Latin Twist: Tapas para las Fiestas Navideñas–Tapas for Holiday Parties!


There’s a thrill to rediscovering a recipe you made and enjoyed a long time ago. This is the case for me with panuchos. I first “discovered” them in Mexico in 2004. Well, eight years later, I realize how much I’ve missed them…and want to share them with you!

Now you know I’m the first to say something is simple when it’s simple; this is not so simple but, mis queridos amigos, I promise it is worth the work! This time of year we are either going to or hosting fiestas. Why not try something unique?  Panuchos—small bites of chicken topped with orange juice,  and brown sugar-sweetened sautéed red onions—are festive! (And, wow, so delicious!) I first tried them in Mexico City (or maybe even Cuernavaca?!), but they hail principally from the Yucatán region.

Another reason they’re fun to bring or serve at a party is that they don’t need to be warm; room temperature is just fine! Perfect with a Sancerre (my favorite these days…) or an ice-cold Negra Modelo (always a favorite!), or a festive cocktail—or apple cider, these are sure to be a hit! ¡Buen provecho! Enjoy!



Latin Twist: Tapas para las Fiestas Navideñas–Tapas for Holiday Parties!

Yield: Makes 12 to 15 panuchos

Latin Twist: Tapas para las Fiestas Navideñas–Tapas for Holiday Parties!

Panuchos (from Mambo Mixers, ©2005, Arlen Gargagliano) Photo by Dasha Wright


  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 red onions, thinly sliced into rounds
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups cooked shredded (into bite-size pieces) chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon achiote (ground annatto seeds; available at Latin American markets)
  • 1 dozen arepas (smaller ones! See the recipe here!)
  • 1/2 cup refried black beans
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Pour the vegetable oil into a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Sauté the onion, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes, or until it starts to soften.
  3. Cut 1 orange in half and squeeze the juice over the onion.
  4. Add the vinegar and brown sugar. Let simmer until the liquid evaporates.
  5. Set aside.
  6. In a medium-size bowl, combine the shredded chicken breast, achiote and juice from the remaining orange and mix well.
  7. Arrange the arepas on a serving platter.
  8. Then, using a teaspoon, spread a spoonful of refried beans on each arepa.
  9. Then add a small amount of shredded chicken.
  10. Top with the onion, and a sprinkle of cilantro, and serve!


About Author

Maybe it was the dinner parties my mom always threw—or the hours I spent prepping and cooking alongside her (and then on my own!). Or maybe it was array of fabulous dishes that my family sampled in New York City’s richly diverse restaurants, but I’ve loved creating, savoring, and sharing food for as long as I can remember. Living in Spain, and later in Peru, also greatly influenced my life. These years abroad taught me Spanish—and about living in different countries--but also introduced me to teaching English as a second language, which I’ve done—mostly in the US-- for the past 20-plus (yikes!) years. I’ve authored two cocktail/tapas books, Mambo Mixers and Calypso Coolers, coauthored more than 15 others (mostly food related!), and raised two children. Now I'm chef and owner of my own restaurant, Mambo 64 in Tuckahoe, New York. My message is the same, whether I'm teaching, writing, running the restaurant or being a regular guest on the Spanish-language network Telemundo (on the morning show, Buenos Días Nueva York!). My belief in food—and the power of food—is far reaching, and is married with another one: the power of stories. I’m sure that if we could all sit down and have meals together, sharing both tastes and tales, we’d have peace on earth. Enjoy!

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