Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Category: soups (page 2 of 2)

Gazpacho con Ajo Blanco

Gazpacho is the perfect summer dish, especially when it’s just too hot to cook. This famed Spanish soup is of Moorish origins. Remember that the Moors (Muslims of Northern Africa ) occupied Spain for over seven centuries. Some etymologists suggest that the word, gazpacho, derives from the Arabic word for soaked bread. Others say that it may have come from the word caspa, which means residue or fragment—as in the residue or fragments of bread used in the original recipe.

Andalusia is renowned as the home of gazpacho, especially in the province of Malaga. It probably originated as a soup of soaked bread, olive oil, and garlic. Today the Spaniards would call this an ajo blanco, or garlic soup. And this was the most common gazpacho until the introduction of the tomato to the European continent, which resulted in the chilled tomato concoction of today.

Today, Andalusian gazpacho is made with ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, moistened bread, and ice water. But I’ve gone back to the original gazpacho as derived from its Moorish influence.


1 cup untrimmed fresh bread, cubed
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
Cold water
4 tablespoons chopped scallions

1. Soak the bread in water. Drain and squeeze to extract excess moisture.
2. In a mortar (preferably earthenware), pound the garlic until crushed.
3. In a wooden bowl, mix the garlic, bread, and salt, and stir in the olive oil.
4. Add cold water as desired, to get the smoothness of a soup. Recall this the original gazpacho, which is served at room temperature, garnished with chopped scallions. But, if you want, you can serve it chill after an hour or so in the fridge.
    Yield: 4 servings.

 Note: You can modify this recipe for Malaga-Style Gazpacho by adding 2/3 cup crushed peeled almonds and 1/2 teaspoonr red wine vinegar before adding the cold water.

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Cold Soups

Now that summer is here, cold soups are in order. That’s right, cold soups. Back in my youth, in Spanish Harlem, we never heard of cold soups, not even in summer. It was an alien concept to us. Soups were always hot and hardy, even on the warmest of days. Then in my early manhood I discovered Vichyssoise (pronounced “vish-ee-SWAHZ” or “vee-she-swahz), a rich and creamy potato-leak soup that’s served cold. Not being too well versed at the time, I assume that it was a French dish. Then I discovered that it was, in fact, American. It was conjured up by chef Louis Diat of the Ritz-Carlton in New York City in 1917. Still, we must give the French credit since the soup most likely evolved from the leek and potato soup very popular in France, potage bonne temme. In his book, Cooking a la Ritz, Mr. Diat himself sates that the name comes from Vichy, the French town near his childhood home. He called it Cream Vichyssoise Glacee.

Since discovering this gem I’ve become a fan of cold soups in general, especially when the humid, hot weather is upon us. Vichyssoise may incorporate its own ingredients but cold soups can be made with almost any vegetable. Or fruit, for that fact. Cold soups with vegetables just need cream and whatever herbs you prefer.  And all you need is a blender or food processor. Remember that you have to blend to a  nice smoothness. Now,  I like soups, hot or cold, on the thick side. Some prefer them a tad thinner. Just blend to the consistency you like. The important thing is the chilling—at least three hours in the fridge is essential. You can serve cold soups indoors or outdoors, even as a first course before grilling. If you want to be fancy about it, you can serve the soup in an iced tureen or chilled bowls. Or keep it cold in your thermos and chug it at work.

As for ingredients, the possibilities are endless: such greens as broccoli, spinach, zucchini, asparagus, etc.; or a white veggie such as cauliflower. Experiment—you won’t be disappointed. It’s the easiest thing to prepare.


1 bunch of greens, such as asparagus, spinach, broccoli, leeks, etc. Or other vegetable such as a head of  
   cauliflower. The vegetables should be rinsed, drained, and cut into bite-sized pieces.
2 cups chicken broth (if you want a thinner soup, make it 3 cups)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano or 1/4 teaspoon fresh
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and black ground pepper to taste.
1. Heat chicken broth in a pan, and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable, reduce heat, cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes depending upon thickness of veggie. They should be just tender.
2. Transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the garlic and oregano, and puree until just smooth.
3. Stir in the heavy cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. 
4. Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.
     Yield: 4 servings.  

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Now that the weather has gotten a mite chillier (finally), our thoughts turn to warm, hardy comfort foods. Sancocho is such a variety. It is the archetypal Puerto Rican stew. It’s hearty and stick to the ribs fare.Think of the French cassoulet where pork, beans, lamb and sausages are all mixed together in a casserole. In that vein there is Nabiaki Udom which calls for chicken or beef or anything else on hand thrown into one dish. Also the Chinese Congee would come to mind. You get the idea, put everything together in one pot and let it simmer until it’s rich and thick. Sancocho follows along the same lines with an assortment to vegetables which are added to a broth. The vegetables include root plants such as yuca, also known as cassava; yautia (ya-oo-teah), also called tanier or dasheen; and name (nyah-meh), a starchy root.

In Puerto Rican slang, sancochar means to boil ot stew. Thus the sancocho moniker since it is a platter containing pork, chicken and what have you. Sancocho takes time and patience to cook. But it’s worth the effort. The result is an ultimately superior meal in itself.

The recipe below is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books-Thunder’s Mouth Press). The root plants (or bianda) can be found in any Asian or Caribbean market. Cassava is a common product these days, no problem there. If you can’t find yautia, then substitute turnips, and for name, you can use yams.


1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crush
3 aji dulce (sweet chili pepper), seeded and chopped
6 fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
1 pound boneless chuck beef, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium stewing chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds) washed and cut into serving pieces
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 ears fresh corn, shucked and quartered
1/2 pound yuca, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound yautia, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound name, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 green plantains, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat oil in a large kettle or Dutch oven and add bell pepper, onion, garlic, aji dulce and cilantro. Saute over moderate heat until tender (4-5 minutes).
2. Add beef, pork, chicken, pepper, and oregano. Cook until meat is browned (8-10 minutes).
3. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken parts from pot and set aside.
4. Add corn, yuca, yautia, name, pumpkin and plantains to meat.
5. Add water to cover contents in pot, also add tomato sauce and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
6. Add chicken and continue to cook on low heat until meat is tender (about 2-2 1/2 hours).
7. Uncover pot and remove plantains. Place in a bowl and mash with a potato masher or big spoon. Let cool for a few minutes. Form into small balls with palms of hand. Return to kettle and boil for 1-2 minutes.
8. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.
    Yield: 12 servings.

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A Mess of Pottage

The first biblical account of a dish of food affecting human behavior occurs in Genesis 24:29-34, the first book of Moses, where Esau sells his birthright to his younger brother, Jacob, for a  “mess of pottage.” What we are talking about here is lentils, that Old World legume that is beloved in the Rivera family. Lentils are akin to liver. You either hate them or love them. And it’s interesting that this is the first food given a biblical reference.This is a big deal by all accounts. Esau was a “cunning hunter; a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man dwelling in tents.” Except that Jacob was the cunning one since he got his older brother to renounce his heritage for a plate of red lentils. Jacob was the grandson of Abraham, the patriarch of three of the world’s greatest religions. And it was Jacob who gave his people, the Israelites, a national conscience. It could have been Esau—had it not been for those pesky lentils, and the fact that he was starving. So one shrewd brother flimflams the other, and history is changed.

And what was so great about this freakin’ recipe? Actually, not much. No ingredient list is given in the Bible. Esau had come in from the fields and he was famished, simple as that. The story fascinates me and I’ve tried to emulate the recipe as Jacob, or his wife, would have prepared it. Onions, garlic and tomatoes were a staple in Ur, the important city in Mesopotamia (read modern day Iraq) during the fourth and third millenia B.C.E. Genesis 11:31 says that Abraham, originally Abram, migrated from “Ur of the Chaldeans” to the land of Canaan. In Ur they also had spices such as salt and pepper. I’m sure all these provisions were taken on the trek to the land God promised to the Israelites.

The recipe given is quite simple, just enhanced by natural ingredients. It comes from my second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (which was also published in England under the title Feasting with the Ancestors).

When I make lentils, I use it in conjunction with rice. Gives the old rice and beans combo a new twist. Lentils, like other dried beans, are quick and easy to prepare.  They may be sold hold or split into halves, and are good for you, providing a healthy source of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Which means they are good in preventing heart disease. They are also contain B-vitamins and protein, and virtually no fat. A whole cup of cooked lentils provides just 230 calories. Can’t go wrong with these suckers.


1 cup dried lentils
4 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced from the stem down into 1/2-inch thick moons
2 clove garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and ground pepper to taste
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced into half-moons

1. Wash lentils under cold running water.
2. In a large pot or casserole (a Dutch oven is good for this), cover the lentils with water. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium skillet and add the onions and garlic. Saute for about 3 minutes or until the onions brown at the edges.
4. Add the onions and garlic to the lentils, plus the salt and pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 45 minutes until the lentils are tender adding, more water if the mixture becomes too thick.
5. Serve garnished with tomatoes.
    Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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Cream Vichyssoise Glacee

I know, it’s been a damp, raining, chilly spring, and the rapture didn’t happen, and you’re all bummed out. But, guess what, pretty soon the hazy, lazy days of summer will be upon us. And what better way to celebrate summer (besides hot dogs and baseball) than with cold soup? That’s right, “cold soup,” as in that classic dish, vichyssoise (pronounced “Vihsh-ee-SWAHZ”).  Also, an added note,the fabled vichyssoise is an American dish. Not French. It’s a creamy potato-leek soup that’s served cold; and its creator was Chef Louis Diat of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City. Chef Diat conjured up the dish in 1917.

Still, we must give the French credit since the soup most likely evolved from the leek and potato soup very popular to France, potage bonne teme. In his tome, Cooking a la Ritz, Diat himself states that the name of the soup comes from Vichy, the French town near his childhood home. He calls it Cream Vichyssoise Glacee. Vichyssoise has entered the lexicon along with such nuggets as chicken tetrazzini, egg foo young, and English muffin (another American novelty). Vichyssoise is also very easy to prepare with a blender or food processor. If you desire, you can use scallions instead of leeks. In my version, I like to add cayenne pepper to it instead of ground black pepper. Either way, you can’t go wrong with Mr. Diat’s creation.


2 leeks, white part, finely sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons sweet butter
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup chicken broth or stock

1 cup milk1 cup light cream
Salt to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream
Finely chopped chives (optional)

1. In a saucepan, gently saute the leeks and onion in butter until soft, about 8 minutes. Do NOT let them brown.
2. Add potatoes, chicken broth or stock, milk, light cream, salt and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil, and then simmer on low heat for 30-35 minutes.
3. Puree in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Let cool, and stir in the heavy cream. Chill thoroughly before serving. If you prefer, you can add finely chopped chives before serving.
    Yield: 4-6 servings.

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Caldo Gallego

Great. Back to recipes. Today it’s Caldo Gallego  For those of you who’ve been to Spain recently, this will probably be familiar. For those who haven’t been to Spain, then you’re in for a treat.

Caldo Gallego (Cal-doh Gah-jeh-goh) is a dish that is very popular in Puerto Rico. Even in Ponce, in the southern part of the island, where my parents hail from, the measure of a good restaurant is not its arroz con pollo or mofongo, it’s the quality of  its Caldo Gallego. This is a vigorous soup that was brought over from Galicia, a historic region in northwest Spain. I’m told that in Galicia the base for this rich broth is an aged bacon called unto (oon-toh). Since you may not find it here, lean cured ham and/or salt pork can be used instead. Also, in Spain the soup is cooked in a large earthenware pot and is served in earthenware bowls. For those who don’t have  earthenware, any heavy pot or kettle can be used, like a caldera  (a heavy pot made from cast-iron or cast aluminum and found in any Caribbean store). And, yes, regular soup plates will do. Add a loaf of good bread, and you have the perfect repast. Simple, delicious, and filling.

Let me add that the recipe is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in  America (Thunder’s Mouth Press). The soup needs long, gentle cooking time ( about 3 hours). But it’s worth the wait.

CALDO GALLEGO (Galician Style Broth)

1/2 pound dry white beans
3 ounces lean cured ham or salt pork, washed and diced
1/2 pound smoked ham, washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small onion, peeled and sliced in rounds
1 pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
3 turnips, rinsed and quartered
1 10-ounce package frozen turnip greens
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Rinse beans under cold running water and drain.
2. Place beans in a large kettle or Dutch oven. Add water to cover, cured ham, smoked ham and onion. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 2 hours.
3. Add remaining ingredients and gently stir to mix. Bring to a second boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 1 more hour. If needed, you can add more water during last hour of cooking. It depends on how “soupy” you want it.
    Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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Chicken Noodle Soup (P.R. Style)

Chicken noodle soup. What is lovingly termed “Jewish penicillin.” We Puerto Ricans have our own version of it, and just as good. We use noodles, which are called fideos (fee-deh-os). These noodles are thin coiled strands similar to angel’s hair or vermicelli. People back on the island, in the old days, read the package name and took it to mean any kind of noodles. In time fideos became the most popular pasta in both the island and the mainland. It’s use is mainly in soups. When Puerto Ricans first migrated to New York back in the 1940s and 50s, and went shopping, they wouldn’t ask for noodles, they would ask for fideos. It was the only pasta pasta we knew, apart from spaghetti.

I would say our chicken noodle soup is as healthy and beneficial as its Jewish counterpart; and it has a particular Latin flavor. As noted, if you can’t find the fideos, any thin strand pasta will do as well. You can find this recipe (and others) in my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books).

SOPA DE POLLO CON FIDEOS (Chicken Noodle Soup)

1 broiler fryer (about 2-2 1/2 pounds, cut in parts)
2 quarts (8 cups) water
1/2 pound fideos #169 (see above)
2 medium Idaho or Maine potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 packet Sason Goya (coriander and annatto—found in any supermarket these days)
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup tomato sauce
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

1. Rinse chicken under cold running water and pat dry.
2. Place chicken in a large kettle or Dutch oven and add water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until chicken is very tender.
5. Remove chicken to a cutting board and let cool. Bone chicken, discarding bones and skin. Cut meat into bite-size pieces
4. Add chicken pieces, fideos, potatoes, Sason Goya, bouillon cube and tomato sauce to the broth. Add another cup of water, if needed, and season with salt and pepper.
6. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. garnish with parsley.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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Mofongo, just like Mondongo, is a word of African origin. And like Mondongo, I love the word. “Mofongo,” pronounced just like it’s spelled. Mondongo, as described in a prior post, is a hearty stew. Mofongo is simply a mix of crushed green plantains with fried pork crackling, usually served with a sauce. I know, fried pork gets a bad rap now and then but, from time to time, this is a superb dish. Once you’ve taste it, you’ll be come back for more, I’m sure.

We Puerto Ricans adore mofongo. And we prepare it as individually shaped mofongo balls, similar to meatballs. Cuban mofongo differs from ours in that the mixture is shaped into one large ball which is served in a bowl. Modern variations have this type of mofongo stuffed with beef or seafood. Whatever method you prefer, it is a delicious appetizer, side dish or meal on its own. By the way, the recipe given is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books Group).

Note that plantains these days are very easy to find. Almost every supermarket carries them. We even get them in our summer place in Vermont. They are a traditional root plant well known in the Caribbean, and are quite healthy for one. They are high in Vitamin A, potassium and fiber. They contain similar nutritional benefits as bananas. Can’t go wrong there.

MOFONGO (Plantains and Pork Crackling)

5 green plantains
1/2 pound salt pork, washed and diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Peel plantains and cut into diagonal slices about 1-inch thick
2. Place plantains and diced salt pork in a pot with water to cover. Let soak for 10 minutes.
3. Drain and wipe both plantains and salt pork with paper towels.
4. Place salt pork in a hot skillet or frying pan (no extra oil is necessary). Stir-fry over high heat until pieces are browned and crisp (about 5 minutes) and set aside. This is know as the chicharron or pork crackling.
5. Deep fry plantains in hot oil until golden. Drain well on paper towels.
6. Crush plantains and pork crackling together in a wooden bowl or mortar. This may have to be done in batches depending upon the size of the bowl or mortar. Set aside.
7. Crush garlic cloves, and blend in olive oil. This is best done in a mortar, if you have one, or any small bowl will do.
8. Add garlic-oil seasoning to the plantains and crackling, and mix thoroughly.
9. Scoop up a tablespoon of the mixture and shape into a ball (about 2-inches in diameter, or larger if desired). Repeat until mix is used up.
10. Serve by itself or with favorite sauce or gravy.
Yield: 12 or more mofongo balls.

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Tarru-Bird Stew – The Oldest Recipe in the World

When I was researching my second cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast (Avalon Books), part of the deal was that I had to research ancient recipes. The Pharaoh’s Feast deals with the history of cooking throughout the ages, from day one to the present. I came across some really great gems, inclusive of the recipe noted below. It comes from three Akhadian clay table from the Yale Babylonian Collection. The tablets are a collection of recipes from the old Babylonian Empire, circa 1700 B.C.E. They are not a cookbook. They are more of a culinary record written for administrative purposes so that the recipes could be codified for the benefit of those who would enjoy them—the big whigs in the hierarchy. They show that ancient Mesopotamia had a vibrant and sophisticated cuisine for its time.

Tarru can translated to mean fowl. Thus this recipe could have been made with wild pigeons, quail or partridge—any small bird. For modern usage I recommend Cornish game hens or poussin (young chickens). The recipe is arcane, but using common sense, one can come up with something worthwhile. It’s your basic stew; and it goes well with boiled potatoes or steamed rice.
Some words inscribed in the tablets have yet to be translated, such as samidu. The recipe contains onions, garlic, leek, milk and samidu (whatever the hell that is). It also calls for a broth made of mutton. I figure you could use any rich meat or beef broth. Also, one of the ingredients given is”hulled cake of malt.” I’ve substituted malted milk powder—and it works.
So, make believe you’re in Ancient Babylon, you just got home from a hard day in the fields, or from haggling in the marketplace over some horse or camel, and the Tarru-Bird Stew is just waiting for you.
2 Cornish game hens or poussin
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 whole leek, rinsed and finely chopped (green part only)
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons milk
4 cups beef broth or bouillon
1 tablespoon shortening or 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt to taste
2 teaspoons malted milk powder
1. Rinse the Cornish hens under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Split hens in half.
2. Put the onion, leek, and garlic into a mortar and pound until everything is crushed together. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can place the ingredients in a heavy bowl or saucepan and crush with a potato masher or the back of a spatula or large spoon. Add the milk, and mix. Do not cheat by emulsifying in a food processor—it will come out too watery.
3. Place the Cornish hens in a large pot, casserole, or Dutch oven. Add the beef broth, shortening, salt, and malted milk powder. bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for ten minutes.
4. Add the onion mixture. Cover and continue simmering until the hens are tender (10 to 15 minutes).
5. Place the hens on a serving platter as is. Or you can carve them into small pieces, if desired, with the broth served over them.
Yield: 4 servings

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Hot Weather Relief – Gazpacho

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. The same with dining; and cold soups are a welcomed relief from the dog days of summer. Forget about hot, sturdy stews. Those are for midwinter. We want cool relief. And cool soups, weather at room temperature or chilled, have been with us since soups were invented. The most renowned of these, of course, is Vichyssoise (pronounced “vihsh-ee-SWAHZ” or “vee-she-swahz”). It’s a rich creamy potato-leek soup that is served cold. And, no, it ain’t French. It’s AMERICAN! Its creator was Chef Louis Diat of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City, and he conjured it up in 1917.

But the king of cold soups, in my humble opinion, is that Spanish classic, gazpacho. Gazpacho has Moorish origins. In 711 the Muslims of Northern Africa, known as the Moors because of their mixed Berber and Arab lineage, invaded Spain. It wasn’t until 1492 (date sound familiar?) that the last of the Moors were expelled from Spain. But they left a lasting influence, especially in their cuisine. Gazpacho evolved from an Arabic dish. The word itself derives from the Arabic word for soaked bread. And the initial recipe called for soaked bread, olive oil and garlic. The Spaniards referred to this as ajo blanco, or a garlic soup. When tomatoes and peppers were brought back to Spain from the Americas, these were added to the soup, so that today we have the famous tomato-based gazpacho that originated in Andalucia in Southern Spain. In Malaga, a province in the region of Andalucia, they boast of their Malaga-style gazpacho which includes crushed peeled almonds and red wine vinegar.

The recipe included is the traditional Moorish type gazpacho and it comes from my cookbook, The Pharaoh’s Feast, which is a history of cooking through the ages from day one to the present. For those of you who have been brought up on the tomato-base gazpacho, give this one a try. Its simplicity and natural flavors are a revelation.


1 cup untrimmed fresh bread, cubed

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup olive oil

Cold water

1. Soak the bread in water. Drain and squeeze to extract excess moisture.

2. In a mortar (preferably earthenware), pound the garlic until crushed.

3. In a wooden bowl, mix the garlic, bread, and salt, and stir in the olive oil.

4. Add cold water as desired, to get the smoothness of a soup. Serve at room temperature.

Yield: 4 servings.


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