Introducing our new Columnist: Cian Gonzalez

Cian Gonzalez is a first-generation American and a native of Yonkers, NY. His father was born in Guatemala and his mother was born in Ireland. Cian first arrived in Buffalo when he started attending lectures at SUNY at Buffalo, where he earned a B.A. in Political Science and a Journalism Certificate. There, he started taking up writing for UB’s independent student newspaper, The Spectrum. His interests include cooking, music, local breweries, and nature. He spends the weekends with his partner of 5 years, going to their favorite cafes, visiting bookstores, and trying new recipes. Cian has also taken up a hobby of foraging and identifying species of flora and fungi, which he hopes to do more often on warmer days. His Subjects of Interest: Food & Culture, Culinary Arts, Beverages, and Health.

Cian Gonzalez



May 2023

The taco is undeniably one of the most iconic foods of Mexico and greater Latin America. The Buffalo area has no end to its taco joints, from Casa Azul in Allentown to Acapulco in Tonawanda. As much as I love visiting local taquerias, the experience of making tacos at home is nothing short of rewarding.  In observance of Cinco de Mayo, I would like to share my recipe for Carnitas, one of my favorite taco fillings, for you to prepare and enjoy with friends.

Carnitas are a type of pulled pork that originated in the state of Michoacán. The recipes vary depending on region and families, but the basic ingredients can be found in any local grocery store. The cut of choice for carnitas is pork shoulder/butt, 2 Ibs of which should be enough to feed 3 people or will leave plenty of leftovers if you live alone. The basic seasonings will be salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. You will also need lime and orange as well as two bay leaves. I also like to add a few cloves of garlic to my carnitas. Cut the pork into 1½ to 2-inch cubes, then toss the meat into a slow cooker or a large Dutch oven. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of cumin and 1 ½ teaspoons of oregano into the meat, then add 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Juice one lime and a large Navel Orange into the mix, then stir the meat with a spoon or clean hands until the seasonings are well incorporated. Drop the squeezed orange halves into the vessel for more flavor, then add the bay leaves and garlic before pouring in enough water so that the meat is almost covered.

If using a Dutch oven or another pot, preheat the oven to 300 degrees while bringing the mix to a simmer over the stove on medium-high heat. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then close the lid and place it into the oven for 2 hours. If using a slow cooker, you can keep it on the low setting for 6-8 hours. The meat is ready when tender and easily falls apart when pierced with a fork.

Take the meat out of the vessel and place the pieces on a metal baking tray, then strain the contents of the pot into a saucepan. Place the saucepan on the stove over high heat until the liquid thickens into a sauce. While the sauce reduces, use two forks to pull the meat apart and then place the tray under the broiler for 4-8 minutes or until golden and crispy. Flip the meat and cook the other side for the same result.

Pour the meat into the saucepan and mix it up, adding more salt and pepper until the flavor is to your liking. Once that is ready, all you need is some corn tortillas and classic taco toppings. My favorites are ‘pico de gallo’, thinly sliced radishes, lime wedges for juicing over the meat, and an appropriate hot sauce for a spicy flavor. See you next month.



April 2023

My first few columns mainly focused on foods from Guatemala, which should not be surprising considering my background. This month, however, I would like to focus on the national dish of El Salvador: the pupusa. Pupusas are thick tortillas stuffed with meat, beans, and/or cheese. Traditional condiments include salsa and curtido: shaved carrots and cabbage mixed with vinegar, salt, and pepper. 

According to Vanderbilt University, the origins of pupusas date back 2000 years ago to the Pibil tribe, who lived in what was known as Cuscatlan before it changed to El-Salvador after Spanish colonialization. When the country had a civil war during the 1980s, many refugees fled to North America and Australia, bringing their food culture.

When I was small, my dad brought me to a Salvadorian restaurant in Port Chester where we would enjoy pupas on weekends. A family friend recently taught me how to make them from scratch during one of my home visits. My all-time favorite filling for pupusas is chicharrón, made with pork ribs or butt. Black beans are my second favorite, perfect for vegans or vegetarians.

For the chicharrón, cut the pork into small pieces and then season with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. A premade Adobo seasoning mix will also work well. Heat a pan over a stove on medium-high heat with about a spoonful of oil. Pour the pork into the pan and cook until the meat is golden brown and cooked through, stirring occasionally. Take the meat out when done and cut it into shreds for the filling. I used a kitchen knife for this step, but I recommend using a food processor if you have one.

The black bean filling is made with canned or freshly cooked beans. Pour the beans into a blender and then until they are smooth. Place the beans aside and cut a large onion into small pieces. Pour the onion into an oiled pan and cook over medium-high heat until browned. Then pour the blended beans into the pan and stir them together. Continue cooking until the blend turns into a thick paste, scraping the bottom of the pan so nothing sticks.

Once the fillings are ready, it is time to make the dough. The standard measurements are 2 cups of masa harina and 1½ cups of water. Mix until a dough forms, adding another splash of water if needed. Take about a handful of dough and roll it into a ball. Flatten it into a disc, making a wide dent in the center for the filling. Surround the filling with the rest of the dough and then reshape it into a disc. The pupusa should be at least 4 inches in diameter.

A cast iron skillet is the best option for cooking pupusas since it retains heat better. Otherwise, a non-stick pan will also work. Place the pupusa on the lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat and cook on one side for 5 minutes. Flip it to the other side and cook for another 5 minutes until cooked through, flipping a few more times as needed. Pupusas are best enjoyed fresh, so eat them while they are hot!




March 2023

If you remember my column from last month, I tried making Champurradas using an online recipe. The result turned out thicker than I wanted, so I experimented with different ingredients to improve it. I’m happy to say that after several attempts (and failures), I finally have a recipe ready to share!

Grab two large bowls and a digital weight scale. In one bowl, whisk 1 pound (3 to 3⅓ cups) of flour and 1 tbsp of baking soda until thoroughly mixed and then set aside. Then mix 5 oz. of sugar and two eggs in the other bowl. A stand mixer will also work if you have one. If you want to make a vegan option, use 4 oz. of egg replacer or another egg-free ingredient. I used some aquafaba from a can of chickpeas as a replacement for the eggs.

Once the eggs and sugar are combined, add a stick of softened butter and 3 tbsp. of milk, and stir together. My vegan substitutes were 4 oz. of Vegetable Oil spread and 3 tbsp. of Oat milk. I also mixed 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 1 tsp of cinnamon into the wet ingredients for a richer flavor. I suggest adding some extra vanilla if using vegan ingredients, but feel free to experiment. Bring the flour and baking powder mix and make a hole in the center to create a nest. Then pour all the wet ingredients into the nest, using a rubber spatula to scrape the rest into the bowl.  

Now is the time to combine the wet and dry ingredients. If using your hands, coat them in flour to prevent too much sticking, then push the flour to the center of the bowl where the wet mix is nested. Once combined, keep kneading the dough until you don’t see any drier flour. The result should look like a typical cookie dough; no raw flour should be visible. Start preheating the oven to 350 degrees at this point.

Tear pieces of the dough apart and roll them into medium-sized balls. Each ball should weigh about 3 oz. To flatten them into cookie form, I used a tortilla press to shape the Champurradas evenly. If you don’t have one, place the dough ball on a piece of parchment paper and then use a plate lined with parchment paper to flatten them. A tortilla press will also need parchment paper or a plastic bag to prevent the dough from sticking. Make sure not to flatten them all the way, as they should be at least ½ a centimeter thick.

Place the Champurradas on a buttered or oiled cookie tray and brush them with milk. Then sprinkle enough sesame seeds on the cookies before putting them into the oven. The Champurradas will be done in 20 minutes or until golden. You can enjoy them fresh, but I like them best after a few days when stale. Dunk them into coffee or hot chocolate and enjoy!



February 2023

Back in my hometown, the grocery store I lived up the road from sold champurradas in the dessert aisle. These Guatemalan cookies with sesame seeds sprinkled on top were a delight to have on the weekends with coffee or hot chocolate.

On one of my previous visits back home, I decided to go back to the same store to grab some champurradas for an after-dinner snack with the family. Sadly, the champurradas they sell now taste nothing like the ones I grew up with. The flavor was bland and barely any sesame seeds were on them. This drove me to look up recipes online so I would never be disappointed again.

My sister found a blog from that referenced a recipe she planned on using, but she didn’t try it out and sent it to me instead. The recipe called for the following: ½ pound of flour, 2 eggs, 5 ounces of sugar, 4 ounces (1 stick) of butter, 1 teaspoon of baking soda, 3 tablespoons of milk, and 2 ounces of sesame seeds. I later discovered that the measurement for the flour wasn’t, but I will explain more in a moment.

First, I warmed the stick of butter in the microwave for 15-20 seconds, so it was soft enough for mixing. Then, I combined the sugar and butter until a yellow ball formed. After putting the eggs and milk into the bowl with the butter/sugar mix, I whisked the flour and baking soda together in a separate bowl.

When it came time to combine the dry and wet ingredients, the resulting mixture turned into a wet blob rather than a soft dough. I tried rolling individual balls to make the champurradas, but the mix would stick to my hands and didn’t keep its shape. I decided it was time to experiment, so I added more flour to the mix until the dough was firm.

As the oven preheated to 350 degrees, I made several small balls out of the dough and placed them on a buttered baking tray. I flattened the balls out using my hand and then put the tray into the oven for 20 minutes. 

The champurradas came out golden brown but thicker than I wanted them to turn out. They still tasted good, certainly better than the last ones I had. While this was a fun first attempt, I am going to work on this some more to develop my recipe. I’ll also be looking for butter and egg replacements for my vegan readers. Looking forward to sharing this with you next month!




January 2023

Chicken soup is a classic meal for any time of the year. Today, I’m sharing one of my favorite variations from my family to yours; Guatemalan Caldo de Pollo. This is a perfect dish for winter and will keep you warm during future blizzards to come. Every country in Latin America has its version of Caldo. The original Caldo is thought to have originated from Mexico and then spread throughout countries in Central and South America, prompting variations in cuisine based on their native ingredients. Thankfully, my recipe uses food available in local grocery stores like Wegmans, Price Rite, and Aldi.

A good Caldo de Pollo starts with the broth. Bouillon cubes or concentrates are great for a quick soup; however, I highly recommend making chicken stock from scratch if you’re able to. Start with sautéing pieces of chicken meat or scraps in a large pot over medium-high heat. Using leftover chicken bones from prior meals will add more flavor to your broth. Saute for 5-8 minutes, occasionally stirring, until chicken pieces are browned. Once that is done, start adding the vegetables.

The veggies I use for a simple stock are two halved carrots, two halved celery sticks, a large onion quartered, and a whole head of garlic sliced in half from its side to expose all the cloves. Then add a bunch of cilantro and stir the contents together before adding enough water to fill up the pot to just a half-inch below the rim. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low, then let it simmer for 1½ to 2 hours. If using an instant pot or pressure cooker, it can be made in 45-50 minutes on its Soup/Stock setting. (Pro-tip: Save veggie scraps in the freezer using a Ziploc bag for future stocks.) Once the stock is done, pour it carefully over a strainer into another pot and then discard the used chicken bones and vegetables. Taste the stock for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste before adding the rest of the ingredients. 

A whole chicken is traditionally used for Caldo, but you can use any cut you want. I used bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, which are generally cheaper and give a richer chicken flavor. For the vegetables, slice four large, peeled carrots, quarter four medium, peeled potatoes, and dice two Roma tomatoes. I also added two bay leaves for a more pepper-like taste. Once everything is in, let the soup simmer on the stove for 45 minutes (20-25 minutes in the pressure cooker) until the meat and veggies are cooked.

Once finished, you can either shred the meat or leave it whole. Serve with fresh corn tortillas, white rice, and boiled corn on the cob. An extra cilantro sprig is perfect for a garnish. Tasting this soup brought me straight back to my childhood and gave me fond memories of spending time with family. I hope it provides comfort and warmth to you and your loved ones during this season.


Our Columnists:

Cian Gonzalez /  Virginia McIntyre Vianca Colón-Barreto /  Solomon Joseph / Luz Velez /  Roque Pizarro / Dinah Aponte /  Angelica Aquino, Esq./MPA / Arthur Dawn /  Alberto O. Cappas / Carmen Rodriguez /  Lillia Orsini / Jose Yrizarry /  Victoria Ross / QueeNia AsheeMa’at /  Talia Rodriguez  / Juan Carreras  / Rocco Anastasio /