured on NPR, American Public Media, StoryCorps, WNYC, The Splendid Table, PRI’s The World, The Kitchn, and BuzzFeed.​

When her family moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta, Von Diaz traded plantains, roast pork, and Malta for grits, fried chicken, and sweet tea. Brimming with humor and nostalgia, COCONUTS AND COLLARDS is a recipe-packed memoir of growing up Latina in the Deep South.

The stories center on the women in Diaz’s family who have used food to nourish and care for one another. When her mother—newly single and with two young daughters—took a second job to make ends meet, Diaz taught herself to cook, preparing meals for her sister after school, feeding her mother when she came home late from work. During summer visits to Puerto Rico, her grandmother guided her rediscovery of the island’s flavors and showed her traditional cooking techniques. Years later the island called her back to its warm and tropical embrace, to be comforted by its familiar flavors.

Inspired by her grandmother’s 1962 copy of Cocina Criolla—the Puerto Rican equivalent of the Joy of CookingCOCONUTS AND COLLARDS celebrates traditional recipes while fusing them with Diaz’s own family history and a contemporary southern flair. Diaz discovers the connections between the food she grew up eating in Atlanta and the African and indigenous influences in so many of Puerto Rican dishes. The funche recipe is grits kicked up with coconut milk. White beans make the catfish corn chowder creamy and give it a Spanish feel. The pinchos de pollo—chicken skewers—feature guava BBQ sauce, which doubles as the sauce for adobo-coated ribs. The pastelón is shepherd’s pie . . . with sweet plantains. And the quingombo recipe would be recognized as stewed okra in any Southern kitchen, even if it is laced with warm and aromatic sofrito.

Diaz innovates for modern palates, updating and lightening recipes and offering vegetarian alternatives. For the chayotes rellenos (stuffed squash), she suggests replacing the picadillo (sautéed ground beef) with seitan or tofu. She offers alternatives for difficult-to-find ingredients, like substituting potatoes for yucca and yautía—root vegetables typically paired with a meat to make sancocho. Diaz’s version of this hearty stew features chicken and lean pork.

And because every good Puerto Rican meal ends with drinks, desserts, and dancing, Diaz includes recipes for besitos de coco (coconut kisses), rum cake, sofrito bloody marys, and anticuado, an old-fashioned made with rum.

With stunning photographs that showcase the geographic diversity of the island and the vibrant ingredients that make up Puerto Rican cuisine, this cookbook is a moving story about discovering our roots through the foods that comfort us. It is about the foods that remind us of family and help us bridge childhood and adulthood, island and mainland, birthplace and adopted home.

Camarones a la Vinagretta

(Shrimp in Citrus Vinaigrette)

Serves 4

My parents gave me my first shrimp to peel when I was five years old, and I had a real knack for it. This simple recipe pairs tender shrimp with bright herbs, crisp citrus fruits, and creamy avocado. It’s great to make ahead of time, though be sure to save the avocado until you are ready to serve. These camarones make for a great light dinner or an appetizer or lunch served over mixed greens or butter lettuce.


  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, or a combination)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1½ teaspoons chopped fresh culantro
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Poached Shrimp

  • 1 quart water
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped

Make the vinaigrette: Combine the tomatoes, citrus juice, oil, mustard, oregano, cilantro, and culantro in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Poach the shrimp: In a large saucepan with a lid, combine the water, 1 tablespoon of the salt, the peppercorns, and bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. While the water is coming to a boil, prepare an ice bath by emptying a tray of ice cubes into a large bowl and adding the remaining 2 tablespoons salt and enough water to cover.

Add the shrimp to the boiling water, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 1 to 2 minutes.

Drain the shrimp in a colander, then transfer to the ice bath. Stir well and let sit until fully cooled, about 5 minutes.

Drain the shrimp thoroughly, shaking the strainer and dabbing the shrimp with a clean paper towel to remove excess water.

Add the shrimp to the bowl with vinaigrette and toss to incorporate. Add the chopped avocado, taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately.


(Chorizo-Stuffed Beef Roast)

Serves 8

Photo by Cybelle Codish

My mother might as well be a vegetarian. Growing up she hated meat and was vocal about it. But on special occasions, Tata made boliche. It’s a Cuban dish in which a whole eye of round roast is stuffed with a mixture of Spanish chorizo, sofrito, spices, and vegetables, then marinated overnight and braised. The end result is an incredibly tender, flavorful roast with a bright filling in the center that’s gorgeous when served. To this day, if I even say the word boliche, my mother licks her lips.

  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1½ tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1½ tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 2 small Spanish chorizos, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 (5- to 6-pound) eye-of-round beef roast
  • 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

 Prepare a marinade by combining the garlic, oregano, cumin, bay leaf, orange juice, lime juice, wine, salt, and pepper in a container large enough to hold the roast.

Place the bell pepper, carrot, and chorizos in a small bowl and toss to combine.

Trim the meat of excess fat, rinse it, and dry with a paper towel. Using a long knife with a sharp tip, slice into the roast lengthwise until you reach the other end. Cut through several more times from end to end, making an X-shaped cut and rotating the knife back and forth inside the cut to make space.

Place the roast in a large bowl, cut-side down, and stuff it with the chorizo mixture. Begin with about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and push in with your thumb, then use the end of a wooden spoon to push down farther. Rotate the roast to make sure both sides are equally stuffed. Place the roast in the container with the marinade, turning several times to coat fully in the marinade, then return it to the refrigerator. Marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight if possible.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed saucepan with a cover, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sear the meat for about 8 minutes total, until thoroughly browned on all four sides.

Add the marinade left from the meat, cover, and place in the oven for 2½ to 3 hours, until the meat is tender and falls apart easily when pierced with a fork. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the tomato sauce to the marinade in the pot. Place over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Add any juices released from the meat while it is resting.

Carve the meat into ½-inch slices, divide among plates, and serve topped with the tomato sauce.

From COCONUTS AND COLLARDS: Recipes and Stories from Puerto Rico to the Deep South by Von Diaz. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. Reprinted by permission of the University Press of Florida.

Contact: Samantha Zaboski