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Who’s Cooking: Laura Navas-Smith, Project Safety Director… Cooking To A Different Beat

Who’s Cooking: Laura Navas-Smith, Project Safety Director

By Joan Reminick

June 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Newsday, Inc. All rights reserved. 


Works for the MTA in its Jamaica and Manhattan offices. Lives in Huntington with two cocker spaniels, Sandy and Brandy.


"I just love it. It's very gratifying. What I work on are major projects whose fruition won't come for 12 years. When you cook, it's a completely different experience."


"My father, who was born in Puerto Rico. He makes all the ethnic dishes in our family - all the Spanish food from pasteles to platinos. He uses different spices to get a certain taste."


Eclectic. "I introduced my family to everything from sour cream to lamb stew. The only American food I ate growing up was pizza, so everything I learned was on my own. Even Chinese food, I made on my own. The first shrimp in lobster sauce my parents had was mine."


Christmas dinner she made two years ago. "It was a full sit-down dinner. I spent a week setting the table. I had a table for 10 and a children's table."


"When I first got promoted. I was the Long Island Rail Road safety director. I invited my boss and his wife to dinner and I made paella. I was so nervous that I let it stay in the oven too long and it dried out. I wanted to call for Kentucky Fried Chicken."


"In Puerto Rico, there's a restaurant that's right on the water, a little place with picnic benches where they serve crabs in a red sauce. When you order, they actually take the crabs right out of the water."


"Newspapers - and I have a library of cookbooks."


Reading, yoga, jogging.


"I would like to go to Greece and have an authentic meal and then try to prepare it at home. I make spanokopita and all that, but it's always out of a cookbook."

Signature Recipe

Ropas Viejas

2-pound flank steak, trimmed of excess fat

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 medium bay leaf

Salt and pepper to taste

2 quarts water

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onions

1 cup finely chopped garlic

1/2 cup chopped green pepper

1/2 cup chopped yellow pepper

1/2 cup chopped red pepper

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh hot chile pepper or to taste

1 carrot, scraped and finely chopped

2 cups drained and chopped canned tomatoes

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon cloves

1 tablespoon capers, washed and drained

1 whole pimiento, drained and finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped

fresh cilantro

1. Place flank steak in a heavy 4- or 5-quart casserole. Add coarsely chopped onion, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add the water. Bring to a boil over high heat; then reduce heat to low, partially cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

2. Transfer steak to plate to cool. Strain the cooking liquid, discard the onion and bay leaf, reserving the liquid. When steak is cool enough to handle, cut it along the grain into strips, 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. Set meat and cooking liquid aside.

3. In heavy pot, heat vegetable oil over medium high. Saute finely chopped onion, garlic, green, yellow and red peppers, chile and carrot, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft but not brown. Regulate heat to avoid burning vegetables.

4. Stir in tomatoes, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper to taste, and cook briskly until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated and the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape on the spoon.

5. Return meat to pot, add the stock and the capers, stirring constantly. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until meat is heated through. Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle chopped pimiento and cilantro on top. Makes 4 servings.

(Adapted from Time-Life Books, "Caribbean Foods")

Cooking To A Different Beat

The Weekly Dish

August 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Washington Post Co. All rights reserved. 

In anticipation of the Sept. 13 launch of Ceiba downtown (701 14th St. NW; 202-393-3983), chef Chris Clime is putting the final touches on his Latin American-Caribbean menu and restaurateur Gus DiMillo is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a boatload of custom-made furniture from Brazil. And by now, the 3,000 guests who were asked to the opening night party should have received their invitation: a photo of DiMillo, David Wizenberg and chef Jeff Tunks on the beach in Cancun, Mexico, accompanied by a CD of salsa and other upbeat music. The three owners of DC Coast and TenPenh named their latest production (pronounced SAY-bah) after the umbrella-shaped tree indigenous to Latin America and said to have mystical significance. Coincidentally, Ceiba is also a town in Puerto Rico where Clime spent some teenage years as the son of a naval officer.

Guests can look forward to the likes of molcajete -- a Mexican dish of melted cheese, peppers, scallions and shaved beef served in a lava rock with tortillas for scooping -- and moqueca, a Brazilian seafood casserole, as well as Cuban and Jamaican recipes on the new menu. Three thousand people for drinks and snacks? DiMillo laughs and admits, "We're hoping we only get 20 percent of them!"

-- Tom Sietsema

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